How to Improve Comprehension Scores

Our district requires us to administer comprehension assessments at six weeks intervals to all grades K-5.  Here are my ideas on what to do to improve students’ performance on these assessments.

Students will need both Test Taking Strategies as well as Real World Comprehension Skills.

Test Taking Strategies

  1. Review the assessment.
    This need not be done in one sitting.
    However, students should have an opportunity to see where their mistakes were.
  2. Teach students to read question first.
    It’s very difficult to keep all the text in one’s head while you attempt to answer questions about it.  It is often easier to read the question first and then read to find an answer.
  3. Teach students to eliminate “silly” or obviously wrong answers.
    Multiple choice tests will include two answer choices that are totally wrong, sometimes even ridiculous.  The sooner students learn to game the tests, the better they’ll do.
  4. Teach a QAR (Question-Answer Relationship) Strategy
    Some answers are “right there” whereas other answers require the reader to “think and search” or use only their own head.  (worksheet available here)

Real World Comprehension

  1. Explicitly Teach Reading Strategies
    Many teachers use the language of the reading strategies (predicting, making connections, summarizing, etc.) but how many students can explain what each of the strategies are or why you would use a particular strategy?  Recommit to teaching the strategies, not just as incidental to reading but as the objective of lessons.  (for help with reading strategies, including printable posters, see here)
  2. Promote Student Discussion
    Through handing-off (student-led discussions) or some other means, allow students to discuss literature on their own terms with the teacher acting as the facilitator.
  3. Allow Practice with “Real” Books
    Your basal reader is not enough.  Students will be bored with reading and not develop their strategy use unless they have opportunities to read additional high interest literature in addition to anthology stories.  Whole class readings, small group literature circles, or independent reading workshop, can give students that practice.

How do you improve comprehension?

8 Responses to “How to Improve Comprehension Scores”

  1. Yoga Bear Says:

    I’ve had students read the question first and skim through a passage to find the answer, only to get the answer wrong because they didn’t read the entire passage. I teach students that they have to read the entire passage in order to understand the context of their answer. I also teach the students how to underline where they find their answer in the passage for questions that are “right there.”

  2. Robin Says:

    Great post! As a kindergarten teacher, I don’t use these kind of strategies too often, but I still introduce my students to a few test taking strategies in today’s world of “testing, testing, testing!” I also used to be a tutor for a major tutoring company and many of the tips you give were the ones we gave our students. I also like how you gave real world strategies as well.

  3. Angela Greene Says:

    If you have any comments for me, please check out my blog at: Thanks!

    My comments on your post are here.

  4. Brittany South Says:

    Hey Mr. Needleman,

    I am a student at University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I am in the EDM310 class there. I am supposed to follow your blog for two weeks and post a comment on two of your blogs. I will summarize what you talked about in your blogs, and what I said in my comments to your blogs on my personal blog. I will be posting my blog about two of your posts on or before April 18. My blog is

    I agree that scores on reading comprehension scores are down. I am not a teacher yet, but I will be soon, and I want to use some of your ideas to help my students. I believe that having interaction with students will help. I also think that letting them read something they want to read helps them to comprehend it better. I have always disliked being told what to read, and I didn’t always enjoy all the books as much as I would have if I got to choose my own book. I thank you for your input and will hopefully be able to help my students when I get to the point of teaching.

    Thanks a lot,
    Brittany South

  5. Michelle Says:

    Hi. I have enjoyed reading through your posts so far. As an incoming, future teacher, I find your blogs useful and educational. I am located in Tennessee and there are high standards set for testing in all areas of education. I think that your view of teaching the students how to take the test is a great tool to use for all ages. I hope to use your suggestions of how to actually improve their comprehension scores when I begin my teaching career. I think that if the students know how to correctly read through the questions and know what they are looking for, they are more likely to do better on the test. Thank you for your insights on teaching, as I hope to follow you more in the future!


  6. Lauren Reeves Says:

    Hi, my name is Lauren Reeves I am in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama, with Dr. John Strange! I liked your test taking strategies! I will definitely be using your suggestions to improve my class’s comprehension scores when I begin teaching. Thank you for sharing your ideas, I will definitely be following your blog in the future!

  7. Mike Says:

    Great post. I believe that practice is the key, and I agree that you can always eliminate the “silly” or obviously wrong answers.

  8. Keysha Says:

    The school district in which I work in, is trying to come up with a way to increase comprehension scores among male students. I find the test taking tips to be very beneficial. Often times a lot of time is being spent teaching the curriculum and we just assume that students possess the strategies needed to be successful with assessments.

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