‘Comprehend’ means ‘to take in the meaning, nature, or importance of something
or somebody’. It is the act of grasping the meaning of a given passage or text. It is
often not realized that comprehension broadly means ‘understanding through
reading and integrating it with the knowledge you already have. It involves a wide
range of skills and interests. It is truly a multi-dimensional affair. It encompasses a
variety of abilities with respect to vocabulary, grammar, spirit of the text,
inferential processes and contextual knowledge. The most important factors
operating in comprehending a text or passage are: remembering word meanings,
following the structure of a passage, finding answers to questions answered
directly or indirectly, recognizing the writer’s purpose, attitude, tone and mood and
thus drawing inferences from the passage.
Usually, making out the meaning of a question and writing the answer down is one
way often found in school and college examinations? Besides this, there is the
second kind known as objective comprehension, in which multiple answers are
given only to choose the correct answer out of the alternatives given under the
questions. This type is often found in the present competitive examinations.
Some important techniques:
• Use your pencil as a pointer to guide your eye along a line of the text and to
read as speedily as possible.
• Circle key words and phrases in order to identify them immediately as an
answer to a question posed.
• Don’t get bogged down even if there is a word or a phrase or a sentence
which you don’t understand. Don’t worry. You can sense the meaning from
the context later. So move on to come back later if the time permits.
• Another good reading comprehension strategy is to read the questions first
(which doesn’t mean to read the answer choices). This helps you know what
information you need after reading the text. It will remind you to concentrate
more on the required details from where the questions drawn.
• Read the passages as fast as you can and re-read the questions for correct
understanding. For fast reading understanding the spirit of the text given,
you have to train your eyes and mind to function simultaneously. As your
mind begins to look for ideas rather than words, your eyes will begin to obey
READING COMPREHENSIVE TRICKS
your mind, which is always supreme. Good reading is good grasping and
good grasping is only good reading.
The questions for reading comprehension usually test the ability to find out
1. Main idea or a suitable title for the text.
2. Information directly given or specified in the passage or text.
3. Any inferences to arrive at logical conclusions from the passage given.
4. The meaning of new and strange words in the text.
5. The author’s style, mood or point of view.
Among the choice answers, there will be certainly one or two answers most
illogical and inappropriate. They must be eliminated. Some general knowledge,
common sense and logical thinking will do the job of elimination. The remaining
answers are either from the information given directly from the text or for
inference. So, finally, the three words information, elimination and inference will
do the job for being successful in reading comprehension. The following example
from Davis quoted by Carroll would make any reader proficient only in simple
comprehension feel out of his depth.
The delight Tad had felt during his long hours in the glen faded as he drew
near the cabin. The sun was nearly gone and Tad’s father was at the wood pile. He
was wearing the broadcloth suit that he wore to Church and to town sometimes.
Tad saw his father’s hands close around a bundle of wood. He was doing Tad’s
work and in his good clothes. Tad ran to him. “I’ll get it, Pa.”
When Tad saw his father, he felt
A) disappointed B) impatient C) angry D) guilty
It is not easy to say which linguistic skills in what order and combinations would
enable the expert reader to infer or deduce D as the correct answer. However, as
pointed out by Carroll, the following two important points seem to be indisputably
involved in comprehension:
1) Language comprehension occurs in situational contexts whose characteristics
may influence not only the degree to which comprehension processes operate
but also the nature and extent of certain other processes that may accompany
comprehension, usually as a consequence of it. The special arrangements that
are frequently necessary to test comprehension constitute such situational
2) Two processes often co-occurring with comprehension are memory and
inference; while they are conceptually distinguishable from comprehension,
their occurrence may make it difficult to assess the separate occurrence of the
comprehension process itself.
Let us look into comprehension in practice as part of language in use.
We are going to take up sample passages and illustrate various kinds of difficulties
involved in comprehending them.
Passage 1: Luckily at the moment he was much too busy talking to the man
opposite him to catch sight of me.
Two things are necessary to understand this sentence fully. First, one has to
know the structure ‘too – to’ (too busy to catch sight of me), so that one gets to
know that the person mentioned was so busy doing something that he could not see
the narrator. Secondly, under the given circumstances the narrator did not want to
be seen by the man referred to. The latter understanding is implied by the use of
the word ‘luckily’.
Passage 2: These nephews of mine never give me any peace – that young man is
the worst of them all! As you see, when he needs money, he even follows me into
the country. Well, perhaps next time he won’t even warn me by writing me a letter.
Confronted with a text like the above, assuming that the context is not known, one
is called upon to make intelligent guesses, particularly, if one were asked to say
what kind of man, a person who says such things, could be. This point can be
exemplified by framing the following question:
The person who said these things is most likely to be
a) Contented b) angry c) complaining d) miserly
Surely, there must be some skill or skills which would enable the reader to make
the correct guess and choose c) as the best alternative. This too is an important part
of the general ability making full comprehension possible.
Passage 3: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. The
general recognition of this fact is shown in the proverbial phrase, ‘It is the busiest
man who has time to spare.’ Thus, an elderly lady at leisure can spend the entire
day writing a postcard to her niece. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard,
another hunting for spectacles, half an hour to search for the address, an hour and a
quarter in composition and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an
umbrella when going to the pillar box in the street. The total effort that would
occupy a busy man for three minutes, all told, may in this fashion leave another
person completely exhausted after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.
1. Explain the sentence: ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its
A) The more work there is to be done, the more the time needed.
B) Whatever time is available for a given amount of work, all of it will be
C) If you have more time, you can do more work.
D) If you have some important work to do, you should always have some
The answer here is B. This can be found out through simple inference. A statement
is made right in the beginning of the passage and the story of the lady illustrates
the fact that whatever time is available for a work, people tend to use all of it.
2. Who is the person likely to take more time to do work?
A) A busy man B) A man of leisure
C) An elderly person D) An exhausted person
Here, the answer is B. It requires inference. The answer is to be inferred from the
facts given in the passage that the more the time you have, the more you will need.
Therefore this answer is arrived at through complex inference.
3. What does the expression ‘pillar box’ stand for?
A) A box attached to the pillar B) A box in the pillar
C) Box office D) A pillar-type post box
The answer is D. It can be derived through implied information. The lady has to go
to the pillar box to drop her letter.
4. What happens when the time to be spent on some work increases?
A) The work is done smoothly B) The work is done leisurely
C) The work consumes all the time D) The work needs additional time
Here the method of elimination applies and simple inference confirms it. A and D
are eliminated at the first reading. The description that the lady who has enough
leisure time takes the entire day in writing the postcard gives us the clue that the
correct answer is C. This again is complex inference.
5. What is the total time spent by the elderly lady in writing a postcard?
A) Three minutes B) Four hours and five minutes
C) Half an hour D) A full day
The answer is D and it is based on the information given in the passage.
Passage 4: The last half of my life has been lived in one of those painful epochs of
human history during which the world is getting worse, and past victories which
had seemed to be definitive have turned out to be only temporary. When I was
young, Victorian optimism was taken for granted. It was thought that freedom and
prosperity would spread gradually throughout the world through an orderly
process, and it was hoped that cruelty, tyranny, and injustice would continually
diminish. Hardly anyone was haunted by the fear of great wars. Hardly anyone
thought of the nineteenth century as a brief interlude between past and future
1. The author feels sad about the latter part of his life because:
A) He was nostalgic about his childhood
B) The world had not become prosperous
C) The author had not won any further victories
D) The world was painfully disturbed during that period of time
2. The victories of the past:
A) Brought permanent peace and prosperity
B) Ended cruelty, tyranny and injustice
C) Proved to be temporary events
D) Filled men with a sense of pessimism
3. The word ‘definitive’ used in the passage means:
A) Defined B) Final C) Temporary D) Incomplete
4. During the Victorian age people believed that:
A) Strife would increase
B) There would be unlimited freedom
C) Wars would be fought on a bigger scale
D) Peace would prevail and happiness would engulf the whole world
5. A brief interlude between past and future barbarism’ can be interpreted as:
A) A short period of time between past and future acts of savagery
B) A short space of time between two great events
C) An interval between cruel wars
D) A dramatic performance during wars
Now, let us examine the answers:
1. The answer is ‘D’. You can hit at the answer through inference. The clue is in
the first sentence itself—’the world is getting worse’. The whole passage also
implies that the last half of the life of the author was a period of turmoil.
2. The answer is ‘C’ and it can be based on information given in the passage: ‘the
nineteenth century was a brief interlude’.
3. The answer is ‘B’. Both information and simple inference suggest this answer.
4. The answer is ‘D’. It is based on information.
5. The answer is ‘A’. The information is implied in the question itself—’barbarism’.
The passage also confirms it.