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Reading in Context
In this video, we’re going to talk about a great way to go about learning words and improving your comprehension. And now, it’s not a typical way. In fact, when I tell you, you may say, “Really?” But it is a very effective way we have been preaching the gospel of what I call “in context reading” for well over a year now, and it has helped thousands of students do very well on the GRE, specifically the GRE verbal section.
So let’s look at this first point. Read from challenging, well-written, but not necessarily scholarly sources. So this is what you’re doing. You’re these not necessarily scholarly sources and you are looking for GRE words. Of course, you’re not just scanning.
You’re actually reading. But when you encounter GRE word you want to underline or highlight that word. Now, what do I mean by challenging, well written, but not necessarily scholarly sources? you probably already recognize a few if not all of these.
Again, if there’s one or two you don’t, take note of it. Beause these are great places for academic esque writing, writing that has a certain meaty intellectual content. And most importantly, many of these articles contain great GRE words.
Now the reason I’m not having you you go home and read GRE reading comp. passages. Most of those are academic and all of them are pretty dry and dull. Writers from these magazines or newspapers make stuff interesting while keeping it complicated.
And so you’ll get a lot of great words that way. So let’s talk a little bit more about these words. When you read, again, you wanna underline or highlight vocabulary words, words you do not know. They don’t have to be random scientific jargon but vocabulary words.
Don’t just start highlighting everything. Or if you highlight something and it turns out to be some 17th century shoe worn in Spain, then clearly it’s not a vocabulary word.
But, again, You wanna make note of these words and you want to try to figure out, based on the context, what that word means. and at that point, of course, you want to look it up in dictionary.com or Wordnik.com.
With every word that you do not know you should also change it into a flash card. I encourage people to use Quizlet.com which I’ve mentioned in another video so you can make instantaneous flash cards of words you encounter. So essentially, you turn words into flash cards after you go to Wordnik.com or Dictionary.com to actually look at the definition and then you can go to any of these three sites here.
I personally like the New York Times the best but you can enter words into the search box here at the New York Times. So the homepage of the New York Times has a search box. Enter the vocabulary word in. Let’s say we enter the word “erudite.” We go to that box and suddenly we have hundreds hundreds of example sentences using the word erudite.
It’s great because now you’ve encountered it. Let’s say you’re reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly. You encounter the word “erudite” at night. You do not know it. You try to figure out what it means. You’re off because you didn’t look up on dictionary.com the actual definition.
Means you are and then you go to New York Times, you enter it in there, and you get other examples of the word “erudite”. Now, you turn it into a flash card and you have all these other associations with the word, which is really great.
Now what about words that you kind of know? What about words in fact that you’ve learned? And you may say, isn’t it redundant? I’ve already learned these words. Sure. You don’t necessarily have to turn every word you read into a flash card especially if you know that word.
But the great thing about doing this in context reading exercise is that when you’ve learned a word, maybe you’ve studied it for two months, and that word came up a few weeks ago , you actually see it, randomly, when you’re reading an article from the New Yorker.
It strengthens the connection in your brain with that word, it’s almost like this surprise like, “Oh, it’s that word,” and that’s really what will get words into long-term memory. And so you’re not just reading for new words but you’re reading to strengthen existing words and your own connections with the vocabulary you’ve been learning.
Now, what if you just sit there and all you do is underline words and you can’t even read the article. It’s become very burdensome or onerous because too many words.
What do you do? Well, a good idea is to read from these two sources, Time and Newsweek. These sources, a, they do not have as many difficult vocab words and b, in general the sentence structure isn’t as complicated and the pieces, the articles aren’t as academic so they’re easier to understand and you can focus more on words and less on trying to figure out what the articles are trying to say.
Of course, once this becomes easier and your brain is starting to become more adept at understanding these complex sentence structures, you can go back to the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American etc.
And the whole point is, though, and I should add here, you don’t wanna just say, “Oh, look, it’s Newsweek and it’s something about the latest Apple application or the latest Apple device.
Sure, there may be GRE words in there, but in general you wanna read long articles, articles on stuff you’re maybe not that familiar with so, for instance, if you go to the New York Times, the New Yorker, there’s many little paragraphs.
You don’t wanna read those. You wanna read the long piece that’s about this new electron or something that scientists or physicists have discovered and it’s ten-page piece. That’s what we’re going for here.
‘Cause you wanna have these longer pieces to have lots of difficult words, GRE words, and, again, difficult sentence structure. Now I mentioned this already but I’ll mention it again. It’s not just for the vocabulary. It’s because your brain wants to get really good at reading.
And I’m guessing you don’t typically read these things all the time. And so your reading brain has kind of shriveled up a little bit and you want to strengthen it. It’s like a muscle You go to the gym.
You work out a muscle. If you haven’t worked out that muscle in a long time, you start out with Time and Newsweek. You get that stronger. And so you’re tuning your brain, so that when it’s time for a GRE reading comp.
passage, your brain doesn’t fall asleep three or four lines into the passage. It’s used to reading now, it gets things a lot quicker, and this is subtle, you may not notice it but if you think back after a couple months, “Wow, the way I’m reading these passages, they seem so much easier.
Sure, I’m still missing a question here and there, but I’m getting what the passage is saying without having to reread the passage over and over again. Speaking of which we have here this sentence structure is complicated.
So, again, if the sentence here is not complicated enough, find an article or find a piece in which you’re always challenging yourself. Because if it’s too easy then we get bored. So always try something a little bit more difficult, a little bit beyond your grasp, but nothing very difficult or, again, find an easier article or source again this will help so much with reading comprehension, this is subtle but it is something that will definitely make a difference.
There’s some of you who are probably saying, “Well, I can easily understand this.” In fact, New York Times, I read that all the time and that’s not too hard. I really want some tough words. I really want some writing that will get me ready for the hardest verbal section on the GRE.
To that, I say go to al stands for Arts and Letters Daily.com. This draws from some very academic actually, starting to get into more of the scholarly realm of things. So it’s almost as though you’re reading a GRE passage, but it is a whole article and it’s a little bit more interesting and again, A & L Daily draws from so many different Magazines and publications all of which are known for their refined intellectual content, so if you are going for the top score I recommend going to AL daily and checking out the articles there.
And really using the same method, find those words you don’t know, turning them into flashcards, etc. Now how do you actually read articles? I mentioned this throughout the video but sometimes people say, “Do I read a little bit? Do I read the entire thing?
Do I stop every time I see a word?” And I would say it’s up to you if you want to stop reading and look up a word. I would say read through a page, highlight those words if possible.
If you have an ereader, you’re gonna highlight application. And then after the page, stop and then go back and look at those words again, try to guess what those words mean and actually look them up. Now if words aren’t so much of a problem, it’s the actual content itself, it’s okay to reread parts of it.
This is not a timed exercise. You’re not just trying to rush through get to the end of the article. So it’s okay to reread sentences that are complicated. Again, it gives your brain time to adapt to this more difficult reading.
Now if you’re sitting there just rereading and rereading, clearly the article is too difficult and you should try easier stuff. Again, you don’t need to read it all at once. I just recommend doing a page at a time, going back, reading those words, maybe two pages at a time.
If you get to the point that where you are able to read an article all at once - some of these articles are very long and difficult. That just shows your reading rate is in great shape. So, not a bad thing if you can, but try to break it up because it’s okay if you do.
Maybe each reading try to add more pages in one sitting just to push yourself a little bit more. And finally, when you’re done reading, something I have students do is to create summaries and what I mean by that is just, what was the article about?
What did you think about the article? What was your response to it? And, in writing these summaries, not only do you have to think about what you’ve read, which is great, ‘cause it calls on the brain to retain information while it’s reading, something that’s really gonna make a difference with GRE reading comp.
But it also allows you to use some GRE words, not words younecessarily encounter in the piece, but you’re free to do that. But you actually can use other words that you’ve been learning over the weeks or the months when you write these summaries.
So in summation What you are doing instead of sitting and reading only GRE reading comp passages, which again is pretty dull, pretty boring. You are actually reading something more interesting, and your learning a little bit about the world.
You are strengthening or tuning your reading brain. You are coming across words maybe word that you know are strengthening the association. many GRE words you don’t know. And you don’t just meet these words as some boring flashcards - this word means that, this word means that - but you actually get to know these words in an intimate context.
And that’s what the GRE verbal is all about, in context recognition. Not what’s the definition of the word but how is the word used in a sentence. Again, reading these articles will help you do this.
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