Tips on Tackling Primary Comprehension

Comprehension is an indispensable component of English. After all, it means to obtain an understanding of what we read, or what others are saying! It is only once we comprehend, that we can find meaning and significance from the content we consume. 

To be able to master such a vital skill is why the comprehension section is so important in Primary school English. It also explains why many students take English tuition to do better in comprehension. However, it can be a challenging, even stressful section for students at times, since the answers are not always very clear cut, which is why we’re here to offer some tips on how to improve English comprehension! 

1. Read the title

Naturally, the very first thing students should do is to read the title of the comprehension passage! Doing so provides a rough idea of what kind of passage students are going to be tested on, as well as the direction which the story might take. Take for instance, a passage titled ‘a family camping trip’ – there is an opportunity for students who have gone on such trips themselves,  to tap into their prior knowledge and experience!

Students could also begin to form their own questions about the passage once they have read the title. Specifically, they should seek out the 5W and 1H

Using the same example, students would ask themselves, who are the members of the family going on the trip? When did it take place? Where did they go? Why did they go for a camping trip? (was it because they were on a holiday?) What did they do on the trip? How long was it?

2. Read through the whole passage

The next step would be to go through the entire comprehension passage to obtain a more general understanding of the content. Students do not need to pore over every single word at this stage, but should instead, strive to get a broad, bird’s eye view of what the story is about. This would help them be able to create mental images and visualise the story play out in their mind’s eye! 

Here, students should also take note of any specific paragraph or section of the passage which they do not quite fully understand, or have difficulty with, so that they know to circle back and spend more time deciphering those sections (and the examination questions that pertain to said sections).

And for the parts they do indeed grasp, students should try to anticipate questions the paper might test them on!

3. Read through the questions

With a general understanding of the passage in place, it would now be time to understand what the examination is actually testing them on! Students should then carefully go over the questions, so that they would now know what paragraphs to zoom in and focus on!

When reading the questions, students should take note of a couple of things. For instance, what tense does the question use? Is it past, or present? The marks allocated also provide a hint at how lengthy one’s answer should be, or how many points are needed.

There are various types of questions that students should look out and prepare for. A common one is the true or false question, where students must provide the original phrase/sentence if the statement in the question is true. If it is false, students should give evidence to disprove the statement, or provide the correct statement instead.

Another example is referencing questions, which tests the understanding of contextual clues and grammar rules. Here, students should identify what was previously mentioned, and answer in a specific manner. Students should also be careful not to copy chunks of text from the passage wholesale, and instead rephrase or summarise the information in their answers. This shows the student has put in thought and effort put into the examination, and isn’t just lifting information!

Another set of question types are inferential questions. As the name suggests, students have to infer the answers, as they are not found directly in the passage. This means students must decipher the clues sprinkled subtly in the passage. 

If they are ‘why’ type questions, students must provide a reason for something happening, which is often found after the statement of the event. For ‘how’ type questions, students must explain in what way something happened, or provide an explanation for a character’s feelings.

Regardless of question type, be sure to identify exactly what the question is asking for! Always keep in mind, there’s no reward for extra information, only the risk of losing precious time!

4. Read through the passage again in greater detail

The comprehension passage can be rather lengthy, but the truth is that only certain parts are vital towards answering the questions on hand. Hence, during this step, students should try to narrow down the information relevant to the questions. This prevents students from being bogged down by too much information, and they can have a clearer head to answer the questions more precisely!

There may be times where we are unsure of where to locate the relevant information. As a general rule of thumb, the questions go in a similar chronological order as the paragraphs – for example, the relevant information to question 1 would likely be found in the first few paragraphs, while the answer to question 2 can be found afterwards, so on and so forth. This means we can search for answers in a corresponding fashion.

Be sure to also highlight and take notes on whatever significant or relevant phrases, so that it is easier to return to those ‘check marks’ when referring back to the questions!

5. Address phrases or sentences that are unclear

Since we are dealing with comprehension, the key aspect of the examination would definitely be to have as clear of an understanding as possible, in regards to the entire passage! Hence, students should take note of parts they do not quite understand, such as difficult words or phrases. Then, they should re-read those parts – specifically, students should read the parts that come before and after the sentences they do not understand. Doing so provides essential clues in helping us obtain a better understanding of words or phrases we are unfamiliar with. 

It’s always good to remind ourselves that a comprehension examination tests understanding, not memory. There’s no need to memorise the information given, when students can repeatedly go back and re-read the passage to aid in their understanding, for greater clarity!

However, this is not to say prior knowledge is unimportant. Students should always strive to improve their vocabulary to reduce their chances of being stumped by any unfamiliar words!

6. Summarise key points to check understanding

Finally, after all these steps, students should attempt to identify the main points of what each paragraph is talking about, or the sequence of events which take place in the comprehension passage. This makes it easy for students to have a clear idea of which section they should revisit for the questions they face.


And that was how we would encourage students to go about tackling primary school English comprehension! If students are still not confident, they can always attend Primary English comprehension tuition to brush up on their skills! Taking an online English class for instance, could go a long way in building one’s comprehension foundation.

As a final word of advice, students should always remember that there is little point speed reading the passage or its questions to ‘save time’. Taking the time to digest and understand the information provided, is the key to acing this segment of the examination!

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