I never liked to read.

Shocking, I know, especially coming from a teacher. When I was a high school student, I spent an enormous amount of energy trying to do as little as possible in my English class. In high school, we read works by some of the greatest American writers. Faulkner, Hemingway and London were just a few of the many novelists we were assigned to read. Even though I didn’t like to read, I still did well because I was able to answer comprehension questions about the reading.

You see, I never actually read the story.

Instead, I would look at the questions we were expected to answer and I’d go back and try to find the answers. Our teacher didn’t test us to see if we read, but if we correctly answered the questions about the reading.

It’s the same in the TOEFL. The evaluators don’t care if you read the entire passage or not, they only care about correct answers. The questions reflect your understanding of the details, vocabulary and key points within the passage. Doing well on the TOEFL reading section isn’t easy, but, try to approach the reading section as I did when I was in high school. I didn’t like to read, but I enjoyed solving puzzles. I saw reading assignments as puzzles I needed to solve. The main problem is:

“What’s the easiest way to answer these questions while reading as little as possible?”

Of course, you want to read and understand everything. I know, it drives me nuts when there’s something I don’t understand. However, for the TOEFL reading, you’re going to have to take a different approach. You need to focus on improving your score and, to do that, you must come to the realization that you don’t have time to read the entire passage before you start to answer the question. This is the first common problem many TOEFL takers have:

 

1. Students read the passage before answering questions.

Be like the high school version of me. Take two minutes to scan the passage. Read the title and the first line of each of the body paragraphs to get a better idea of what the main idea of the passage might be. However, that should only take you two minutes. You need to start to answer the questions as soon as possible.

 

The second most common mistake I see is:

2. Students don’t use the review button.

This is a problem, particularly for the TOEFL. I’ve attached an image so you can see what it will look like on the exam.

 

 

This is a very powerful button. If you press it, you’ll get redirected to a screen that lists all of the questions in the reading section. The review button page will let you know which questions you’ve answered, which you haven’t and which you haven’t reached yet. Not only that but on this page, you can jump around to different questions.

 

 

Usually, I tell students to answer in sequential order. Don’t jump around too much. However, be aware that you can use the review button page to your advantage.

 

An easy way students can improve their score by three points is to avoid mistake number three:

3. Students don’t eliminate.

Most students take tests and try to find the correct answer. This makes sense, of course, but for the TOEFL, it’s better to eliminate choices first before you answer. The TOEFL makers purposely try to trick you. They use complicated and convoluted wording in their questioning. Again, this is done on purpose. The best way to avoid making a mistake is to take your time. Eliminate answer choices first to increase your odds of getting the answer correct. (For more on eliminating, you can check out my other blog post “How to improve your TOEFL reading score by 3 Points)

 

Mistake number four is a common problem students have while preparing at home.

4. Students don’t practice like they play.

The best way to study and prepare for the exam is to replicate the conditions of the test. Sit down and set your timer for 60 minutes for the reading section. Practice reading passages and questions similar to what you will see on test day. Reading a newspaper every day is helpful, but it’s not nearly as helpful as focused practice on a TOEFL-specific reading. You can find real TOEFL practice here.

 

Here’s my super-secret tip that almost no teacher teaches for the reading section, but almost all of my students have found immensely helpful…

5. Students don’t use the scrap paper.

That’s right, use scrap paper for the reading section. Most students use scrap paper for the listening, speaking and writing sections of the exam, but not for the reading. In my opinion, scrap paper is a great resource for you to use while you’re doing the reading because it’ll help remind you of difficult questions and what answers you eliminate. Here’s a picture of what your scrap paper might look like.

I crossed out choices I wanted to eliminate. Sure, I could have just mentally crossed out those choices, but the scrap paper gives me one less thing to think about. Also, I have questions circles. Those are questions that I answered, even though I wasn’t 100% on whether they were correct or not. If I have time at the end of the reading section, I’ll use the review button to jump back to those particular questions and double check my answers.

So those are the five most common mistakes I see TOEFL-takers make in the reading section and I offered some alternative advice to help you avoid the same blunders.

Do you have any other problems that I didn’t address? Do you have different advice for people struggling with the reading section? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Stay lucky.

-Josh

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SMART CHOICE

I never liked to read.

Shocking, I know, especially coming from a teacher. When I was a high school student, I spent an enormous amount of energy trying to do as little as possible in my English class. In high school, we read works by some of the greatest American writers. Faulkner, Hemingway and London were just a few of the many novelists we were assigned to read. Even though I didn’t like to read, I still did well because I was able to answer comprehension questions about the reading.

You see, I never actually read the story.

Instead, I would look at the questions we were expected to answer and I’d go back and try to find the answers. Our teacher didn’t test us to see if we read, but if we correctly answered the questions about the reading.

It’s the same in the TOEFL. The evaluators don’t care if you read the entire passage or not, they only care about correct answers. The questions reflect your understanding of the details, vocabulary and key points within the passage. Doing well on the TOEFL reading section isn’t easy, but, try to approach the reading section as I did when I was in high school. I didn’t like to read, but I enjoyed solving puzzles. I saw reading assignments as puzzles I needed to solve. The main problem is:

“What’s the easiest way to answer these questions while reading as little as possible?”

Of course, you want to read and understand everything. I know, it drives me nuts when there’s something I don’t understand. However, for the TOEFL reading, you’re going to have to take a different approach. You need to focus on improving your score and, to do that, you must come to the realization that you don’t have time to read the entire passage before you start to answer the question. This is the first common problem many TOEFL takers have:

 

1. Students read the passage before answering questions.

Be like the high school version of me. Take two minutes to scan the passage. Read the title and the first line of each of the body paragraphs to get a better idea of what the main idea of the passage might be. However, that should only take you two minutes. You need to start to answer the questions as soon as possible.

 

The second most common mistake I see is:

2. Students don’t use the review button.

This is a problem, particularly for the TOEFL. I’ve attached an image so you can see what it will look like on the exam.

 

 

This is a very powerful button. If you press it, you’ll get redirected to a screen that lists all of the questions in the reading section. The review button page will let you know which questions you’ve answered, which you haven’t and which you haven’t reached yet. Not only that but on this page you can jump around to different questions.

 

 

Usually, I tell students to answer in sequential order. Don’t jump around too much. However, be aware that you can use the review button page to your advantage.

 

An easy way students can improve their score by three points is to avoid mistake number three:

3. Students don’t eliminate.

Most students take tests and try to find the correct answer. This makes sense, of course, but for the TOEFL, it’s better to eliminate choices first before you answer. The TOEFL makers purposely try to trick you. They use complicated and convoluted wording in their questioning. Again, this is done on purpose. The best way to avoid making a mistake is to take your time. Eliminate answer choices first to increase your odds of getting the answer correct. (For more on eliminating, you can check out my other blog post ´How to improve your TOEFL reading score by 3 Points´)

 

Mistake number four is a common problem students have while preparing at home.

4. Students don’t practice like they play.

The best way to study and prepare for the exam is to replicate the conditions of the test. Sit down and set your timer for 60 minutes for the reading section. Practice reading passages and questions similar to what you will see on test day. Reading a newspaper every day is helpful, but it’s not nearly as helpful as focused practice on a TOEFL-specific reading. You can find real TOEFL practice here.

 

Here’s my super-secret tip that almost no teacher teaches for the reading section, but almost all of my students have found immensely helpful…

5. Students don’t use the scrap paper.

That’s right, use scrap paper for the reading section. Most students use scrap paper for the listening, speaking and writing sections of the exam, but not for the reading. In my opinion, scrap paper is a great resource for you to use while you’re doing the reading because it’ll help remind you of difficult questions and what answers you eliminate. Here’s a picture of what your scrap paper might look like.

I crossed out choices I wanted to eliminate. Sure, I could have just mentally crossed out those choices, but the scrap paper gives me one less thing to think about. Also, I have questions circles. Those are questions that I answered, even though I wasn’t 100% on whether they were correct or not. If I have time at the end of the reading section, I’ll use the review button to jump back to those particular questions and double check my answers.

So those are the five most common mistakes I see TOEFL-takers make in the reading section and I offered some alternative advice to help you avoid the same blunders.

Do you have any other problems that I didn’t address? Do you have different advice for people struggling with the reading section? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Stay lucky.

-Josh

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