You know, a lot of students ask for “strategies” to increase their score in the reading section of the TOEFL. Sadly, the strategies are always the same – read the questions first, avoid answer choices with superlatives, skip the hard questions and come back to them… blah, blah, blah.
Those sorts of strategies help, but only a little bit. A better approach is comprehension before strategies. That means you should try to improve your overall reading ability before taking the test. If you truly understand what you read, you won’t need to use any “strategies” on the test… or will only need to use them for a few questions.
How can you improve your reading skills? By reading more!
Today I’m happy to help by beginning my one hundred part series that will highlight a few fun things you can read to improve your reading skills. I will focus mostly on non-fiction, but I will throw in a few pieces of fiction now and then. Some of the recommendations will be available online, but others will need to be purchased. Most should be available at your local library if you are in an English-speaking country already. I will only recommend stuff that I have read within the preceding month, but I am open to recommendations!
Let’s see how it goes.
First up, I finally read Freakonomics. This is a classic, and all of your English teachers have probably recommended it already. It is also available in the English section of most libraries around the world that I have visited. This is a really fun work of non-fiction that uses economic analysis to study topics not usually looked at by economists. Like sumo wrestling. And drug dealing. There is also a section on what makes real estate agents so frustrating which made me think a lot about TOEFL teachers. If you read this book, let me know if you spot that connection as well. Truly, this is a perfect example of mainstream, fun and accessible non-fiction. This book is available via the Open Library.
Speaking of fun and easy non-fiction, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Talking to Strangers.” This book is about miscommunication, and our inability to interact well with people we are not familiar with. I don’t think I grasped the nuance of the central thesis here, but I still enjoyed the book. This is a “ripped from the headlines” sort of thing, and you’ll recognize a lot of the main subjects, even if you aren’t American – Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Chandler & Monica, Bernie Madoff, etc. Like “Freakonomics” it isn’t the deepest of non-fiction, but it is a really fun way to boost your reading skills. Note also that the audiobook version is also wonderful (better, probably), as it combines music, audio from actual interviews and news clips with the author’s narration of the text.
Finally, I read the mid-August issue of Science News. If you are going to subscribe to one science magazine to boost your reading skills, this is the one. Yeah, it is mostly about COVID nowadays. But there this issue includes an article about the discovery of stone artifacts which is just like a TOEFL integrated writing question! Some scientists think the stone artifacts are proof that humans reached America earlier than thought… while other scientists think they are not proof! There are even three reasons given by each side! I think you can read that article at this link. If that link doesn’t work, you can find the same story in National Geographic. Meanwhile, this very short article about dinosaurs with feathers caught my eye, since that’s been a common topic on the TOEFL for a long time.
Okay, that’s all for now, but I will be back in a few weeks with additional recommendations. I’ll try to toss some fiction into the list at that time.