When you’re first learning tarot, you’ll likely start by going card-by-card, looking up the individual meanings to find out what they mean in each position in the spread.
The experienced tarot reader looks over all the cards in the spread to get the full story. When you look over your spread, think of each card as the plot points in a book. All the events in a book’s plot are closely linked together. One thing will happen, which causes another thing to happen, and the cycle continues. This is the same with your tarot spreads.
To look at your spread like a story, start by scanning the selected cards for any Major Arcana cards. These will set the “mood” or theme of the current reading. Think of the Major Arcana cards as the rudder for the entire boat (or the entire tarot spread).
Next, check for any cards that are opposite of each other. You will get a sense of this as you get more and more familiar with your cards. If you’re still learning which cards have opposing energy, check out this website (learntarot.com). This site lists all the cards and their relationships to each other within the deck. It’s a fantastic resource for getting in-depth with the meanings of different combinations of the cards.
As for similar cards in a spread, look to those for confirmation on certain card meanings. For example, the page of cups doesn’t always mean fertility or pregnancy, but it’s more to take on that meaning if it’s paired with the Empress, the Sun, or the ace of cups.
Looking at the cards all together can also narrow down what aspect of life the tarot spread is referring to. If you're seeing lots of wands, the reading is likely to be focused on passion and striving for your goals. If you see lots of cups, you’re probably looking at a relationship reading. The bottom line here is to stay open the different possibilities offered to you in the spread. Make changes or adjust your interpretations as necessary when doing tarot for yourself or others. Each card is a clue to help you tell the full story.