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Comprehension Techniques

• For paraphrasing and defining of vocabulary, always remember BIRD (so that
your marks don’t fly away!)

Basic Meaning
Relationship (Cause and Effect; Dialectic)
Direction (Alignments: Positive VS Negative)

- Basic Meaning: general meaning or idea of the word

- Intensity: the degree or intensity of the word
- Relationship: does the word indicate a kind of relationship between two or
more parties?
o Is it a cause and effect relationship?
o Is it a dialectic, i.e. opposite, relationship?
- Direction: is the word or phrase targeted at a specific person or group of
o Is it a positive or negative direction?

E.g. Marginalised:

Basic Meaning: trivialized, ostracized, discriminated

Intensity: something more -ve than simply trivialized
Relationship: relationship between those who marginalize people and those
who are marginalized
Direction: a negative direction, relationship

Answer: Marginalisation is the discrimination of certain groups of people by society

E.g. Devout

Basic Meaning: a believer

Intensity: more than just an average believer, one who is rather fervent and
staunch in his/her faith
Relationship: between the believer and his/her faith
Direction: one of faith and belief

Answer: a believer who is fervent and staunch in his/her faith

• When defining or paraphrasing, as far as possible, use a phrase, not a single

o But please don’t write an entire paragraph!

Q: Why is coffee drinking considered a Pandora’s Box by the author?

Sentence where answer is located

RJC Comprehension Techniques - JJL 1

Coffee drinking has been linked to many diseases, but for many people it is
necessary in order to be competitive and productive in their occupations.

Key phrases and words underlined

Coffee drinking has been linked to many diseases, but for many people it is
necessary in order to be competitive and productive in their occupations.

This is because even though the consumption of coffee has been shown to be
related to a variety of severe illnesses, for a large amount of people, it is essential
for them to perform optimally, effectively and efficiently at work.

NB: to be competitive is not the same as to compete. In this context, to be

competitive encompasses such things as staying relevant at the workplace and
upgrading one’s skills. Hence, the decision to paraphrase competitive as performing
optimally and effectively.

• A single word, even if it is a synonym, might just miss out the complexity of
meaning of the word being defined or paraphrased, especially if there are many
levels of meaning to that word.

• When you get your paper, SKIM rapidly, looking for names, actions, place,
1st and last line of paragraphs

• If you come across a long confusing chunk of text, ask yourself what is the
one key word or phrase that tells you essentially what it’s about and write it
down at the side of that paragraph

• Pay great attention to italicised or bold words

• Dissect the question fully into criteria to be satisfactorily answered

Q: Why does the writer see the threat to morality as “much more
alarming” and like “never before”? Use your own words as far as possible.

Key words/ criteria: writer, threat to morality, much more alarming, like never
before, own words.

• Always consider whether language or fact question - note: sometimes

o Fact questions are the ones you have to directly paraphrase
o Language questions are the ones where you have to show the
examiner that you understand what the author is saying and not

RJC Comprehension Techniques - JJL 2

 E.g. Analogy, Quotation marks, Tone
• Analogy: Literal, What is Parallel to what, How is it

• Locate all the sentences that contain bits of the answer

• Underline all key phrases (and not the entire sentence!)

relating to the answer

• Circle all the key words or phrases that you have to


• The key word is more likely to be a noun or verb rather

than preposition

• Use your own SIMPLE words to rephrase these key words

• Never re-use key words of phrase you are supposed to


• Always check that you have satisfied every one of the

question criteria

• Everything you write must be related very clearly to the

context of the passage i.e., no general statements or phrases without showing
their link to the passage facts

• Use specific noun instead of vague pronoun, i.e. not I,

You, It, He, She, They etc.

• Explain in positive rather than negative terms - explain

directly - avoid words like ‘not’ & negative words like prevent, obstruct

• Explain concepts in simple words

• Use the number of marks as a guide for the number of

points (though sometimes 1 point=1/2 mark)

• Remember to keep your answers SAD!

Accurate I mean, comprehension isn’t exactly fun right?

Application Question
• Treat it like your essay!
• Do Stage 1 – CAD

RJC Comprehension Techniques - JJL 3

• Stage 2 – Instead of generating ideas, you need to pick out ideas and
arguments from the passages
o General rule: 2 from each passage
• Stage 3 – Thesis
• Stage 4 – Structuring
o Counterarguments followed by your own arguments
• Stage 5 – Instead of mere Logos, Ethos & Pathos, you need to
show how the points you have picked out answer the question directly, i.e.
always link them back to the question by arguing, and not listing, how they are
related to the question


RJC Comprehension Techniques - JJL 4