A radically different approach to doing the Reading Test
Students often find it difficult to keep a lot of content in their mind when they are trying to find an answer. Most of the methods on the net ask the students to do skimming and scanning which most students cannot master. There are about 13-14 questions on each passage. A student struggles to run his eyes over the passage (or part of the passage) 13-14 times to find the answer. By the time they do two passages the time is over or they are tired and end up not doing the third passage. Is there a better way to approach the Reading Passages?
After experimenting with students, I have found a method to teach them, where they need to read the whole passage only once. They don’t even have to read the whole passage, they have to read only one paragraph at a time, find all the answers which are there in that paragraph and then move on to the next paragraph. In this method, a student reads a paragraph only once and does not come back to it again.
It takes only about 15 minutes to find the answers to the questions on a passage.
The Reading Test in the IELTS is all about Reading Comprehension. You are being tested for your understanding of what you read. If you adopt a method of ‘Keyword’ hunting, you are going to fail. You have to adopt a method of ‘Key-meaning’ hunting and that can be done only by reading a paragraph, understanding it and then answering the questions based on that.
First, look at the kind of questions on the passage. Normally there will be three or four different kinds of questions.
Notice the questions for which answers will be in sequential order in the passage. Normally, filling the blanks, short answer questions, True/False/Not Given and Yes/No/Not Given questions fall in this category.
Within the above set of questions, see which ones are easy to locate based on a number, a date, a year, a place, name of a person etc. Mark the location of these questions in the passage. If there are six TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN questions and if you locate the place of question number 4, then you know the answers to questions one to three will be above that and answers to five and six below that.
Do the same for other kinds of questions which have answers in sequential order in the passage.
Note that questions for which answers will not be in sequential order (Matching Headings, Matching Information etc)
Now start reading the first paragraph. Read it to understand the main idea. You do not have to understand every word.
Now start looking at the questions and see if any of the questions have an answer in the paragraph. Matching the Headings in the only exception as every paragraph has to have an answer. Once done move on paragraph number two.
Repeat the process.
You do not have to come back to the earlier paragraph unless you have a doubt about some answers and need clarification.
Your aim should be to read each paragraph only once.
Here is an example of this method as applied to the first Reading passage in The Official Cambridge Guide To IELTS Student’s Book. The passage is “The Dover Bronze-Age Boat.
First Step: Check the kinds of questions in the passage
What we found: There are three kinds of question types – Fill in the blanks (5), TFNG (4) and Short Answer Questions (4).
Second step: Which of them go sequentially and which don’t
What we found: All the three question types go sequentially.
Third step: Mark the place in the passage where you are likely to find the answer. This may not be possible for all questions. Look for numbers, dates, names of people, places, books, rare words that may be easy to find.
What we found: All the five fill in the blanks have the years as clues. So we have underlined the years in the passage – 1992, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2012 and written (1) against first paragraph, (2) against 5th paragraph, (3) against 7th paragraph, (4) against 8th paragraph and (5) against 10th paragraph.
In the TFNG questions, only 9th question has the year 2004 so we have marked (9) against 7th paragraph. Since TFNG questions go sequentially in the paragraph, we know the answers to (6), (7), and (8) have to be there in the first six paragraphs only. There will be no answers to TFNG after paragraph 7.
Finally, we look at the short answer questions 10-13 and see that question 12 has the year 2012 and question 13 has full-scale as easily identifiable words. We mark, (12) against 9th paragraph and since we do not find full-scale anywhere we leave it.
Reading the paragraphs
Now we start reading paragraph 1. At the end of it, we check for answers to Q1. No mentions of the boat in paragraph 1. We move to Q6. Again no mention of boat or Archaeologists. We move to question 10. Once again no mention of the boat in paragraph 1. So we move on to paragraph 2.
At the end of reading paragraph 2, we understand that a boat has been discovered. We look at Q1 and glancing back at paragraph 1, we understand that the boat was discovered while building a road. So our answer to Q1 is ROAD. Then we move to Q6. No information about the condition of the boat. Move to Q10. We remember that the information about the finding of the boat was in this paragraph. We look up and find that the boat was discovered six meters below the ground. So our answer to Q10 is 6 METRES. At the end of reading paragraph 1 and 2, we have answers to Q1 and Q10. We do not have to read these paragraphs again!
Move on to paragraph 3. We are not looking for an answer to Q2 as that has been marked for P5. We are looking for answers to Q 6,7,8 and 11. We do not find any reference to the boat being damaged/not damaged so answer to Q6 is not in this paragraph. This means Q7, 8 will also not be there in this paragraph. We check Q11. We find that some material had been used to prevent the water from entering the boat. The last sentence gives us the answer. “The seams had been made watertight by pads of moss, fixed by wedges and stitches.”. The answer to Q11 is PADS OF MOSS.
We move on to Paragraph 4. Here we have the information that the boat was not a wreck, “but had been deliberately discarded, dismantled and broken”. The answer to Q6 is TRUE.
Move on paragraph 5. Here we know we will find the answer to Q2 as the year 2002 is mentioned in the paragraph. Careful reading yields the word CONFERENCE as an answer to Q2. We have also been informed in this paragraph that boat had been examined from the cultural context while it was a norm to look at boats from a technological perspective. We find the answer to Q7 as FALSE.
Paragraph 6. We are looking for answers to Q8. We find that the possibility of going back to Dover was considered but not done due to, ‘practical and financial difficulties.” The answer to Q8 is FALSE.
Paragraph 7. We have already marked (3) and (9) for this paragraph. Careful reading yields the word PROPOSALS and a proper fit for Q3. We also need to lookout of the answer to Q9. We do not have any information about the Bronze -Age Boat being used of Trade. So we mark answer to Q9 as NOT GIVEN.
Paragraph 8. We have marked (4) for this paragraph. The word LAUNCH is the correct fit for Q4.
Paragraph 9. We are looking for (12) and possible (13) in this paragraph. We find “In 2012, the hull shape was at the centre of the works…”, so we have the answer for Q12 as THE HULL SHAPE. We also have information about why a replica of “half-scale” was taken up. Q13 mentioned about full-scale reconstruction was not taken up. So the answer for Q13 is TIME AND COST.
Paragraph 10. We are looking for answers to only (5) as that is the only question among the 13 remaining unanswered. We find the words, “2012”, “Bronze-Age objects” and the “reconstructed boat” in the paragraph. All these were featured in the exhibition was opened in the Castle Museum. So our answer to Q5 is EXHIBITION.
Our order of answering the questions: 1,10,11,6,2,7,8,3,9,4,12,13,and 5.
We have completed answers to all the questions by looking at each paragraph only once. But our method was to read and understand each paragraph to find the answers. The test is about Reading Comprehension. You have to read, understand and then it becomes very easy to find the answers.
While it may seem like answering random questions, it is anything but random. There is a valid method in the madness. We read a paragraph and look for all the possible questions which can have answer in that paragraph. This is not the only method or the ‘best method’ for doing the Reading passages. If you can understand this method, try it out on a few reading passages, find it efficient and suits you, then you can adopt the method.