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How Can I Stop Reading Without Understanding?

Reading without understanding is like eating without digesting

The goal of reading your study book isn’t that you can say that you saw all the words. You should be able to at least recall what you read. To make it even better, you could also aim to understand what you read. The easiest and most difficult way to do this is by having more focus.

This is the easiest thing to do because you “only” need to have more focus when reading. Not understanding what you read isn’t a matter of intelligence. Most people don’t understand what they read because of a lack of focus.

Keeping the focus on your text is also the most difficult part. It might be even harder than understanding what you are reading. Focus is an ongoing thing. You start with it when you read. It tries to slip away while you read. And before you know it… it is gone and you feel you did not read any words over the last 2 pages.

What causes this and how can you stop this from happening? Let’s investigate!

5 Causes For Poor Reading Comprehension

Poor comprehension is caused by a lack of focus, interest, or a physical/mental reason. The most seen causes of poor reading comprehension are:

  • Disinterest
  • Difficulty in decoding
  • Physical or mentally tired
  • Poor vision
  • ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia


One of the main reasons for not understanding what people read is disinterest. They don’t care what they read. This gives a signal to your brain that anything you read isn’t interesting and not worthwhile. So you see, but you don’t understand.

Solution: Start giving about what you read. Read through the course or book questions to see what is important. Focus on what you should learn. This way you can keep your focus throughout the chapter. I am sure you will lose focus again when things aren’t that interesting. Buckle up! Here is one last reason to get focus (or motivation) if all fails. Remember that when you read and understand what you read now, you can stop reading it.

Difficulty in decoding

Sometimes books are just too difficult. When I grab a book that is too difficult, I will not understand what I read either. Make sure you build up your ability to read any type of book (in your field of expertise).

Solution: Learn to speak the jargon before you dive into a book. When there are many technical terms or for example Latin names, understand these. This doesn’t mean you need to take a course in Latin first. Understand (or lookup) each difficult word. Create a list of them to quiz yourself.

Decoding problems are frequent when you open up a new book. After a while,  things will get better. You only have to look up words once in a while.

Physically or mentally Tired

too tired to read - have a nap

I often feel mentally (and physically) tired at the end of the day. Having done my work, being with the children, and taking care of my family drained all my energy. I can sit and read a few pages or even a chapter. But what sticks isn’t that much.

Solution: I do most of my reading early in the morning. This way my mind is still fresh and I can absorb information much better. If I must read during the evening, I do some light exercises before I read. This helps me get the blood pumping and makes my head feel fresh. I don’t drink coffee or energy drinks. I normally go the natural way and alternate between reading and an exercise.

And you know what… sometimes you just have to give in. Set an alarm for 15 minutes. Close your eyes, and start working again when you wake up!. Don’t go over 15 minutes. It will make you feel even more tired…

Poor vision

Not wearing glasses while reading can cause tired eyes and headaches. This is taking away (part of) your focus.

Solution: Wear glasses to give your eyes the best focus on your test. It is that simple…

ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia

You may have ADD, ADHD, or dyslexia. These are neurological disorders or conditions. They reduce your ability to focus (attention deficit disorder). They hinder you to read properly. Unfortunately, there is no cure for them. You can learn coping strategies. Remember that they are not saying anything about how intelligent you are!

Read More: Does Reading Speed Correlate With Intelligence?

 Note that I am not a doctor… I don’t give medical advise. Please consult your own doctor with medical questions!

These are very practical issues that hinder you from understanding what you read. Your main question might be: Is there something you can do to reduce not understanding of what you read? Let’s have a look at that now…

3 Practical Solutions

For all the problems listed, there is one solution: You have to improve your focus. The best way to do this is by not just starting to read. You have to start with a question. Every text, this question can be different. It may even be different when you read a chapter multiple times.

You could start with a general question: What is the idea presented on these pages?

Next, you read with more detail: How are the ideas connected?

The last time you read your text could have this question: What don’t I understand or needs clarification?

Start with a broad question and become much more specific when diving in.

If you still find it difficult to focus or understand what you read, make sure you read out loud. This has shown to be a good way to increase focus and comprehension.

Read More: Is Subvocalization Good For Comprehension?

The third solution is to stop more often when reading. Stop and recall what you read. Make this a habit. First, you may stop every paragraph. Recall what you read in these few lines. When you can do that, recall every half page or so. Then, you stop every page.

Read More: Does Speed Reading Improve Memory?

It is good to do this every time. Train yourself to recall what you read. It will help your memory and your understanding.

If you still find it difficult to remember or understand what you read, let me know. I am here to help you read smarter and save time studying!



Reading without understanding happens mostly when there is no focus. It doesn’t matter what causes your lack of focus. It could be that you have no interest in the topic. You can also feel tired. Or you could have a problem with the text or even with your eyes. No matter what the reason is, you should address it as quickly as possible.

Remember, you are reading with a clear reason. You want to study, learn new things, relax with a good book. Reading isn’t a chore, it should represent joy.

When you are reading, it is not about seeing as many words as possible in a short time. Reading isn’t about looking at words. It is about gaining knowledge.

It is time to focus. Create a clear goal for reading your text. Only after doing that, start reading. You can’t expect to understand what you read unless you know what your outcome should be. Often this goal can be as simple as I want to get a general idea of this text. It could be much more specific: I want to understand how X relates to Y using Z.

Start with a goal. Work through the text. And enjoy the growth you will be experiencing.

Read More: Why You Should Read 10 Pages In A Day

And if all fails… you can always use this goal. I want to get through this text as efficiently as possible so I don’t have to read it again. 🙂

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