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Improve Reading Skills

Ask yourself this question: Do I read every word in your own language when I am reading a schedule, summary, or other outlining document?

The answer is most definitely: No! Reading in English is like reading in your native language. This means that it is not always necessary to read and understand each and every word in English. Remember that reading skills in your native language and English are basically the same.

Here is a quick overview of the four types of reading skills used in every language:

Skimming - used to understand the "gist" or main idea Scanning - used to find a particular piece of information Extensive reading - used for pleasure and general understanding Intensive reading - accurate reading for detailed understanding


Skimming is used to quickly gather the most important information, or 'gist'.

Run your eyes over the text, noting important information. Use skimming to quickly get up to speed on a current business situation. It's not essential to understand each word when skimming.

Examples of Skimming:

* The Newspaper (quickly to get the general news of the day)
* Magazines (quickly to discover which articles you would like to read in more detail)
* Business and Travel Brochures (quickly to get informed)


Scanning is used to find a particular piece of information. Run your eyes over the text looking for the specific piece of information you need. Use scanning on schedules, meeting plans, etc. in order to find the specific details you require. If you see words or phrases that you don't understand, don't worry when scanning.

Examples of Scanning

* The "What's on TV" section of your newspaper.
* A train / airplane schedule
* A conference guide

Extensive reading

Extensive reading is used to obtain a general understanding of a subject and includes reading longer texts for pleasure, as well as business books. Use extensive reading skills to improve your general knowledge of business procedures. Do not worry if you understand each word.

Examples of Extensive Reading

* The latest marketing strategy book
* A novel you read before going to bed
* Magazine articles that interest you

Intensive reading

Intensive reading is used on shorter texts in order to extract specific information. It includes very close accurate reading for detail. Use intensive reading skills to grasp the details of a specific situation. In this case, it is important that you understand each word, number or fact.

Examples of Intensive Reading

* A bookkeeping report
* An insurance claim
* A contract
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How To Take a Reading Comprehension Multiple Choice Test

Multiple choice reading comprehension sections are common on most English examinations including the TOEFL, Cambridge Exams (First Certificate, CAE and Proficiency). Follow these points to score high.

Here's How:

1. Keep in mind the exact amount of time you have to complete the exercise (18 minutes on the First Certificate, 20 Minutes per section on the TOEFL).

2. Read the text through quickly without stopping to check your understanding of individual words. The first reading is to get a general understanding of the text.

3. Read the text a second time more carefully. This time take to time to pause at sections you may find more difficult.

4. Scan the multiple choice questions without looking at the answers. See if you can answer the questions easily by yourself. Skip any questions that you cannot answer immediately.

5. Re-read the multiple choice questions and answer. Skip any question that find too difficult.

6. If you can not find something close to your original answer (step 4) to the question, take a look at the text again.

7. After you have answered each question, return to the text to find a justification for each of your answers.

8. Return to the questions that you were not able to answer immediately and see if you can answer them now.

9. If you still have time, check that the other possible answers are not specifically referred to in the text.


1. If you find the text easy do step three before step four.
2. Never spend too much time on any one question.
3. Don't worry about understanding every single word. Reading comprehension focuses on general comprehension.

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Reading Better and Faster

For most people, it is easy to learn to read faster. Your reading rate is often just a matter of habit. But to begin, you may need to try to change some habits and try these tips:

1. Pay attention when you read and read as if it really matters. Most people read in the same way that they watch television, i.e. in an inattentive, passive way. Reading takes effort and you must make the effort. A wise teacher once told me that you can learn anything if you do three things:




There are some simple methods that you can use to pay better attention and get more out of your textbook reading time. Different authors call it different things, but many researchers say that you will improve your comprehension if you somehow "preview" the passage before you actually sit down and read every word.

To do a preview you:

* take 30 to 60 seconds.
* look over the title of the chapter.
* look at all the headings, subheadings and marked, italic or dark print.
* look at any pictures or illustrations, charts or graphs.
* quickly skim over the passage, reading the first and last paragraph and glancing at the first sentence of every other paragraph.
* close the book and ask yourself:
* ---What is the main idea?
* ---What kind of writing is it?
* ---What is the author's purpose?

You might not think that you could possibly answer these questions with so little exposure to the material, but if you do the preview correctly, you should have some very good general ideas. If you have a general idea of what the passage is about before you really read it, you will be able to understand and remember the passage better.

When you finally get to the point where you are actually slowly reading the passage, read in a "questioning" manner -as if you were seaching for something. It sometimes helps if you take the heading or title of a chapter and turn it into a question.

For example, if the heading of a section in the text is "The Causes of the Civil War", take that title and switch it into a question like: "What are the causes of the Civil War?". Now you have a goal; something to look for; something to find out. When you are goal-oriented, you are more likely to reach the goal. At least you'll remember one thing about the text which you have just read.

2. Stop talking to yourself when you read. People talk to themselves in 2 ways, by:

* vocalizing, which is the actual moving of your lips as you read, and
* subvocalizing, which is talking to yourself in your head as you silently read.

Both of these will slow you down to the point in which you find that you can't read any faster than you can speak. Speech is a relatively slow activity; for most, the average speed is about 250 WPM (words per minute).

Reading should be an activity which involves only the eyes and the brain. Vocalization ties reading to actual speaking. Try to think of reading as if you were looking at a landscape, a panorama of ideas, rather than looking at the rocks at your feet.

3. Read in thought groups. Studies have shown that when we read, our eyes must make small stops along the line. Poor readers make many, many more fixations (eyestops) than good readers. Not only does this slow you down, but it inhibits comprehension because meaning is easier to pull from groups of words rather than from individual words or even single letters. Try to read in phrases of three or four words, especially in complete clauses and prepositional phrases. Your mind may internalize them as if the whole phrase is like one big meaning-rich word.

4. Don't keep re-reading the same phrases. Poor readers habitually read and re-read the same phrase over and over again. This habit of making "regressions" doubles or triples reading time and often does not result in better comprehension. A single careful, attentive reading may not be enough for full comprehension, but is often more effective than constant regressions in the middle of a reading. It is best to work on paying closer attention the first time through. Do a preview first before the careful reading and try the tips I mentioned above. You'll remember better without the rereading.

5. Vary your reading rate to suit the difficulty and type of writing of the text. Poor readers always read at the same slow rate. An efficient reader speeds up for easier material and slows down for the hard. Some things were not meant to be read quickly at all. Legal material and very difficult text should be read slowly. Easier material and magazines and newspapers can be read quickly. Poetry and plays were meant to be performed, and if not acted out, then at least, spoken out loud orally. This obviously will conflict with good speed reading method which forbids vocalization. Religious writings and scripture were originally written to be recited and listened to by an audience which was likely to be intelligent, but illiterate. The "fun" of poetry, plays, or prayer is not really experienced if you "speed read" the text.

(by Dennis Doyle)
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TOEFL Readings 10

What we today call American folk art was, indeed, art of, by, and for ordinary, everyday “folks” who, with increasing prosperity and leisure, created a market for art of all kinds, and especially for portraits. Citizens of prosperous, essentially middle-class republics ― whether ancient Romans, seventeenth-century Dutch (5)burghers, or nineteenth-century Americans ― have always shown a marked taste for portraiture. Starting in the late eighteenth century, the United States contained increasing numbers of such people, and of the artists who could meet their demands.

The earliest American folk art portraits come, not surprisingly, from New England ― especially Connecticut and Massachusetts ― for this was a wealthy and (10)populous region and the center of a strong craft tradition. Within a few decades after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the population was pushing westward, and portrait painters could be found at work in western New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. Midway through its first century as a nation, the United States's population had increased roughly five times, and eleven new states had (15)been added to the original thirteen. During these years the demand for portraits grew and grew eventually to be satisfied by the camera. In 1839 the daguerreotype was introduced to America, ushering in the age of photography, and within a generation the new invention put an end to the popularity of painted portraits. Once again an original portrait became a luxury, commissioned by the wealthy and executed by the (20)professional.

But in the heyday of portrait painting ― from the late eighteenth century until the 1850's ― anyone with a modicum of artistic ability could become a limner, as such a portraitist was called. Local craftspeople ― sign, coach, and house painters ― began to paint portraits as a profitable sideline ; sometimes a talented man or woman who began
(25)by sketching family members gained a local reputation and was besieged with requests
for portraits ; artists found it worth their while to pack their paints, canvases, and
brushes and to travel the countryside, often combining house decorating with portrait painting.

38. In lines 4-5 the author mentions seventeenth-century Dutch burghers as an example of a group that
(A) consisted mainly of self-taught artists
(B) appreciated portraits
(C) influenced American folk art
(D) had little time for the arts

39. The word “marked”in line 5 is closest in meaning to
(A) pronounced
(B) fortunate
(C) understandable
(D) mysterious

40. According to the passage, where were many of the first American
folk art portraits painted?
(A) In western New York
(B) In Illinois and Missouri
(C) In Connecticut and Massachusetts
(D) In Ohio

41. The word “this”in line 9 refer to
(A) a strong craft tradition
(B) American folk art
(C) New England
(D) western New York

42. How much did the population of the United States increase in the first fifty years
following independence?
(A) It became three times larger.
(B) It became five times larger.
(C) It became eleven times larger.
(D) It became thirteen times larger.

43. The phrase “ushering in”in line 17 is closest in meaning to
(A) beginning (B) demanding
(C) publishing (D) increasing

44. The relationship between the daguerreotype(line 16)and the painted portrait is
similar to the relationship between the automobile and the
(A) highway (B) driver (C) horse-drawn carriage (D) engine

45. According to the passage, which of the following contributed to a decline in the demand
for painted portrait?
(A) The lack of a strong craft tradition
(B) The westward migration of many painters
(C) The growing preference for landscape paintings
(D) The invention of the camera

46. The word “executed” in line 19 is closest in meaning to
(A) sold (B) requested
(C) admired (D) created

47. The author implies that most limners (line 22)
(A) received instruction from traveling teachers
(B) were women
(C) were from wealthy families
(D) had no formal art training

48. The word “sketching” in line 25 is closest in meaning to
(A) drawing (B) hiring
(C) helping (D) discussing

49. Where in the passage does the author provide a definition?
(A) Lines 3-6 (B) Lines 8-10
(C) Lines 13-15 (D) Lines 21-23

50. The phrase “worth their while”in line 26 is closest in meaning to
(A) essential (B) educational
(C) profitable (D) pleasurable

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TOEFL Readings 9

Life originated in the early seas less than a billion years after Earth was formed. Yet another three billion years were to pass before the first plants and animals appeared on the continents. Life's transition from the sea to the land was perhaps as much of an evolutionary challenge as was the genesis of life.

(5) What forms of life were able to make such a drastic change in lifestyle ? The traditional view of the first terrestrial organisms is based on megafossils ― relatively large specimens of essentially whole plants and animals. Vascular plants, related to modern seed plants and ferns, left the first comprehensive megafossil record. Because of this, it has been commonly assumed that the sequence of terrestrialization reflected (10) the evolution of modern terrestrial ecosystems. In this view, primitive vascular plants first colonized the margins of continental waters, followed by animals that fed on the plants, and lastly by animals that preyed on the plant-eaters. Moreover, the megafossils suggest that terrestrial life appeared and diversified explosively near the boundary between the Silurian and the Devonian periods, a little more than 400 million (15)years ago.

Recently, however, paleontologists have been taking a closer look at the sediments below this Silurian-Devonian geological boundary. It turns out that some fossils can be extracted from these sediments by putting the rocks in an acid bath. The technique has uncovered new evidence from sediments that were deposited near the shores of the (20)ancient oceans ― plant microfossils and microscopic pieces of small animals. In many instances the specimens are less than one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter. Although they were entombed in the rocks for hundreds of millions of years, many of the fossils consist of the organic remains of the organism.

These newly discovered fossils have not only revealed the existence of previously (25) unknown organisms, but have also pushed back these dates for the invasion of land by multicellular organisms. Our views about the nature of the early plant and animal communities are now being revised. And with those revisions come new speculations about the first terrestrial life-forms.

28. The word “drastic” in line 5 is closest in meaning to
(A) widespread
(B) radical
(C) progressive
(D) risky

29. According to the theory that the author calls “the traditional view,” what was the
first form of life to appear on land?
(A) Bacteria
(B) Meat-eating animals
(C) Plant-eating animals
(D) Vascular plants

30. According to the passage, what happened about 400 million years ago?
(A) Many terrestrial life-forms died out.
(B) New life-forms on land developed at a rapid rate.
(C) The megafossils were destroyed by floods.
(D) Life began to develop in the ancient seas.

31. The word “extracted” in line 18 is closest in meaning to
(A) located
(B) preserved
(C) removed
(D) studied

32. What can be inferred from the passage about the fossils mentioned in lines 17-20 ?
(A) They have not been helpful in understanding the evolution of terrestrial life.
(B) They were found in approximately the same numbers as vascular plant fossils.
(C) They are older than the megafossils.
(D) They consist of modern life-forms.

33. The word “instances” in line 21 is closest in meaning to
(A) methods
(B) processes
(C) cases
(D) reasons

34. The word “they” in line 22 refers to
(A) rocks
(B) shores
(C) oceans
(D) specimens

35. The word “entombed” in lime 22 is closest in meaning to
(A) crushed
(B) trapped
(C) produced
(D) excavated

36. Which of the following resulted from the discovery of microscopic fossils?
(A) The time estimate for the first appearance of terrestrial life-forms was revised.
(B) Old techniques for analyzing fossils were found to have new uses.
(C) The origins of primitive sea life were explained.
(D) Assumptions about the locations of ancient seas were changed.

37. With which of the following conclusions would the author probably agree?
(A) The evolution of terrestrial life was as complicated as the origin of
life itself.
(B) The discovery of microfossils supports the traditional view of how terrestrial
life evolved.
(C) New species have appeared at the same rate over the course of the last
400 million years.
(D) The technology used by paleontologists is too primitive to make accurate
determinations about ages of fossils.

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