Listen to this post: Reading, Rhetoric, and the TOEFL iBT Analyzing Style
To become a proficient TOEFL iBT reader, you will need to understand the main ideas and critical supporting points. Of course, being able to do this presupposes that you have an adequate reading speed of 180-350 words a minute, a solid academic vocabulary base, and an ability to concentrate. But even having these basic skills is not enough. You will need to learn to read rhetorically.
In addition to understanding what the reading passage is about, you will need to understand how certain parts of the reading passage relate to other parts. Furthermore, you will need to understand why the writer has included a specific word or groups or words. It is the “why” and “how” TOEFL iBT reading questions that often have students scratching their heads. Additionally, it is common for university professors to engage you in class discussions: “How does the writer structure his/her argument?” or “Why does the writer include such a long paragraph on page x?”
Learning to read rhetorically is not easy; in fact, many English learners can not even read for basic understanding let alone engage in reading rhetorically. Why is this? First, if English learners do not have the basic reading skills mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, they will be unable to read rhetorically. Your reading proficiency will progress something like this: basic reading skills and strategies = rhetorical reading = critical thinking = high TOEFL iBT! Second, English learners may not know the right kind of questions to ask so that they can approach a reading passage from a rhetorical perspective.
While reading rhetorically can be explored from many perspectives, this post will conclude with some specific questions to help you analyze the writer’s style in a reading passage:
1. Why does the writer use certain words?
2. What are the meanings of key words and what emotions or feelings do some of these key words have on the audience? For example, “undocumented immigrant” and “illegal alien” have the same meaning but will evoke different emotional feelings on readers.
3. Are any words or synonyms repeated? If so, why?
4. Does the writer use any figurative language? If so, what does it imply?
5. What effect do the sentence structure and length have on the reader?
6. What effect does the paragraph length have on the reader?
7. How would you characterize the tone of the reading passage? For example, is it impersonal, passionate, argumentative, humorous, or sarcastic? How does the writer create that tone? Read part of the reading passage to convey the tone.
8. Is the reading passage formal or informal? How do you know? Why does the writer write the passage that way? How would the reading passage be written differently if it were written for a different audience?
Practice reading college-level writing and write answers to some of these rhetorical questions so you can analyze the writer’s words, sentences, paragraphs, and essay. Soon enough, you will have learned how to read rhetorically, and then you will be able to competently answer the TOEFL iBT rhetorical questions.
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