Reading comprehension sections of any test are often met with an internal groan. There is always the fear that you won’t understand the texts that you are given, that the themes will not be familiar to you and that the assessors are in some way trying to trick you into finding the wrong answers! There is a skill to reading comprehension tasks that goes beyond simply being a good reader or knowing lots of vocabulary.
Even if you asked someone for whom English is their mother tongue to take a reading comprehension test, they may struggle if they have not honed their reading comprehension test-taking skills. Often anxiety plays a big part as you are already expecting to fail, and consequently you find it hard to concentrate on the task. In this article, we’ll give you some helpful solutions to put in place to address some of the common fears people have about this section of the PTE and help you to become confident readers and reading comprehension test takers!
For reading comprehension, unfortunately, there are no short-cuts or quick tricks that you can learn that will all of a sudden help you to ace that test tomorrow. You’ll need to put aside some time and put in some work to practice the strategies that we are going to show you, so be prepared. Familiarity is key and for new strategies to sink in, reading an article is not enough. You need to keep putting them into practice before they become a natural, integral part of the way in which you approach a task.
1. If you are not a natural reader, become one
Sounds kind’ve obvious right? But we have to remember that some of us are natural bookworms and some of us are just not. This applies regarding our native language and new languages that we are learning. If you are someone who does not particularly enjoy reading in your mother tongue, it does not always come naturally to get into the habit of reading regularly in another language. Regular reading makes all the difference; whether it is reading an online news blog in English in your lunch-break or setting aside half an hour before bed to read your favorite magazine in English.
There is no need to make life hard for yourself and read things about which you have no interest. Think of developing your reading habit as an opportunity to learn or be entertained at the same time as practising your language skills. Saying this, it is really helpful to read non-fiction texts and articles about current events as these are the types of texts you will be presented with in the PTE reading comprehension tasks. There is so much material online these days that it has never been easier to find reading material that is accessible but informative about technology, culture, science or history; the kind of things that come up all the time in the PTE reading section.
2. Use internet articles to design your own practice tasks
Now that have become a habitual reader, using the wealth of informative and interesting tasks available online, you can choose texts to use for more formal comprehension practice. Create a bank of online articles that are a similar length to the PTE texts (250-300 words) and use them in the following way to make your own, free practice tasks. Now you have the texts ready, follow the steps below to complete your exercise:
First, have a quick read trough the article using the scanning technique to find keywords and phrases that give you clues about the content of the article. Keywords and phrases will be those that repeat the main theme of the text, often similar words form the title, or the words/ phrases at the beginning a paragraph that are introducing the information to come. Jot the keywords and phrases down.
Next, read the article but fairly quickly (not quite word by word) with the keywords in mind. Don’t bother lingering on parts you don’t understand, just move forward to get the gist. Look for subheadings and topic sentences in each paragraph to expand on the key points. Now jot down the important points learnt from this stage.
By this point, you will have a fair amount of information jotted down and in your head about the article and you can write a few sentences summarising the main points. In these sentences, answer the following questions: What is the main thing the writer is trying to get across? Who is the writer and why are they writing the article? What is the main topic? What is the main argument? What are the 3 most relevant points?
Finally, read the article slowly, word by word. Reflect on whether you were able to gain most of the information you would need to answer questions about the article from your skimming, scanning, extracting of key information and note-taking. The answer will probably be yes, and these are great skills to learn for your PTE reading practice.
Do this exercise on a regular basis so that these skills are integrated.
3. Create your own word bank
Even if you are really good at the comprehension skills used in the last exercise and you are getting into your regular reading habit, if there are loads of words that don’t understand, you are going to have a hard time with your reading comprehension. There will always be some words that candidates don’t understand, and you can use methods to read around them using the context but, of course, the better your vocabulary knowledge the better.
But, where to start with all those words to choose from?! Well, give yourself a target of a certain amount of words to learn each week and stick to it. Make sure that you use them in your speaking and writing so that you don’t forget them as soon as you have learnt them, and they sink in.
Make sure that some of the words you are learning are the types of words that come up in non-fiction writing again and again. You can use your regular online reading practice to give you ideas. Also learn synonyms for words that you already know as this is a great way of expanding your vocabulary, as well as homophones to avoid any confusion; words that sound the same but have a different meaning and sometimes a different spelling (there are lots of these in the English language, put there just to confuse us!)
4. Read at the right level for you
There is no point in reading texts that you only understand a small part of as you will just get frustrated and you won’t really learn much or move on. Similarly, if you read texts that are a breeze, you are not really learning much or moving on! Just like with any new skill, take a sport for example, it is good to push your self a little out of your comfort zone but develop at a level that is realistic and increases your confidence rather than crushing it. If a text has a few words in that you don’t understand, but most that you do, this is a good place to start.
5. Choose quality practice material
As with everything these days, the internet is full of activities that you can do to prepare for tests and improve your English skills. The problem often comes in identifying which are of good quality and which are relevant to the test that you are taking. Now that you have your own independent reading and reading revision routine, when you are specifically taking practice PTE reading comprehension tasks, you can make sure they are tried and tested and top-quality
So, give yourself plenty of time, put these strategies into practice and become a confident reader and a confident reading comprehension test taker. Once the PTE Academic reading section comes around, you will be ready for action!