Taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) can be stressful. It’s a timed test, and that means that in addition to reading selections in a language that you may still be learning, you also have to be able to do it quickly and accurately.

The key to doing well on the exam is to become accustomed to reading and understanding English quickly. Here are five things that can help you accomplish that.

Tip #1: Familiarize yourself with the instructions

The first thing you can do is to make sure you understand the instructions for the reading section of the test beforehand. Get some practice tests and go over them until you are positive that you know what you must do.

What’s the benefit of doing this? On test day, you can save yourself some precious time by skipping over the directions and getting right to the test.

Tip #2: Practice contextual reading

One of the hardest things for any student of a foreign language to do is to read passages that include unfamiliar words. Even if your English vocabulary is impressive, you may come across a word that you don’t know. During the test, some very rare words may be underlined so that you can look up a definition. However, most won’t be.

The solution here is to read unfamiliar things and get accustomed to figuring out the meanings of new words from the context of the piece as a whole. Some things that may help include:

  • Learning familiar roots of words and using them to determine their meaning
  • Using surrounding words, sentences, and paragraphs to get the meaning of a new word

The more you practice doing this, the easier it will be for you on test day.

Tip #3: Manage your time wisely

The reading test is administered in one large block of time, and it’s your job to use that time wisely. You will have several passages to read, and you must make sure that you have time to get through all of them. You should spend no more than 20 minutes on each reading selection.

In addition to taking practice tests, you may want to practice reading using some different techniques. Here are two examples:

  1. Read through the given passage quickly (this skill is called skimming), read the questions, and then go back and pick out the answers (scanning through text for a particular answer) to the questions as needed. This is a most recommended technique to use for managing your time well on the reading section of the TOEFL exam.
  2. Read slowly, absorbing everything thoroughly, and then answer the questions after you have finished.

Either technique may work for you, but if you try both you’ll be able to pick the one that feels the most comfortable.

Tip #4: Practice speed reading techniques

Another thing that may help is using some speed reading techniques to maximize your understanding of what you read. For example, many pieces used in the TOEFL repeat key words or phrases. If you skim through the selection quickly, make note of any repeated words.

You can also increase your comprehension by reading the first and last sentences of each paragraph. Those sentences tend to set up the idea covered in each paragraph, and then summarize the paragraph’s meaning. You may want to try this technique to see how it affects your ability to understand what you read.

Tip #5: Read in English every day

Finally, you should make sure to read as much as you can in English every day. The more you read, the larger your vocabulary will be. Even when you aren’t practicing for the test, you should be using your language skills.

Talking about what you’ve read is a good way to gauge your comprehension of it, too. Try reading a passage and then explaining it to a friend. Pay attention to what you missed and then reread it to figure out which techniques will help you avoid the same mistake on test day.

The more you read and practice in the days and weeks leading up to the test, the better you will do on test day. These five techniques will help you finish the reading section of the TOEFL within the time limits – and get the high score you want.

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