How can my child’s comprehension skills be improved?
By Chris Pearse
21 May

If your child is taking an 11+/Common Entrance or 13+ exam they will probably encounter a comprehension exercise. As with many subjects there are several strategies and techniques which can be learnt to improve your comprehension knowledge. This blog will give suggestions on how best to develop these skills.

Let’s start by stating the most obvious requirement for performing well in a comprehension – good reading skills! What does it mean to have good reading skills? Well, being able to comprehend the written word and reading with fluency. This fluent approach also means observing punctuation and recognising how it impacts the meaning of a sentence. When we read our brain internalises the content and tries to make sense of the wording. The wider our vocabulary the easier the internalisation process will be. Sometimes reading more complex sentences more than once will help ensure you grasp the main ideas. This can be relevant when reading classical literature, which often contains more difficult old-fashioned language. We would always encourage students to read a variety of genres e.g. fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Reading fluently will allow you to capture enough words and help you read at a good pace. On average a student in year 5 should read between 100 – 130 words per minute and this will ensure you have time to answer the questions that follow the passage or poem. These questions will involve factual recall, inference, knowledge of vocabulary and personal opinion. These types of questions are explained in more detail below:

Factual Recall

This involves finding the facts in the text. It is important to refer back to the passage or poem and not just guess. Often this requires you to simply extricate the information from the text. A common type of factual question will involve finding statistical information e.g. dates or how old a character is.  Underlining these key facts as you read will help you to navigate the passage when recalling the information (don’t underline everything!).


This can be a challenging element of comprehensions, often referred to as ‘reading between the lines’. It relies upon finding clues in the passage to help draw conclusions. To help develop inference it is important to ask probing questions about what you are reading.  Inference questions need you to use evidence in the passage and it might not directly state the answer. For example, if the text stated that the weather was extremely hot and somebody was wearing shorts and the question might ask ‘what season is it?’, we could infer that it is probably summer.

Knowledge of Vocabulary

Most comprehensions will contain questions about the vocabulary used in the text. What is the ‘synonym’ or ‘antonym’ for a word? Look back at the passage or poem to reinforce what the words will be in context. Also, remember many words have a dual meaning. This category could include questions on literacy devices e.g. alliteration, personification or onomatopoeias.

Personal Opinion

These questions might test your understanding of the purpose of the text or get you to describe a character based on the way they are portrayed in the passage. This is looking more deeply into the text to generate your own opinion.

Below are some key points when you tackle a comprehension exercise:

1. Read the text carefully; underline keywords, phrases or important information (don’t underline everything!).

2. Pause while reading and try to internalise the information – what does it mean?

3. If time allows look at the more complex paragraphs again.

4. Look at the questions and scan the passage or sweep the text, looking for words that are linked to the questions. These are called key words and they will help you to find the facts you need, so you can answer the questions.

In summary we would always suggest reading a variety of different books and not sticking with the same author. Explore poetry and classical books that will help widen your vocabulary. Comprehensions can be tricky but reading the whole passage or poem thoroughly (not skimming over the words) will help with your understanding. Continually referring to the text will ensure you can clarify your reasoning and not feel everything must be memorised. Using the wonderful Galore Park comprehension books will give you vital practice and allow you the opportunity to cover all the different styles of comprehension questions.
Remember the answers are in the text somewhere – you just have to find them!

Chris Pearse is the author of several Galore Park Verbal Reasoning resources.​


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