What is Reading Comprehension and Why Is it Important?


  1. What is reading for comprehension?
  2. What are the three types of reading comprehension?
  3. What is the main goal of reading comprehension?
  4. How do you improve reading comprehension? 
  5. What are some helpful reading comprehension books?
  6. What advice can I give my child for reading tests and exams?

Have you ever wondered ‘what is comprehension?’ Well, the Cambridge online dictionary, defines ‘comprehension’ as: “the ability to understand completely and be familiar with a situation, facts, etc.” So what, then, is reading comprehension?

From childhood and adolescence through to adulthood, reading comprehension plays a big part in helping us succeed in many aspects of life: scholastically, professionally, and personally. 

Read on to discover why this literacy skill is fundamental to a child’s education and beyond.child reading a book

What is reading for comprehension? 


Reading for comprehension is the ability to read, understand and decode a text. Knowing how to read words, identify vocabulary and following sentences is one thing, but the knack of interpreting what you’re reading is a different skill unto itself. 

Some of the hardest exams we’ve all sat have required us to read paragraphs or pages of writing, only to get to the end and realise that not only do we need to remember what we’ve just read, but we also need to answer questions about the meaning of what we’ve just read – it’s not easy! 

As well as following us through our educational years and numerous exams and assignments, reading comprehension sneaks up on us during adulthood too; work emails, proposals, strategies, legal documentation – not only do we need to read these, but we need to comprehend them too. Why? Primarily for our own understanding, but to also better inform and work alongside our colleagues and superiors. 

That’s work time covered, but what about downtime? If your reading comprehension skills are lacking, you won’t be able to be as exacting as you want at your next book club meeting. ☕ For these reasons, it’s imperative that the foundations for reading and comprehension skills are built from a young age.


What are the three types of reading comprehension?



Just as it says on the tin, literal comprehension requires us to apply a basic understanding of the words we are reading and their meaning. 


What are those words suggesting? We need to interpret what the text is saying beyond its meaning, we need to reflect on what is not being said in the text and we need to read between the lines. 


Beyond the words and what we can infer from them, evaluative comprehension involves an all-around understanding of what the text means and what it’s saying. We can use our own opinions, thoughts and experiences to draw our own conclusions. 


What is the main goal of reading comprehension?


Extracting meaning is the pivotal point here. It would be far too simple if reading was just about reading words on a page and knowing what each word means. We need to connect those ideas and form significant conclusions. Comprehension is about taking words and their connotations and trying to paint a bigger picture, and that picture needs to mean something – sometimes it needs to mean many things!


How do you improve reading comprehension? 


For children, getting the hang of reading for comprehension from an early age will really help them ace this skill throughout their educational years. Take note of our tips and they’ll be adding comprehensive reading to their expertise in no time! ⭐

  • Reading, reading and more reading

It may sound obvious but reading more really does lead to better comprehension. Just like great writers need to write often and skilled musicians need to practice their instruments every day, to become an excellent reader – and to really understand what’s being read – regular and consistent reading is the key. 
  • Read out loud

If you’re reading with your child, encourage them to read aloud. This way, they are likely to read slower and, therefore, will take more notice of the words and sentences.
  • Ask them questions

As your child is reading, whether to you or to themselves, take the time to ask them questions about the text at hand. Questions starting with “Who? Where? When? What?” are super helpful but don’t forget that all-important “Why?” Listen to their answers and, if you’re familiar with the book/text, offer your own ideas and thoughts to get your child thinking in different directions.
  • Read it again

It may be boring for them, but re-reading is vital when it comes to comprehension. They may notice something they didn’t the first time and will then gain a fuller understanding of the text. Even better, they could read it themselves the first time and then you could read it together the second time and discuss afterwards. 
  • Further reading

If you know what they’re reading for school, try to find some additional material that will complement their studies. Supplementary notes and materials may add some missing pieces to their comprehension puzzle. 🧩
  • Practice vocabulary

Only by getting to grips with vocabulary, both basic and advanced, can your child really start to master reading comprehension. Encourage them to highlight, underline or note down unfamiliar words while they’re reading so that they can look up the meanings and build a strong word bank. Learning collocations is also crucial; collocations are pairs or groups of words that are frequently seen together to mean something, for example, ‘go crazy’, take a photo’ make a promise’ and ‘catch a bus’ are all common collocations that we use daily. The more familiar we are with them, the better our reading becomes. 

  • From the Expert 

When asked about the importance of vocabulary proficiency when it comes to reading comprehension for kids, Professor Kate Cain, Head of the Psychology Department at Lancaster University and renowned reading comprehension expert, offered the following to Huntington Research School:

“Vocabulary knowledge is important for reading and listening comprehension; children who do not know the meanings of critical words in the text may fail to understand key ideas. The relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension goes both ways. Vocabulary is what we call an unconstrained skill: we continue to learn the meanings of new words, or nuances of words we already know, throughout our lifetime, and we learn most of those words from books.”

My work has shown that children with good reading comprehension skills are better able to work out the meanings of new or unfamiliar words from context. So, good comprehension skills can help to build vocabulary knowledge. Because books contain more rare and infrequent words than everyday conversation, teaching children how to use context to figure out the meanings of new words (as well as dictionary skills) and encouraging them to read widely to create opportunities for word learning is important.”


What are some helpful reading comprehension books?


From comprehension for year 1 to Key Stage 1 and 2, these books will help develop your child’s proficiency.

  • Developing Reading Comprehension Skills Years 5-6: Classic Children's Literature written by Kate Heap

Aimed at the upper Key Stage 2 level, this gem is filled with a variety of texts from classic children’s literature, such as extracts from The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables, The Jungle Book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not only will they be given the chance to learn more complex vocabulary, but they’ll also be faced with longer passages which are excellent for exam preparation. 

  • Year 1 Reading Comprehension Targeted Practice Workbook: Ideal for Use at Home - Collins KS1 Practice 

Comprising a range of classic and modern reading materials spanning fiction, non-fiction and poetry, Collins has created a super-helpful book that uses a repeated practice method that’s been proven to work and will improve your child’s performance at school, especially in tests and assessments. 

  • Pearson REVISE Key Stage 2 SATs English - Reading Comprehension - Targeted Practice: for home learning and the 2022 exams written by Catherine Baker

Structured in a one-topic-per-page format, this book will help your children organise their studies while simultaneously tracking their progress with handy check boxes!

  • Brilliant Activities for Reading Comprehension, Year 2 (2nd Ed): Engaging Stories and Activities to Develop Comprehension Skills written by Charlotte Makhlouf

Filled with engaging and enjoyable reads, Charlotte Makhlouf has prepared an array of interesting texts, including plays, stories and poems, to help your child improve their literacy comprehension. Simple factual recall, vocabulary work and open-ended questions all blend to form a storming study book for your young ones! 

  • Visualization Skills for Reading Comprehension (Six-Minute Thinking Skills Book 2) written by Janine Toole PhD

If your child needs help with their visualisation skills, this is just the guide for them. Garnering strong mental images when reading texts will truly lend itself to your child’s performance when it comes to comprehension questions. Plus, each worksheet has been designed to last only six minutes so there are no excuses. 😇

  • 35 Reading Passages for Comprehension: Inferences & Drawing Conclusions: 35 Reading Passages for Comprehension written by Linda Ward Beech

They can master their reading skills – especially how to make inferences and draw conclusions – by way of these engrossing nonfiction passages that also come with short-answer practice questions. Suitable for home study or school, they’ll be inferring until the cows come home 🐄

  • Developing Reading Comprehension Skills Years 5-6: Classic Poetry written by Kate Heap

Add a little verse to proceedings via Kate Heap’s poetry-focussed pages. Featuring some of the greats – Christina Rossetti, William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rudyard Kipling and Emily Dickinson, to name a few – get set to improve your child’s reading provision while also introducing them to some classics.

  • Reading & Comprehension Workbook Age 9-11 written by Susan Elkin

To prepare for pre-tests and 11 plus exams, your child can practice their skills by answering questions based on the 25 passages in this book. While also heeding tips and advice, unfamiliar vocabulary can be learned in context so expect your kids’ word bank to expand!


What advice can I give my child for reading tests and exams?


 Whether it’s for SATs, GCSEs, A-levels, or university, it’s never a bad idea to be prepared for exams, and the more prepared you are, the less dreaded exams may seem. Take note of our trusty tips and share them with your child when the time comes. 

  • Practice papers are their best friends

It may sound like a drag but practice tests are a great way to get children ready come exam time. Look online for old exam questions, invest in trusty revision books and if they’re doing the practice exams at home, start with untimed tests but eventually work up to using a timer so that they become used to working under time constraints. 

  • Read the question oh-so carefully

There is nothing worse than getting to the end of an exam and suddenly realising that you didn’t read the question properly. To avoid this, your child needs to activate their hawk-eyed attention to detail and read every word with care. It’s better to take the time to read questions thoroughly at the start to save any panic at the end when time is almost up!

  • Don’t linger, move on 

It’s very tempting to linger over each question because your child wants to be exact, but staying on the same section for more than the allotted time will do more harm than good if there are other questions waiting. How to work out the allotted time for each part? Easy. Divide the exam time by each question. If the exam is an hour long and there are three questions, that means 20 minutes per question. If they have time left over from one question, they can devote those minutes to the next questions or use the extra time to spell check! 

  • Get familiar with skimming and scanning

There often isn’t enough time in exams to read the set texts with the same attention to detail as we would normally, which is why familiarising oneself with skimming and scanning can definitely pay off. To get the main idea of a text, skim reading (reading rapidly but not completely taking in the words) is key and while your child won’t be absorbing every fine point, they’ll certainly be getting the gist of the text. 

Scanning will also lend a helping hand and this method involves – quickly! – seeking phrases or words in the reading material that are in or specifically related to the question and ignoring unrelated information. 

  • Highlight and underline

If they’re permitted to do so, your child, while reading (or skimming, scanning), can try highlighting or underlining anything that they may think is relevant to the question. Working through long texts, it’s easy to get lost – so giving themselves signposts will keep them on track. 🏁

  • Answer all the questions 

Unless there is a penalty for incorrect answers, urge your child to answer all the questions in the test. Writing something is better than writing nothing and if it means the difference in a grade by one or two points, it’s a risk worth taking. This is especially important when it comes to multiple choice questions – if there’s nothing to lose, they can choose the option that seems to make the most sense or, they can guess. 

  • Written comprehension matters too

To communicate rigorous comprehension skills means that written comprehension needs to be up to scratch too. Writing coherent sentences to convey ideas is paramount in reading exams – the examiner needs to know what they are saying. To master this, writing practice (yes, we really like to emphasise those practice tests!) will get your child accustomed to penning short- and long-form answers. 

  • Dot the i’s and cross those t’s

Should they have some time left at the end of the exam, your child should use this time wisely. While pondering over what’s for dinner is fun and imagining how their favourite Netflix series will end is tempting, checking over question answers for grammar and spelling mistakes is much more rewarding – we promise! 

  • Mix it up

Tests and exams can be tough, and difficult reading passages can make them tougher. To acclimatise your child to more advanced or complex material, suggest that they mix up their go-to reads as often as they can. For book lovers, this may seem less of a feat but if your child isn’t so big on books, simply switching up the topics they read about can certainly help. The more exposure they have to subjects and themes that they’re less familiar with, the more they’re opening themselves up to new vocabulary and forming fresh ideas and thoughts. 

And if we haven’t made it obvious, reading should be fun. The more they enjoy reading, the less of a chore it will seem when it really matters.