Can you believe I am still working my way through the test paper I was talking about in my last post? I had forgotten just how long it takes to go through a paper thoroughly.

Interestingly enough, when I gave myself the extra time to look at the reading sections I didn’t have time to attempt, I was surprised that I could understand a fair few of them. I still got many of the answers wrong, but at least I had some idea of what was going on.

If I had 2 hours to do the reading/grammar paper my score would improve by at least 10-15%!

So, my problem is reading speed which is mostly due to guessing the meaning of kanji I don’t know. Unsurprisingly, I did badly at the vocab/kanji paper. So, in the remaining couple of weeks I have to speed up my reading and learn as many kanji as possible.


  1. I have some good strategies on how to tackle the reading section. This is from years of teaching TOEIC tactics. I’ll share those with you if you like.

  2. Umm… of course I’d like you to!
    Although I may already know some of them but am still not doing well. Things like reading the questions first? Skipping hard questions/reading passages, eleminating the odd answer which is different from the others…? That kind of thing? Roy, you’ve got to tell me everything you know!

  3. Yes, those are the obvious ones.
    If you are taking too long to read those passages perhaps you are trying too hard to understand everything. When I taught TOEIC, many high level, conscientious students scored relatively poorly on the reading section and it was not due to their ability but rather because they always ran out of time. They felt that they needed to “understand” everything or else they were not confident enough to answer the question. Many would be able to answer the question right away but they would second guess their initial choice and try to double-check by reading some parts again thus losing time.
    My suggested approach to the reading section is
    1. Skim the passage once, don’t take more than 15 seconds to do this. Any longer and you are reading. The purpose is to force a high level view of the content, spot some words you may know, get the big picture.
    2. Read the questions/answers, based on this you can basically fill in some of the details about what the passage is about. If you are still not sure, skim it again.
    3. Then for each question, go back and find where that answer may be and read around that area, if required, skim the previous paragraphs until you are able to answer.
    4. If you run into a word you don’t know, don’t stop trying to figure out how to read the kanji or what the word means, generally you can guess what it is, noun, adjective, verb etc., In your mind, just replace it with another word that might fit so that the flow of thought doesn’t stop. The important thing is to comprehend the passage and not every word.
    If you feel that you have enough time, by all means read more slowly, but if you have problems with time, consciously forcing yourself to skim and only reading for answers will help. You will obviously not score as well as you would if you had the time to read everything carefully, but since you don’t have the time, you have to make sure that you spend ample time on every question.
    Also, do the shortest passages first. It will give you confidence.
    Like TOEIC, the test is all about scoring points and not about whether you understood everything or not. Who cares whether you know all the kanji or not so long as you get the answer right, you can always go back and look them up after the test is done.
    These ideas may or may not help you since everyone is different and approaches the test differently. Some people are analytical and breakdown sentences, grammar into pieces. For me, I like to trust my instincts and experiences, for example, when I don’t know the answer to a grammar question, no matter how long I think about it, I’m not going to get it. So I read out loud in my head and choose the one I feel sounds the most natural. This works for me sometimes.
    It may simply be that the reading is just too hard but I still think having some sort of strategy will at least get you the best score you can.

  4. Roy, fantastic advice. I think I used to be the type of person you describe,that is, wanting to understand every word and every sentence. Although I got a little better at skipping bits I couldn’t understand with 2級, I see that I have to improve this part of my exam technique to maximize my marks.
    In defense, if I do put in the time and really understand a passage I can actually score well (though if there are unknown kanji in the actual question I might struggle badly). I doubt whether I would score so highly by just scanning for answers because the sense you describe to pick the right answers before spending too long on a passage is still not that good.
    So I wonder sometimes if it might be a good tactic to spend time on the first long passage if it means I get most of it right, rather than guessing a little more haphazardly and spreading my time to thin by trying to cover all passages. It’s a trade-off I suppose and depends on how well I can develop the skills you talk about.
    So do you actually sometimes answer all the questions related to one reading passage without reading the entire passage from beginning to end?
    After reading a few of reading passages lately, I don’t think the reading is as hard as I had anticipated, especially comparing to newspapers. However, the fact remains that my vocab/kanji is not sufficient and it will be pot luck to some extent whether or not the right topics/themes are used in the exam.

  5. I agree that it is difficult to gauge the content of a passage by just skimming. But I have a theory that this is partly what they are testing you on.
    If you read every news article in a newspaper, it would take you the whole day or more to read it all. But no one really reads everything of course. We scan most of the headlines, some articles we read carefully, others we skim through just to pick up the key points. Part of being proficient in a language is having enough experience to be able to “fill in” the missing parts.
    This filling in the “gap” occurs on many levels. On the language level, such as when you are listening to someone speaking and you miss a word or two, but you can fill it the blanks based on experience. It also occurs on a cultural level. Most jokes require the listener to make some kind of connection, bridge some gap. E.G. A man walks into a bar..Ouch!
    You get the idea.
    The more experience we have in a language and culture, the less we have to rely on the input so we are able to determine meaning based on our experience and “pattern” libraries we have accumulated.
    Now in response to what you said about still not knowing a considerable amount of vocab/kanji. Try picking up any English book of some substance and read a few sentences. I’m sure you will come across several words in those sentences that you do not know the meanings of but that doesn’t stop you from being able to understand the sentences. Am I right?
    This is a bit simplistic, I think you understand the point I’m trying to make.
    OK, I better stop. I’m beginning to sound like a TOEIC teacher again..

  6. Yes, you are right. While I agree that you can indeed get the gist of sentences while not understanding every word – as I have been been doing as best I can – there is a limit to how far this can go.
    What I mean is that you have to understand a certain amount of kanji/vocab in a sentence to be able to fill in the rest. If you understand just 5% then your gap filling becomes a monumental task. Depending on the content, this can happen to me with level 1.
    Still, by continuation of your theory, and as I’ve sometimes found in practice, even not understanding the meaning of a whole sentence here or there doesn’t have to throw you off for all the questions. It’s when you don’t understand several sentences or paragraphs when you have to start worrying 😉