Did you know that there are four different levels in reading? Elementary reading is learning how to read. Analytical reading is learning the big picture in a text. Inferential reading involves understanding the meaning and the significance of what you read. Syntopical reading is the ability to read inferentially using several books at once, and then synthesizing the information into a whole. In this article, you will learn about the importance of inferential reading in improving your reading comprehension.

Probably the best way to show you how inferential reading works is through an example. Think back to when you first heard the story of Christopher Columbus. Most students were taught that in 1492, a man named Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and he discovered the new world. When most students take an exam on this topic the questions usually are like the following: (1) Who is the individual who discovered the new world? (2) In what year was the new world discovered. (3) What ocean did Columbus cross when he discovered the new world?

Often these questions are presented as multiple choice. Questions where you don’t need to know the answer but simply recognize it. Sometimes these questions are asked as fill-in-the-blank. Here’s the problem. You can correctly answer these questions without truly understanding what you just learned. Let me now give you an example of an inferential question on this same topic.

“Who discovered the new world, and describe the impact of this discovery on the tribes in the new world, and on the people living in Europe.” Now we are getting somewhere. You would need to explain how the native tribes were enslaved, and killed by the Europeans. You would have to explain how the world was no longer believed to be flat, but now was round. How viewing the world as round instead of flat impacted the religious philosophy prevalent in Europe at that time. You would also have to explain how this discovery started the age of exploration. How countries in Europe competed to gain influence over the new world, and how many wars were fought to win that control.

Did you see the difference between simply knowing the name, and date of the discovery of the new world, and knowing the significance of that discovery. Understanding the meaning and significance is a good example of inferential learning. This is the type of learning you need to strive to achieve when you truly want deeper understanding of what you are reading.

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