Back in school, in French classes, we used to be given ‘comprehension tests’ for our homework. Doubtless the same exercises are used the world over, though not necessarily by that name. ‘Comprehension’ involved reading a passage written in French, after which you would be expected to answer questions based upon what you had read and understood. Many hated ‘comprehension’, and there would be an audible groan from the class as the teacher set the task.

I loved it. It was, as far as homework was concerned, a ‘freebie’. It had not taken long to work out that the answer was almost entirely contained within the question. As long as you had the basic vocabulary to understand the passage itself, it needed only the most rudimentary understanding of the way that particular language worked to be able to regurgitate the question itself as an answer with the odd detail from the passage thrown in.

There was no need for really understanding though, not at all.  The clues were all there. Once you had worked out how to re-present the question, the answers wrote themselves. It always seemed a little pointless to me, as a good mark was based more on rephrasing something you were being told, rather than actually understanding French. But as I liked French and was pretty good at it, I had usually finished the comprehension homework before the class was dismissed and could look forward to both a good mark and a free evening.

We had comprehension tests in English classes too. Given that we already understood the language and how it worked, the requirements were a little bit different and not quite so easy to whizz through. The questions would not simply ask you to restate what you had read, they required you to think about it instead, drawing unwritten conclusions and interpretations. Quite often, there could be no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer as the response had to be subjective. Even so, the information from which your conclusions would be drawn was always included in the text, in obvious or subtle form.

These ‘comprehension tests’ were never, to my mind, a real measure of understanding, but were rather testing  knowledge.  All it needed was that you paid attention as you were reading and the answers were never far to seek. A good grade could be gained by simple regurgitation in French, and basic extrapolation in English.

Continue reading: The Silent Eye

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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23 Responses to Comprehension

  1. Ah. Another brilliant test taker. I always tell people that I am not actually brilliant but i do REALLY well on test. I can always figure out what they want to know and spit it back to them. The ONLY time this didn’t work was in science and math. They actually wanted real information Damn!


  2. Pingback: Comprehension – The Militant Negro™

  3. Solveig says:

    When I work with high school kids preparing their Baccalaureat for German, I am always shocked by the simplicity of their questions… Exactly what you outline above, the answer is easily found in the text (questions are always asked in order so finding answers is simple) and then all they seem to look for is correct rephrasing…


  4. Ruth says:

    I too loved language comprehension tests in school – read the text, understand the text, answer the questions – it was a no-brainer every time. Maths though, was always a different story… manipulating numbers is often complete gobbledegook to me! 🙂


  5. Leeby Geeby says:

    As a teacher I can relate to this one a lot. Half the time I would be just as bored as the kids in presenting reading comprehension for English tests. Thats were the Severus Snape impersonations come in handy. Always good for a chuckle!


  6. Widdershins says:

    I love the picture at the top – the old folks keeping an eye on the younglings, making sure the harvest is in. 🙂

    I never ‘got’ what comprehension tests were about. It seemed like they were asking me to repeat what I just read. I got by, but the concept of ‘rephrasing’ never really sunk in until I was an adult, (as with most things from my school years) and I was all, ‘Oh, THAT’S what they were trying to tell me! 🙂

    I’m always leery of spirituality teachings that promise, or even obliquely hint at, the ‘One True Path’ up the mountain. That’s why I like hanging out ’round here. 😀


    • Sue Vincent says:

      They just seemed rather pointless to me…even rephrasing is just parroting without real understanding.

      Yes, so am I…there may well be One True Path for each of us, but I do not think it has to be the same Path for any of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Rae Longest says:

    Having once worked with sixth graders who were good readers, could “call” words, even sound them out well, but didn’t comprehend what it all meant when the words were “strung together,” I can attest that comprehension cannot be taught, just as thinking cannot be taught. It just “comes” with practice. My college and even university students today are good test takers as long as they can find the answers in the test. But to ask them to interpret, much less analyze or apply what they have read is sometimes hopeless. The only answer is in practice-reading for comprehension’s sake. Most students who read a good deal do comprehend where those who would rather watch videos and TV etc. just can’t handle comprehension questions. The saddest part I have found is that my teacher wannabes are the ones who can’t comprehend. Is it the same on your side of the Pond?


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