For the English learner, the main reason why you may want to read texts faster is that you have a reading exam to complete. For the purpose of this blog post, we are going to focus on the IELTS exam, but the strategies we will discuss are equally applicable for Cambridge Exams – Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency, and the TOEFL Test.
I meet many students who complain to me that they just “don’t have enough time to read the whole text and answer the questions”. So, how can you improve the speed of your reading and give yourself the best chance of answering all the questions and obtaining the grade that you need?
Let’s look at some useful strategies.
Knowing that you are going to be pushed for time in a reading test, it is very easy to dive straight in and try to answer the first question as quickly as possible without reading the whole text first. Try and resist this impulse and before you start answering the questions skim the text first for general understanding of what the text is telling you.
If you skim the text first for general understanding you will:
- have a better idea in your head about where to look for answers;
- be more likely to know what the whole text is talking about and have a general understanding of the ‘purpose’ of the text;
- be less likely to choose a ‘distractor’ answer – that is an incorrect answer that seems at first to be correct.
This leads us to the next big question: how best to get a general understanding of a text?
The first method is ‘skimming’ – running your eyes over the text quickly. It is important here that you are NOT reading every word, you are NOT vocalizing words in your head as you read them, and you are not stopping for words whose meaning you are not sure about (there will be time for that later, only if it is necessary).
The second method involves using your knowledge of how a text is constructed to help you take in the important information quickly. We know for example that the introduction will give a useful overview of the whole text – so pay particular attention to it. We know that each paragraph will have a ‘topic’ sentence which will include the main idea of the paragraph and we know that usually (but not always) the topic sentence will be the first sentence in the paragraph.
So, by using this knowledge and by just reading the first sentence of a paragraph we can get a pretty good overview of what the text is telling us – and we can do it quickly.
‘Which method should I use then?’ I hear you ask. Well, try both and see which one works for you and then obviously, choose that one.
The final thing that I want to mention is ‘focus’. If your mind is on the confusing final episode of Game of Thrones and not on the text, you will not read quickly. If you are thinking about what you will be eating for dinner…you will not read quickly. Concentrate on the text and don’t become demotivated if there are words you don’t know. These tests are not easy, they are a challenge…rise to the challenge…get the grade you need.
To improve further your reading it is important that you build constantly your vocabulary. Some good ways to do so are to learn English idioms and also learn synonyms to the English words you already know or you are adding now to your vocabulary.