We have observed the reason many Pearson Test of English Academic test takers fail to achieve their desired scores for reading is poor comprehension, which stems not from lack of vocabulary but lack of knowledge of structure of academic English texts, focusing on wrong things while reading and most importantly, fear or pressure of test situation. We will discuss these and offer tips to overcome these further down in this article.
In Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE), the reading questions are meant to test comprehension skills. It is important to understand how PTE tests reading comprehension to be able to effectively strategize for PTE test. PTE identifies test takers competency in reading comprehension by examining her/his ability to identifying the topic, theme or main ideas; identifying the relationships between sentences and paragraphs; evaluating the quality and usefulness of texts; identifying a writer's purpose, style, tone or attitude; identifying supporting points or examples; reading for overall organization and connections between pieces of information; reading for information to infer meanings or find relationships; identifying specific details, facts, opinions, definitions or sequences of events; inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words of a written text.
The above list does seem long and complex. However, do not be overwhelmed. Regardless of your English skill level, the human mind performs all the above functions when reading or listening. When you read in the language that you are comfortable with in a non-test situation; you read with a purpose. You recall information that you have on the topic and associate the ideas in the text with your current knowledge base and expand it further with new information. You identify the relationship between paragraphs and sentences. You develop further curiosity on a new topic introduced in the text. You are not focused on the meaning of individual words or sentences; you focus on the meaning of sentences and paragraphs in context. Your mind does even more complex tasks while reading than what I have listed above.
A common strategy that is taught in various English proficiency tests training institute is that before reading the text, read the question and mark keywords and then skim and scan for the keywords and read in detail where the keywords appear in the text. This strategy may not be helpful for every reading question in the test.
An alternative strategy is to read the question with the objective of understanding the topics and sub topics and the context in which these topics will be presented in the text. When you are done reading the question recall what information you have on the topics/sub topics. If you can predict what arguments or information the text is likely to carry on these topics/sub topics before reading the text will put yourself in a much better position to comprehend the information contained in it.
The above strategy is most effectively applied to mcq question types. Before reading the text, read the mcq question and some of the options. Read the question, to get the purpose of your reading. If the question type is open ended such as which of the following statements is true; then it means you have to comprehend the whole text. Read the options; it will give you an idea about the topics discussed in the text. Be aware; the information relating to those topics in the options may not be true. Develop curiosity, to learn more about the topic in the particular context in the option from your reading of the text.
It is easier to comprehend academic texts, if you know how they are structured. Academic texts follow a common pattern to help writers effectively communicate their ideas and for readers to find the information they need and comprehend the text.
In PTE, the reading exercises mostly contain paragraphs taken from academic texts. Hence, you have to be aware of the structure of a paragraph. To learn about structure of academic paragraphs read the relevant section in Summarize Written Text - How to get the scores you need in one attempt.
Once you understand the academic structure of a paragraph the strategies that you can apply to comprehending a text is limited only by your imagination. Some read only the first sentence/topic sentence along with the last sentence/conclusion of each paragraph to get a sense of flow of the arguments in the text and then read the whole text in detail.
The strategy that we advise students is to first read the whole text in detail. At this stage there is no need to rush through the text. You should be focused on comprehending the text. As you read, compartmentalize the information in memory. This can be achieved by linking the information to your existing knowledge base or curiosity or knowledge gap that the new information answers or fills. You should comprehend how the author has expressed her/his ideas from paragraph to paragraph and from topic sentence to body to conclusion within paragraphs. You should identify the argument/idea in each paragraph and what information has been presented to support the idea/paragraph.
After the first detailed reading, go through the question again and attempt answering it. In mcq question type go through each option and match it with information in text. If you are confident that the option is not the answer, mark it as incorrect or mark it as probable answer if you think it is correct; carry out this process for each option till you have the answer. Other question types will require similar trial and error approach.
You could follow the above strategy or build your own by trial and error method through practice of our practice questions and tests. No matter the strategy you choose; the focus of your strategy should always be to comprehend the text. If your test date is approaching and do not have time to improve the reading skills as described in this article join our coaching program to get further tips on beating the PTE's machine scoring system.
If you struggle with PTE's reading section, we strongly recommend that you join one of our courses with coaching. In our coaching program we offer advice and exercises in academic reading suited to your English skill level that will help you not just build reading but also speaking and writing skills.