In these 60 minutes that Academic Reading lasts, do not expect to be able to read all three texts word per word and answer the questions. You can’t make it: it’s impossible. The limitation of time is the most challenging thing in Academic Reading but luckily there are certain strategies and tips to beat that.
• Some people suggest you should start from the questions and then move on to the Reading text.
• Others suggest that you should start from the text—just a quick reading for the gist— and then move on to the questions.
The truth is that there is no right or wrong way. During your practice I am sure you will find which way works best for you, but I will also share with you my way which is a combination of the two strategies mentioned above and this is what I tell my students in the first place.
When you first see the Reading text—1, 2, or 3 it doesn’t matter—all you can actually see is the title and a chaos of words. You know you have no time to read everything and you don’t know where to start. I know that teachers keep telling you to read it just for the gist and move on to the questions. Don’t get me wrong, I think that this is great advice, but sometimes it can get tricky.
I’ve had students that were carried away with this and instead of the gist ended up reading whole paragraphs or even the whole text, losing valuable time. I also had students that tried to read through just to get the gist but sometimes got overwhelmed or confused by the text (especially if the subject was unknown to them or difficult to keep up with it) and moved on to the questions more anxious than before, having lost time.
I have seen all these behaviours and many more and I came to the conclusion that when we are exposed to something new, in this case the Reading text, and our time is limited, our mind works best with specific information rather than with general bits of information here and there that we might not even notice through our skimming. Our mind loves specific information.
And of course now you are going to tell me, “All right then, maybe we should start straight ahead with the questions which are specific, without paying any attention to the text”. Well, I have my doubts on that too. Why? Because let’s just say that you start from the questions; you underline key-words; you understand the task; you know what you need to find and then, what do you do? You go back to the unknown text to find the answer. As a result, you start searching for specific information through the paragraphs and if you don’t find a key-word to guide you right away or at least a familiar paraphrased sentence, you end up reading the whole thing anew. What is more, you lose time!
Now, I’m not telling you that these two strategies don’t work. I am sure that they should work for some of you out there and that’s great! You don’t have to change your strategy or anything because you don’t change a team that wins, right? However, I am going to suggest a third strategy for those of you that still haven’t found their personal way that works. My strategy lies in between the aforementioned two.
Here it goes: When you first see the Reading text, read the title in order to know what it is about and then—very quickly—read and underline the first two lines of each paragraph. Don’t keep reading! Just the first two lines! Trust me, I have seen it with my students and it really works. Usually the writers of the articles get straight to the point from the first line of what they are going to discuss about in the paragraph.
As you can see, in this way you get both the gist of the text and your mind is not overwhelmed with a lot of details as it has focused on specific information through underlining! Sometimes you even get to see key-words in each paragraph almost instantly. After that, you go to the tasks with the questions. Each task is going to be different and we will examine each and every one of them in detail, but keep in mind that whatever the task, underlining is your friend. Underline key-words that you need to find in the text as proof to justify you answer.
Then, return to the text and try to scan through according to the information you are asked to find in each question. You already have an idea as you have read and underlined the first two lines of each paragraph: use this information as a guide in order to scan the text effectively and find justification for your answers. Hopefully, you will get most questions correct and you will be on time.
• Read the title!
• Skim through the text very quickly by reading and underlining the first two lines of each paragraph
• Go to the tasks and see what they ask you to do
• Underline key-words
• Return to the text and scan through to find the answers
Generally, in Academic Reading, the more vocabulary you know the better. Start enriching you vocabulary by reading English newspapers, articles, web posts etc.
And don’t forget! Practice, practice, practice! Practice makes perfect: Do practice tests and time yourself! Academic Reading can be challenging but with the right preparation it won’t seem that hard.
The following video has helped lots of people! I firstly give some general information and then, I teach the above strategy: