A pharmacist sent me a message like: “I’ve taken 30 hours of classes with Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones and Dr. Ford. But my reading score hasn’t improved. Can you teach me?”

I said that I couldn’t teach her because there was nothing left to teach. After 30 hours of lessons, she probably got everything that a teacher could impart. There aren’t any secrets or magic tricks to getting a high score. What could I possibly tell her that Smith, Jones and Ford hadn’t already said?

I suggested, instead, that she build her comprehension through individual self-study.

Try this:

Every day, pick one TOEFL reading from a reliable source (just one article, not a whole section). Read it very slowly and closely. Every time you find a new word, write it down in a notebook with its definition. Use a good dictionary (COBUILD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is great). Read it a few times until you totally understand the content.

When you finish, note the subject of the article: history, biology, zoology, anthropology, whatever.

After that, look at the ten questions really closely. Examine each one and all of the answer choices. Even if you can easily find the answer, study all of the incorrect choices and make notes about why each one is incorrect. Maybe a choice is incorrect because it includes a detail not mentioned. Maybe it is an issue of chronology. Whatever it is… just make a note of it and then move to the next one. This will encourage even closer and even deeper readings of the articles.

Do that for an hour every day for the next six months and your overall reading comprehension will likely improve. So will your score. You don’t need a teacher to do this, and you likely have access to a near-infinite supply of TOEFL reading articles.

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