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We may be living in the digital age, but reading books is still a big part of growing up. And the books that young people read – and how difficult they are – can have a massive impact on their ability to understand exam questions, tell fake news apart from real news and get informed and involved in society.

When they’re in primary school, children read books that really challenge them. But once they reach secondary school the level of difficulty doesn’t change much. Secondary school students tend to read books which are also read by upper primary students. That suggests that secondary school students are not challenging themselves enough – and their reading comprehension is probably suffering as a result.

One might also think that students who read harder books might make more mistakes and understand them less well. But data shows that students’ quality of comprehension does not depend on the difficulty of the book, no matter what year of secondary school they’re in. Motivation is the most obvious factor here – if you like the book, you try hard to really understand it.

As children become teenagers, they listen less to advice from adults and more to advice from their peers. So, rather than trying to lecture young people on the merits of Jane Austen, teachers and librarians should try making the nature of the problem – and its likely consequences – clear to their students.

Students should challenge each other to read more difficult books, as information about book difficulty is easy to access through AR. Adults could help by setting up noticeboards or organising social media networks for young people to share their recommendations. And teachers can lend a hand by setting aside time for reading in school – though they would have to select difficult books, of course.

Young people almost certainly do not realise the problems that come when they don’t challenge themselves to read difficult books. But there’s plenty they can do to avoid these issues – with or without the help of parents and teachers.

- The Conversation