Comprehension passages are centred on a variety of topics, including the arts, social sciences, sciences, politics, literature etc. However, there is no need to have a specific knowledge of the topic on which the passage is centred. What is needed is the ability to understand the intended message of the passage by identifying and noting the following when reading:
Purpose – Is the given piece describing, explaining or informing the reader about a topic or an event; or is it seeking to persuade the reader? What is the underlying theme? Is it violence? Is the piece stating facts or opinions? Is the literature describing the aftermath of a natural disaster? Or, is it of a political speech? All these questions and more can be answered once a reader can identify the purpose of a piece.
Tone – This is the expression of a mood or emotion that the writer shows toward the material in the piece and/or to the readers. The tone of a passage may be happy, playful, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, displeasure etc.
Figures of Speech – This is defined as a word or phrase that departs from everyday literal language for the sake of comparison, emphasis, clarity, or freshness. The ability to identify and explain the significance of figures of speech is an asset to readers especially if the piece is a poem. Examples of figures of speech are similes, metaphors, euphemism and irony.
Context Clues – Regardless of how wide one’s vocabulary is, the probability of encountering an unfamiliar word in a passage/extract is rather high. It is therefore important that you know how to use context clues to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words. This involves noting how the word is used, including the part of speech and its relationship to other words/ideas in the context in which it is used.
Signal Words and Phrases – These words and phrases help readers to understand the relationship between ideas in a passage. Below is a list of signal words and phrases.
Addition words: also, in addition
Cause and effect words: as a result, therefore
Contrast words: conversely, in contrast
Emphasis words: more importantly, remember, note
Time words: before, meanwhile
Punctuations – When reading any piece of work, it is important to note the punctuation marks used as these marks often have significance and thus must be taken into consideration in order to make sense of the piece.
Setting – This is the surroundings or environment in which a story is set. If the piece is narrating a story or describing an event, clues to the setting will be provided in the piece.