The Measurable Benefits of Pleasure Reading

What if we told you that reading Shadow and Bone or The Song of Achilles is academically useful? Or reading Pride and Premeditation or even Warrior Cats? Or graphic novels such as Heartstopper or even a comic strip like Pearls Before Swine? That’s right: reading doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize-winning, canonical “great American novel”-quality to improve your standardized test scores–and it doesn’t have to destroy you emotionally or demand contextual research, classroom analysis, or deep critical thought.

In fact, studies have shown that pleasure reading–no matter what you read–has many documented positive effects in measurable arenas:


  • Pleasure reading deepens empathy and the ability to understand others’ mental states (Kidd and Castano, 2013).

  • Pleasure reading could have a greater influence on overall academic outcomes than students’ socio-economic background or their parents’ level of education (OECD, 2002; Sellgren, 2013).

  • Students who engage in pleasure reading perform better in English, math, science, and history (Whitten, Labby, and Sullivan, 2016).

  • Pleasure readers find greater success in the workforce (National Endowment for the Arts, 2007).


And most importantly for our purposes:

  • Pleasure readers naturally gain mastery of language skills including spelling, vocab, grammar, writing style, and reading comprehension (Krashen, 1993). That’s right–they don’t have to learn these points schematically, in a classroom or tutoring setting.

  • Students who engage in pleasure reading get higher scores on standardized tests in all subject areas and display higher levels of general knowledge, in addition to greater reading comprehension and increased fluency (Cullinan, 2000).


Researchers, educators, and students themselves are aware that today, there are many barriers to pleasure reading. If you need a summer job, you’re going to have less time during vacation to devour novels on the beach. If you have a social life online, screen time and cell phone habits will naturally reduce your attention span and likelihood of picking up a book. If you’re overloaded at school with homework, extracurriculars, and “heavy” reading, it’s hard to find time for anything else, including “light” reading.

We realize, too, that it’s a bit contradictory to recommend reading “for fun”--in order to raise your test scores. But it’s important to realize that reading isn’t a waste of time, and it doesn’t have to be “great literature” or critically-acclaimed. So don’t feel guilty about taking quiet moments to yourself and going on fictional adventures.

If you’re having fun while reading–if you picked up that romance novel or thriller and devoured it of your own free will–you can look forward to measurable positive effects in your overall academic performance. Whether you are already a pleasure reader, or you were looking for a new hobby that’s cheap and rewarding, you can feel good about spending time in an entertaining yet productive way.

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