In everyday conversation the terms ‘comprehension’ and ‘understanding’ tend be used interchangeably. In Speed Reading terminology however, they have distinct, more precise and subtly different meanings.


Comprehension is the ability to grasp concepts within the context of a single document. For example, when reading a novel you must comprehend the setting and characters in order to be able to follow the plot as they interact later in the story. When studying, it is important to comprehend basic concepts introduced which the author will then elaborate upon. Tony Buzan describes this as “intra-integration” (intra meaning within) “The interconnection of the information within the text to itself.” Tony was fond of Star Trek and cosmology. His alternative metaphor for comprehension was the Starship Enterprise navigating a galaxy of stars. Each Star represents an element of knowledge gravitationally connected to the other elements forming a single body (the document).


Tony Buzan says, “Understanding is different from comprehension. Once you have comprehended, you then can integrate that information with the outside world – ‘extra integration’ (‘extra’ meaning outside or beyond), connecting the book to the outside universe.” He continues, “the process by which you bring all your previous knowledge to what you have read, making appropriate connections, analysing, criticising, appreciating, selecting and rejecting.”

Understanding allows you to combine information from different sources. This can be websites, different books related to the subject, lecture notes, YouTube videos and of course your own existing knowledge and experience.

There can be an overwhelming amount of information on any given subject available in today’s connected world. Sifting the useful nuggets from the mass of facts, opinions and fake news is a challenge. Creating a Mind Map allows you to Integrate everything into a clear framework, to fit together the different components and make sense of the topic. The use of colour, images and associations give Mind Maps the extra benefit of helping you to memorise a subject in detail – with appropriate reviews.

The more you understand the easier to understand new things. Each new piece of information has a firm foundation to build upon. Due to the synergetic nature of the brain, new ideas link and connect to existing ones to create in an ever more elegant interplay of knowledge. Information in the brain does not simply add together. Concepts interact in multiple ways to create more resulting ideas then the sum of the parts. Buzan again describes this with a colourful simile, “Whole-brain synergetic thinking… reflects the explosive nature of neurons zapping across the brain in search of new connections during the process of thinking. It is like some vast pinball machine with billions of silver balls whizzing at the speed of light from flipper to flipper.”

If you are simply reading for pleasure, comprehension is enough, but if you’re studying you can turbo-charge your knowledge acquisition with deep understanding. Be selective, critical and make appropriate connections with your reading and your Mind Map. Study becomes so much more enjoyable and lifelong instead of short-term cramming for exams.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *