How can I improve my performance on the Reading sub-test?

Our test developers and Assessors for the Reading sub-test have identified a number of areas for improvement which apply to many candidates at each test session. We hope you will find these useful.

How can I improve my language proficiency? 

1. Develop your skills outside test contexts
Reading skills at the level required for OET Grade B are developed by reading regularly and widely. It’s a good idea to become familiar with a range of language and text types, not just those used in test preparation materials. You can broaden your reading while following up on your own areas of professional interest. As well as the specialist texts you read at work and when you study, consider texts which are aimed at the intelligent general-interest reader. Current affairs websites and science and health magazines are good sources of these. These will give you good practice in identifying and following a writer’s line of argument and attitude, which is a different skill from picking out factual content.

Focusing on paragraphs or short sections is a useful way to develop your reading skills. Pause at the end of each paragraph you read and ask yourself two questions: What main point is the writer making in this paragraph (i.e. can you summarise it in a sentence)? What does the writer want to achieve in this paragraph (e.g. persuade, criticise, draw a conclusion)? Remember that you can understand a paragraph clearly even if you don’t get every single word and even if you haven’t read the whole text first.

2. Use the right skills for each part of the sub-test
The Reading sub-test is designed so that you need to use the right reading skills at the right times. Part A is about collecting information from different texts, so you should be prepared to “jump” from one text to another. The quicker you can locate the section of the text you need, the more time you have to make sure you understand it correctly. Many people find it useful to look at the gapped summary first to find out what information they need to collect and in what order; this can save a lot of time. Another technique for working out which text you need for each section of the summary is to look for names of people, names of treatments/conditions, names of countries/regions, dates, or numbers. These are easy to pick out and so can help you work efficiently. You don’t need test practice materials to practice this skill. If you have textbooks or manuals which include summary points at the end of each chapter, you can set yourself a time limit to find the parts of the chapter the summary refers to. (You can even use an index for this exercise.) As you work, notice the types of words and phrases which help you.

3. Check your work
Although it’s important to find the information quickly, it’s also important to take a few minutes to read through the summary after you complete it. The summary should have two features: it should make sense, and it should reflect the information that the texts convey. If your summary does not have both those features, you need to change your answers. The gapped texts you find in many English language textbooks and exercise books are useful practice for this, even if they don’t focus specifically on medical English. Try to find exercises which are paragraph-length or longer, rather than individual sentences.

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