The Best Way to Build Your Reading Skills for Competitive Exams

Updated: Oct 6

Many students get tangled in the reading section of an examination. Indeed, they feel that it's considerably more intricate than all other sections!



Yes, it is absolutely correct that you need to be extremely quick and the reading comprehension requires a great deal of focus. Truly, you have to keep yourself centred to locate the correct answers to the questions Yet, there are things you can improve at reading.


In this section, I'll give you five important strategies to do well in the reading section. I will also provide you with a structured plan that you can follow during the examination and while your preparation.


You can use these tips in any examination, be it an exam like the IELTS or TOEFL or even your school/college examination.




Part 1: Beforehand Preparation


#1. Work on Vocabulary Building


"If you are struggling with reading in an exam," says Ganesh Kumar, a renowned educator and the founder of Learn English Lab, "one big reason could be that you don’t have enough vocabulary for that type of text."


Vocabulary building is among the most important steps while preparing for any English examination. Maintain a habit of reading something new every day. Make sure that you read a variety of genres. Look up words you don't know in the dictionary.


For further assistance in building your vocabulary, you can use the Writerians Vocabulary Builder. This page is updated daily with new words and phrases, quizzes, articles and fun games to hone your vocabulary.


And yes, Don't worry is you come across some unfamiliar words in your exam. Even native speakers don't understand every single word of the text they're reading and that's fine because most of the time, all those words are not required.


#2. Become a Master of Scanning


Scanning is a reading process that helps you to locate details quicker. You no longer read word for word while scanning. You simply shift your eyes effortlessly in a wavelike motion over the text. You don't stop reading details and you don't waste time with unnecessary information. This is a great way to understand a text's main ideas and find more detailed information.

When you want to fully read a passage, you'll want to explain what each paragraph is saying. Every article has a key concept articulated. You don't have time to read all the specifics and that's all right because most are not required in the answers. What you really need to understand is the key concept of each paragraph.


#3. Distribute Your Time


This is something you must plan before the examination. Budget your time according to the pattern of the examination. Decide how much time you need to spend on each question and stick to it if you wish to complete the exam within the time limit. For your convenience, the distribution of time for various examinations is given as follows:


  • IELTS: 3 passages X 20 minutes = 1 hour

  • TOEFL: 3/4 passages X 20 minutes = 1 hour/1 hour 20 minutes

  • SAT: 5 passages X 13 minutes = 1 hour 5 minutes

Remember, in some cases, one passage might be shorter and much easier as compared to the other one. Then, you need to distribute the time accordingly. Spend less time on the shorter one and more on the longer or difficult one.


Certainly, you will only be able to make these changes after seeing the question paper. But, it's always a good idea to have a rough idea of how much time you will be spending on each question beforehand.


If a watch is allowed in the examination hall, then do wear it and keep a track of how much time you are devoting to a question. If you are not permitted to wear one, there must be a clock in the hall. If it's not, then you can always ask the invigilator about the time. Make sure not to spend too much time on a single question, else you would not be able to solve the easier questions and will lose marks. If you find a question difficult, move on and come to it when you have finished the rest of the questions.


#3. Practice Practice Practice


"Practice makes perfect", we all have heard that saying right? To become proficient in reading, you must practice a lot. Solve sample papers, do as much practice as you can to become comfortable with the exam pattern. In this manner, you will get acquainted with different types of questions and will also get to know about your strengths and weaknesses. Also, you will be able to increase your reading speed.




Part 2: During the Examination



#1. Do Not Read The Entire Passage


That's right. As soon as you get the question paper, DO NOT start reading the entire passage line by line. If you do so, you will be reading the text, then the questions and then the text again. You will end up reading the texts too many times and there's simply no time for that!


Your objective at this time should be to get an idea of what the passage is about and the overall message that it conveys.


Read the headings and sub-headings as well as the first two sentences of each paragraph. By reading them first, you will get to know the subject of the text.


#2. Take a look at the Questions


This is extremely important. Before you start to read the entire text in detail, you must always read the questions as they tell you what information you will require. So when you start reading the passage, you will be easily able to mark the answers. Do remember to highlight any important points while doing this. With this, you will find it easier to search for the answers.


After you have read and fully understood the exercises, go to the easiest one and solve it.


#3. Read the Passage and Find Answers


You will find it much easier to read the passage now as you've already read some part of it for your solving your first question. While reading, don't forget to lose track of the time. That's all. Repeat this process for every question.


Here's a Video for Further Help...




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