Why do you read in English? Do you do it for pleasure? For work? Or do you read because you need to answer a question – from your teacher or on an English test? For many students, this last reason is most common.
People use different reading skills for different situations. For example, if you’re bored and looking through a magazine, you’re going to read differently than if you’re trying to answer questions on the IELTS.
In this post, we’re going to look at the kind of reading you do when you’re taking a test, such as IELTS or TOEFL. Understanding the kinds of questions you’re going to be asked will help you understand the strategies you need to answer them.
To put it another way, knowing why you’re reading can help you understand how to read.
Teachers and tests both look at reading as a combination of sub-skills. The most common reading sub-skills are:
1. Main Idea/Gist.
Many questions ask you to summarize the main idea of an article. To do this, you want to think about what a summary is. A summary is a short version of a text that captures its main points. You often have to do this for IELTS, TOEFL, in school, business, and in life.
To summarize, you need to understand the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
When reading for academic or professional purposes, think about how you would summarize the text. Do you understand the 5 W’s about the article you are reading? If you do, then you’re ready to answer any question that asks you about the main idea.
And when doing a summary, you may also practise another reading skill: making notes.
You may be asked about a single detail, such as where a character lives. With these types of questions, you need to be selective. You don’t need to read a whole novel to find out where a character lives!
Use your common sense and look at the beginning of the story. The author usually puts details about main characters there, to set the scene for the reader.
Scanning means looking over a text quickly to find a piece of specific piece of information. Think again about the previous question: where a character lives. How would you find the answer to this question on an IELTS exam?
Go to the beginning of the essay – but you don’t need to read every word! Just scan the page quickly until the name of a city or town catches your eye. (Hint: Capital letters will help!)
Skimming is similar to scanning: speed through the page, don’t read every word. But with skimming, you’re not looking for one piece of information. Your goal is to get a rough idea of the whole thing.
Skimming is something we do every day, e.g. when reading a newspaper or magazine. You skim over the headlines, and when you find something that interests you, then you read the article.
When you take an IELTS or TOEFL reading test, it’s a good idea to skim the whole passage before looking at the questions. This will give you a general idea of what the essay is about.
5. Vocabulary in Context.
Some English words have many meanings, but when your teacher – or a test – asks you what a word means, you need to understand how it is used in the one sentence you are reading.
For example, examine this sentence:
“The man had a minute insect crawling on his hand.”
What does the word minute mean? Does it mean a unit of time – 60 seconds? Does that make sense in this sentence?
No, in this sentence, the word minute means “very small.” This is a different meaning of the word than you’re familiar with, but it is the correct meaning for this context.
In fact, all these skills are nearly the same in Vietnamese, so you’re off to a good start! All you need to do is practise these skills in English.
What Do You Think?
Do you have experience practising any of these sub-skills? Does it help you to think of reading in this way? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!