far-side-what-dogs-hearI firmly believe that Great Truths are found in Far Side cartoons. In this case, Ginger has shed light on the topic of … really.

Granted, the skill of reading comprehension ain’t sexy, but it is WAAAAY valuable. Consider; you can read that research paper on “Platypi Reproductive Rituals” several times in a row in an attempt to understand it well enough to answer the essay question on tomorrow’s test, or you can read it once with excellent understanding. And don’t get me started on the reading comprehension passages in the SAT and GRE. In short, upping your reading comp. skills will save you time and get you better scores.

Sorta stinks, then, that it’s so difficult to improve one’s reading comprehension. In fact, SAT and GRE books devote almost zero attention to improving the skill, preferring to acquaint students with details about the layout of the passages and the different reading comprehension question types they may encounter. They know that actually improving students’ skill levels in this area are more than they can reasonably accomplish before the SAT or GRE.

However, YOU CAN INCREASE YOUR READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS. All it takes is some consistent practice. In fact, it’s often about editing out all the irrelevant blah-blah-blah and homing in on the stuff that’s most important to you (the “Ginger”).

Here’s a great little method you can use. I call it “low-lighting,” since it’s kinda the opposite of highlighting.

Pick a paragraph to work on, preferably an actual reading comprehension passage from the SAT or GRE or a paragraph out of an assigned text for one of your classes. Go through the paragraph and cross out as much of the text as possible while preserving the basic meaning. Here’s an example from the gre.org site. (I’ve grayed out the parts I would cross out in the text).

(1)      Picture-taking is a technique both for annexing the
objective world and for expressing the singular self.
Photographs depict objective realities that already exist,
though only the camera can disclose them. And they
(5) depict an individual photographer’s temperament, dis-
covering itself through the camera’s cropping of reality.
That is, photography has two antithetical ideals: in the
first, photography is about the world, and the photogra-
pher is a mere observer who counts for little; but in the
(10) second, photography is the instrument of intrepid,
questing subjectivity and the photographer is all.

As I was reading through trying to find more and more to get rid of I noticed that that central section (“Photographs depict objective…”) is really saying the same thing as the end (after the “That is…”). That allowed me to nuke the entire second and third sentences as a less-easily understood description of the two purposes of photography.

Next, I go back through and translate the big words into common, everyday type speech. I translate the “blah blah blah” into doglish. I also change synonyms (such as “picture-taking” and “photography”) into the same word, so I can more easily see the topics.

(1)      Photography is a technique both for capturing the
reality and for showing the individual photographer.
Photographs depict objective realities that already exist,
though only the camera can disclose them. And they
(5) depict an individual photographer’s temperament, dis-
covering itself through the camera’s cropping of reality.
That is, photography has two opposite ideals: in the
first, photography is about the world, and the photogra-
pher is a only observer (unimportant); but in the
(10) second, photography is the a tool of intrepid,
questing opinion and the photographer is very important.

Now I can rewrite it to bring out the patterns. I try to write as little as possible to still bring out the ideas and patterns.

Photography– 2 opposite purposes
(1) captures reality (photographer unimportant)
(2) shows opinion (photographer important)

Now I have a nicely boiled-down summary of the key points and sub-points. Keep in mind, this is an exercise to increase comprehension. Doing this repeatedly with different texts will get your brain habituated to looking for key ideas, recurring words, patterns, and repetitions. After you’ve practiced this enough, your reading skill will increase even when you are just reading at a normal pace! Good girl, Ginger!

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