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Tips to Improve Your Reading Skills

Learn how to improve your English reading skills with these tips to help you prepare for the TOEFL iBT® test and university study.

Read in English as much and as often as you can.

  • Read texts on a variety of topics.
    • Read both academic and non-academic materials.
    • Read about subjects that interest you and about subjects that don't interest you.
  • Write basic questions to test your understanding of a text.
    • Write questions and answers about the first paragraph, then guess what might be discussed in the next paragraph.

Use your knowledge of grammar to understand difficult sections of a passage.

  • Think carefully about the relationship between independent and dependent clauses.
  • Look for words that refer back to some information given in a previous section of the text.
    • Look at pronouns and find the nouns that they refer to.
    • Look at relative pronouns (who, that, which, whom, whose) used in adjective clauses — for example, "The student whose classmates are taking the TOEFL® test …" and find the nouns they refer to.

Continually expand your vocabulary knowledge.

  • It is important to increase your vocabulary on many subjects, because you will have to read about various topics at university.
    • Review glossaries/lists of terms used in academic textbooks.
  • Make a plan for studying new words.
  • Write a new word on 1 side of a card and the definition on the back.
    • Write the sentence you saw the word in to help you learn correct usage.
    • Study the words often, and always mix up the cards.
  • Group the words by topic or meaning. Study the words as a list of related words.
  • Study vocabulary by making a list of opposites (words with different meanings) and synonyms (words with similar meanings).
    • opposites — relevant-irrelevant, abstract-concrete
    • synonyms — excellent, outstanding, superb
  • Review the new words on a regular basis so that you remember them.

Expand your vocabulary by analyzing the parts of a word.

This will help you understand some unknown words that you see.

  • Study roots — a part of a word that other parts are attached to
    • -spect- (look at)
    • -dict- (say)
  • Study prefixes — a part of a word attached to the beginning of the word
    • in- (into)
    • pre- (before)
  • Study suffixes — a part of a word attached at the end of the word
    • -tion (inspection)
    • -able (predictable)
  • Study word families — the noun, verb, adjective or adverb forms of related words
    • enjoyment (noun)
    • enjoy (verb)
    • enjoyable (adjective)
    • enjoyably (adverb)
  • Use the context to guess the meaning of unknown words.
    • Notice when difficult terms are defined in the text.
    • Look for examples with an explanation of the meaning of a word.
    • Look at the other words and structures around an unknown word to try to understand it.
  • Use resources to help you study vocabulary.
    • Use an English dictionary to learn correct meaning and word usage.
    • Get calendars that teach a new word each day, or look for websites that will send you an email with a new word each day.
    • Study the vocabulary you find on university websites that give information about the university and the faculty teaching at the school.
  • Practice correct usage by making sentences with new words. This will also help you remember both the meaning and the correct usage of the words.
    • Have a teacher check your sentences.
    • Review the new words on a regular basis so that you remember them.

Learn to recognize different organizational styles so you can understand the way an article or text is structured.

  • Read an entire passage from beginning to end.
    • Look for the main ideas of the article.
    • Look for the supporting details.
    • Pay attention to the relationship between the details and the main ideas.
  • Look for the common patterns of organization you find in articles.
    • Pay attention to connecting words so you can understand the pattern of organization.
    • Write a summary of a text, making sure that it incorporates the organizational pattern of the original.
  • Pay attention to the connecting words/transitions used for specific relationships.
    • steps — first, second, next, finally
    • reasons — because, since
    • results — as a result, so, therefore
    • examples — for example, such as
    • comparisons — in contrast, on the other hand
    • restatements of information — in other words, that is
    • conclusions — in conclusion, in summary
  • If the text argues 2 points of view, be sure both points of view are reflected in your summary and that appropriate transitional words are used.
    • Look at connections between sentences.
    • Look at how the end of 1 sentence relates to the beginning of the next sentence.
    • Think about the connection between the ideas of the 2 sentences.
    • Combine the sentences using appropriate transition words to show the relationship between ideas.