Sometimes when you are reading a text, you come across a difficult word and you don’t know the meaning. It happens to everyone – even native speakers. But what do we do when we face difficult vocabulary? How should we deal with this problem? Today, we’re going to look at how to cope with difficult words for OET reading.
Difficult Vocabulary for OET Reading
If you are preparing to take the OET, then you probably won’t be overly worried about medical vocabulary. After all, you are a medical professional and you know this stuff inside out. But what about phrasal verbs, idioms, or other unfamiliar expressions that can present themselves? When such new words or expressions appear, how can you deal with them?
Learning English is a long, hard journey and it can take many years to feel confident enough just to guess the meaning of a word. However, this is exactly what native speakers do all the time. Particularly with texts like medical journals, it is common to encounter new and difficult words. If we don’t know the meaning, we need to either figure it out or look it up, and the first of those options is usually the most sensible one. After all, who has time to look up so many words?
Mostly, though, it can be a good idea just to ignore the word. That might sound strange, but it’s true. When people read long texts in their native language, they actually skip over many words, and those that are difficult usually get skipped unless they hold some particular importance. You do it often when reading in your own language. For the OET reading test, it’s not a bad idea to skip over words that prove too challenging because otherwise you might waste precious time. You only need to expend effort on it if you really think that it holds some major clue to answering a question.
So, if you really must focus on a word and figure out its meaning, and you are in the exam so you can’t use a dictionary or the internet, then what should you do? Let’s find out some important steps in the following OET reading tips:
1. Figure out its Purpose
The first step towards working out the meaning of a new word is to find out what it does in a sentence. In other words, what is its part of speech? Is it a verb, a noun, an adjective, or something else? If it is functioning as a noun, then is it the subject or object in the sentence? Sometimes just knowing this information can help you immensely, and tell you whether it is really worth finding out more.
You can usually begin to work this out by looking for other parts of the sentence that you recognize. If you find the verb, you can then typically locate the subject, and from there you may deduce the function of other parts of the sentence. This should help you to work out what your mystery word or phrase is doing.
Look at the following sentence and note the use of the word “intravenous”:
• After being discharged, the patient needed two weeks of intravenous injections to rid him of the infection.
We can see that the word appears before a noun, “injections.” This is also a word that should hopefully be familiar to all OET candidates reading this article. We can them take from this information the valuable lesson that “intravenous” is an adjective, and specifically something that could relate to injections. In other words, in this context it is probably a kind of injection.
2. Look at the Different Parts of the Word
Native speakers often figure out the approximate meaning of a word by recognizing – on a subconscious level, at least – the different parts of a word. We can often tell if a word is a noun, for example, because it may end in a familiar suffix (that means the final part of a word). Most words ending in “-tion”, for example, are nouns.
There are many suffixes, in fact, that give us clues to their meaning through these final particles. If a word ends in “-ist” then it may refer to someone who believes in something or thinks a certain way: Buddhist, pragmatist, racist, atheist, etc. A word ending in “-ology” is almost certainly a branch of science: biology, ontology, pharmacology, etc.
Again on a subconscious level, most native speakers can intuit the meaning of a word from these sorts of suffixes and prefixes (the latter meaning the beginning of a word). Words often contain fragments that we recognize from other words, and even when a new word is coined, most native speakers will quickly figure out its meaning.
English takes words from many different languages, but historically much of it came from Latin, French, and German. In the areas of science and art, there are many words from Greek, too. As such, words can be figured out by noting these shared origins, even if you aren’t fully familiar with them.
Take the word, photorealism, for example. What could it possibly mean? Well, it ends in “-ism,” so it refers to an idea (like communism, Daoism, fascism, etc). It begins with “photo”, like photography, photograph, photographer, and so on. And the word “real” should be pretty obvious. As such, this word can be deduced as meaning “the concept of making something as real as a picture”, which is an idea relating to artwork.
3. Look at the Other Words Nearby
One of the best ways of figuring out the meaning of a word is to look at the other words around it. Inferring meaning by context is something that people do every day with great effect. Let’s say a native English speaker is reading a book about a historical period and she reads the word “cutlass”. She has no idea what it means… except that it’s a noun and people are using it to fight each other. Therefore, she knows that it must be a form of weapon. Easy!
This can generally be applied in most types of reading. It may not give you the perfect understanding of a word, but it’s actually an incredibly effective way of guessing at the general meaning of a word, and when coupled with the two ideas above, it can really prove useful. Give it a shot next time you do the OET reading section.
4. Find Out Whether it’s Positive or Negative
Once you’ve gone through all the ideas above, you should look into whether the word is positive or negative. Although this is not always possible, it sometimes is, and can therefore be useful in working out its meaning. You can start by simply looking for words related to positive or negative sentiment. You can also follow the advice in rule #2 and see if there is a negative prefix such as “un” or “in” or “non”.
Other ways of doing this involve looking at transitional words and phrases, as these quite often involve implicit meanings regarding positive or negative sentiment. In the following sentence, we can easily work out the meaning of the word “relapse” with the help of this approach:
• Mrs. McCarthy was released from hospital two weeks ago; however, she had a relapse and was brought back within a few days.
The word “however” shows contrast. The first half of the sentence delivers positive news, and so the second is clearly negative. Looking at our advice from above, we can see the prefix “re-” meaning to happen again, and that this is a noun. From the context, we know that “relapse” means she has suffered another instance of whatever illness originally caused her admission to hospital.
It is not always important whether a word is positive or negative, and of course many words or phrases have no such leaning. However, this is still a useful tool to employ, and can sometimes help you out. You should definitely trying using this approach in your OET reading practice test.
It is perfectly normal to encounter a difficult word or phrase, but you should stay calm and not panic, even if it is important for answering a question in your OET reading test. Just look at the context, ask yourself if there are any parts of the word that look familiar, and trust your instinct to figure out its meaning without any help from a dictionary.