Reading a good book is the best way of boosting literacy — but magazines and comics don’t help, study shows

  • Researchers examined the reading habits of 40,000 young students in Spain
  • They also looked at their test results and levels of parental engagement
  • Reading books daily raised results — as much as three months’ more schooling
  • Yet the same effect was not seen with news, magazines, short stories or comics
  • Girls read more books, short stories and news and boys comics and magazines

Reading a good book is the best way of boosting literacy — but magazines and comics don’t help, researchers have found.

Experts investigated the reading habits of thousands of students, along with their test results and the extent to which their parents were involved in their education.

They found that kids who read ‘quality’ books in their spare time get higher marks in school as teenagers and are the equivalent of three months ahead in their studies.

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Reading a good book is the best way of boosting literacy — but magazines and comics don’t help, researchers have found

Reading a good book is the best way of boosting literacy — but magazines and comics don’t help, researchers have found 

‘Reading is a fundamental skill that plays a key part in all our lives,’ said lead researcher Luis Alejandro Lopez-Agudo of the University of Malaga, Spain.

‘Our results provide further evidence that it’s not only whether young people read or not that matters — but also what they read.’

While consuming more texts has always been associated with higher literacy skills, few studies have focused on the type of reading material that children choose. 

In their study, the team surveyed more than 43,000 students in Spain to determine their reading habits over a three year period, starting when they were aged 10–11.

They also spoke to parents to gauge how involved each were in their child’s education, as well as what their own reading habits are like.

Researchers found that children who read books on a daily basis achieved higher literacy test results on average, equivalent to having had three additional months of secondary school education under their belts.

There were also spill-over effects on performance in other subjects, like mathematics. 

However, the team found that reading newspapers, comics, magazines did not have the same benefit — and even short stories only had a marginal effect.

Literacy skills are improved through practice — and by trying to read longer and more challenging texts. 

Researchers found that children who read books on a daily basis achieved higher test results on average, equivalent to having had three additional months of secondary school education under their belts. However, the team found that reading newspapers, comics, magazines or even short stories did not have the same benefit. Pictured, a child reading a comic book

Researchers found that children who read books on a daily basis achieved higher test results on average, equivalent to having had three additional months of secondary school education under their belts. However, the team found that reading newspapers, comics, magazines or even short stories did not have the same benefit. Pictured, a child reading a comic book

‘Although three months’ worth of progress may sound comparatively small to some people, it equates to more than 10 per cent of the three academic secondary school years measured,’ said paper author John Jerrim of University College London.

This, he explained, runs ‘from when these young people are aged 11 years old to 14 — which we know is a hugely developmental period.’

‘In an increasingly digital world, it’s important that young people are encouraged to find time to read a good book.’

The team found that girls tended to read more books, short stories and newspapers, while boys preferred comics and magazines.

Children from advantaged backgrounds were also found to read both more and more varied types of text than others. 

‘Less complex and less engaging forms of reading are unlikely to bring the same benefits for [children’s] cognitive development, and shouldn’t be counted as part of their reading time,’ Professor Jerrim added.

‘This is particularly important for low-achievers, where any association is likely to be strongest.’

The team hopes that their findings will help parents, teachers and policymakers distinguish between what is best for children to read.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal the Oxford Review of Education.

WHY ARE GIRLS BETTER THAN BOYS AT READING AND WRITING? 

Research shows that girls typically score better than boys in standardised literacy tests.

The trend is seen as early as age 10 and continues until the age of 18.

Previous research has shown women and men use their brains differently.

Girls use both brain hemispheres for reading and writing, while boys typically rely on just one.

Boys are also exhibit more disruptive behaviours than girls in the classroom.

They are more likely to be inattentive and interrupt teachers.

Scientists also suggest that reading and language are seen as feminine skills, even from a young age.

This means boys are less likely than girls to push to improve these skills. 



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