The Key to Higher Level Reading and Higher SAT and ACT Scores

ReadingHaving taught hundreds of students how to read and having worked with students up to grade 12 on reading, I have found most high school students to be breaking down on reading at the same place in the process.

Background on Reading:

There are four cueing systems of reading:

  1. Graphophonic (Sound – the reader must be able to decode letter sounds)
  2. Syntactic (Structure – the reader must understand the rules of language)
  3. Semantic (Meaning – the reader must be able to relate material read to material already known)
  4. Pragmatic (Purpose -the reader must understand the culture and social purpose for which language is used)

Early in elementary school, most students reach success with the first two components of the cueing system.  When given an appropriate leveled piece to read, they can “read” it.

For higher level reading, students need to master the semantic and pragmatic cueing systems. This is where middle school and high school students often run in to trouble. These skills take time, practice and exposure to many topics and genres. The semantic cueing system requires background knowledge.  In order to find a logical place for the freshly read information in his/her brain, the reader must have a general idea about the topic being presented.  The pragmatic cueing system also requires life experience and strong mental processing. The purpose must be clear. Semantic and pragmatic cueing require higher level thinking and the ability to synthesize and evaluate material while reading. To master semantic cueing and pragmatic cueing, students need life experience, intellectual conversation and exposure to various topics.  It comes with time and practice.

The best way to become proficient with the semantic and pragmatic cueing systems and to become a better reader in general is to read often.

Middle and high school students, try these reading steps to improve your semantic and pragmatic cueing systems and get more out of your reading

  1. Understand that the book/article is assigned for a purpose.  There is something to be gained by reading it or it would not be assigned reading.  – Ask the teacher if the purpose is not clear.
  2. Look at the copyright page and read any introductory information available (back cover, front flap, introductory blurb…)
  3. Search the internet for information about the time period when the book or article was written and the time period when the story takes place.
  4. Do a quick internet search on the author.  Get a feel for where the author is coming from physically, mentally and intellectually.
  5. Download the audio version of the book if the book is a challenge to get through.  Try listening to the book while walking. (physical exercise improves brain function – and keeps you alert and awake)
  6. Pause and think about what is being read.  ask yourself… Can you relate to it?  Do you agree/disagree with concepts and characters?  Is it in line with something you read previously? Do you want to understand more about it?  Do you like the writers style?
  7. Look up unknown vocabulary words and concepts as they come up.  Just like in math, in reading missing one concept can lead to a misunderstanding of what lies ahead.

The next challenge in mastering the reading sections of standardized tests (and college level reading) is reading speed.  Again, this takes practice.  The more someone reads, the faster they get. In my next blog post, I will provide suggestions for increasing reading speed.

Sandy Aprahamian, EDNavigators LLC