How to Improve Reading Comprehension and Recall

Learning how to improve reading comprehension and recall is key to success in school and in everyday life. But understanding and retaining the written word may prove challenging for students with learning disabilities in reading and language comprehension. Thankfully, these challenges aren't insurmountable. Teachers, parents, and students may use a number of techniques to improve one's success in reading and learning.

Use Pre-Reading Tasks to Improve Reading Comprehension

Mother reading to daughter.

Thomas Northcut / Stone / Getty Images

Take action before you even crack open a book, article, or other text. If the piece covers a historical event, for example, ask yourself what you already know about this topic. Try to recall as much information as you can. Think about related issues you've studied in the past. Take a few minutes to jot your thoughts down or share them with others. When you've finished, you'll have a head start on processing the information to come.

Research the Topic Before You Begin

Background information typically appears on the covers or backs of books as well as on the inner flaps of book jackets. For electronic books, these are often included. Also, many books include introductory sections and brief biographies of the authors. Book publisher’s websites and download sites for electronic books may include background information as well. Don't hesitate to put this information to use. As you read the information, ask the following questions:

  • What kind of text is this?
  • What new information did I learn, and what do I expect to learn?
  • Is this text informative or entertaining, fact, or fiction?
  • What interests me about this book?

Learn New Vocabulary Words

As you read, make a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words. Look up the meanings of the words in the dictionary, and copy down definitions by hand. Don't type the meanings of the words or simply read them. Handwriting the meanings is much more likely to help you retain the definition. While copy and paste are easy and quick, handwriting makes your brain slow down and process the information in a new way to form longer-term memories of it.

Reflect on the Material and Ask Questions

What questions come to mind while reading? Continue with the text to find the answers. You can think about the questions and answers or note them on scrap paper. Research indicates that writing notes by hand can increase the comprehension and recall of students without writing-related learning disabilities. Students who do have learning disabilities in writing mechanics should pair their handwritten notes with discussions about the material to improve their understanding and recall.

Test Yourself to Measure Your Mastery of the Material

After your reading session, quiz yourself on the main points. What was the main idea? Who are the characters in the story? What information did you learn? Jot down your thoughts in your own words to help you remember them and give you deeper insight into the topic. If expressive writing is difficult for you, jot shorter notes and discuss the reading with a friend or parent.

A Word From Verywell

Reading comprehension can be difficult for people without learning disabilities. But for those with documented challenges, mastering reading comprehension may seem twice as hard. By practicing the techniques above, however, teachers, parents, and students can learn how to improve reading comprehension for any purpose.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bohay M, Blakely D, Tamplin A, Radvansky G. Note Taking, Review, Memory, and Comprehension. The American Journal of Psychology. 2011. 124(1), 63-73. doi:10.5406/amerjpsyc.124.1.0063
  • Mueller PA, Oppenheimer DM. The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard. Psychological Science. April 23, 2014.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.