The Reading section – Part I
Now, I hope that the previous post helped you visualize a little about the test and maybe helped you with some questions you already had. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so, as it serves as an introduction to this post, just click here http://vitacuraenglish.cl/2018/01/04/all-about-the-toefl/ .After catching up, you can begin reading here where we will go deep into the Reading section. I´ll focus on the text for now, and in the following post I´ll break down the types of questions and strategies to work them out.
The Reading Section
As mentioned before this section can be 60 or 80 minutes long, now, you’re probably wondering; why does the time vary? You see, normally this section will last 60 minutes, and you will have 3 readings with their corresponding questions. It is important for you to notice this once you begin the test as it will help you set up a mental state where you know that you have to prepare for 60 or 80 minutes of reading. In the case you see 80 minutes on your screen, you know you will get 4 readings. This fourth reading is used by the folks of ETS as an experiment, so, it isn’t graded. The trick here is that out of the four reading you will have, you won’t know which one will be graded or not, which means that you must do your best on each one of them.
Now, regardless of the amount of readings you get you have to work on a strategy to do them in the right time. Each reading passage is about 700 words long and is followed by a series of questions that range from 12 to 14. The topics of the passages can vary around the academic spectrum, yet they will usually speak of topics as; anthropology, biology, sociology, astronomy, and psychologically, so it is key for you to be familiarized up to a certain point on these topics, trying to get to know the vocabulary so you avoid some surprises.
In this section one of the most common questions from our students is; can I read the questions and then look for the answers in the text? The answer to that is; Yes, you can. However, that strategy is not recommended for every student. This can be applied for students who have a higher level of English, I would recommend the minimum to be an Upper-Intermediate or a B2 in the MCERL (You can find some more info bout the MCERL by clicking here, bear in mind that it is in Spanish, http://vitacuraenglish.cl/2017/11/23/marco-comun-referencia-las-lenguas-mcerl/), if you are in the level of most English students, which ranges between Pre-Intermediate and Beginner however, this strategy isn’t for you. The strategy I work with my students, works with all the students. It is perfect if you have a mid to lower level, but if you have a higher level it will make your life easier as well as you will see that it is very easy to apply. So, it will help you regardless of your level.
Alright, so let’s begin analyzing the text. You know you´ll get an academic text of any of the topics mentioned before, and you will see that it will be separated into paragraphs, this is helpful for you, as this way, you can find the main idea of each paragraph and take mental notes of it. The main idea is usually in the first sentence of the paragraph in an academic text, it represents the introductory argument of the paragraph and the sentences after it just give supporting information and examples of it. This is the strongest sentence and be ready for the questions that you will be asked about it. There are some occasions when you´ll see some words that are highlighted, usually you´ll find around 2 or 3 in every text, you´ll also find a full sentence that is highlighted, those are cues that you´ll get a question about them, so read carefully through them. You might find a passage that is divided with 2 or 3 subsections, and in the text, you´ll find some comparisons and contrasts of those sections or just different categories, it´s also smart to keep them in mind as they represent potential questions.
You want to read and respond all the questions of each reading in under 20 minutes, so you must be very consistent with your practice and taking your time. What I recommend is for you to read the whole text in 6 to 7 minutes, this may sound a bit fast, but if you prepare with 2 or more months in advance it is possible for almost every student. If you read the text within the 6 to 7-minute range, this means that you will have to dedicate about 14 to 13 minutes for the questions, which with a very basic level of math shows you that you will have approximately 1 minute for every question. Some questions can be answered in under 30 seconds, but there are others that require us to read more, so we have to dedicate more time to those ones.
While reading you have to be certain that you can retain some of the information so that when you respond the questions you move quicker through the text, although the test will help you out here, because when you have a question that asks about a specific paragraph or sentence it will mark this paragraph and you can save precious seconds.
After reading the whole text, be ready to respond about 12-14 questions. At this point you must breath deep and trust your skills.
In the next post, I´ll explain the types of questions that you will find, and tips on how to spot them while you´re reading the passage, along with some examples to help you visualize.