The Official CELPIP Podcast: Episode 23
In this week’s episode, we invite Brandi, our in-house CELPIP expert to share her top reading tips! Tune in as she goes over some of her top tips for test day, and how to improve your reading skills to score higher on the CELPIP Test!
- Reading-related resources: CELPIP Reading Pro webinar, offered once/month
- Recordings on YouTube channel:
- Free CELPIP Practice Tests
- CELPIP YouTube Channel
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CJ [00:00:01] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Official CELPIP Podcast. My name is CJ, and I’m here with my co-host Chris to give you another round of helpful tips for you, our test takers to get the best possible score you can on the CELPIP Test. All you need to do for the next 20 minutes or so is sit back, relax, and listen as we talk to a variety of guests, from test takers, language teachers, and test raters to employment counselors and immigration consultants. And a quick reminder to our listeners that if you’re enjoying this podcast and you don’t want to miss any episodes, be sure to subscribe on whatever podcast platform you’re using. And if you’re using the Apple Podcast app, please let us know how we’re doing by leaving us a rating. As ever, joining me today is my colleague Chris. Chris, how’s it going, my friend? How are you doing?
Chris [00:00:53] Hi, CJ. And hi to everyone listening. I’m doing well, thanks. Looking forward to some warmer spring weather, that’s for sure.
CJ [00:01:00] Definitely. Although Vancouver doesn’t have it quite so bad as some of our easterly neighbors. So today we’ll be talking about developing reading skills. But before we greet our special guest, what kind of general activities do you usually recommend to your test takers
Chris [00:01:15] Well, reading is a difficult skill to improve at the best of times, and it needs a very different approach than, say, speaking and listening. Along with developing general understanding, as you would do in a conversation, you also have to look more carefully at language construction and where to find specific details.
CJ [00:01:34] And some of those details can be hidden in language that you may not necessarily understand.
Chris [00:01:39] Absolutely. The best way to approach reading is to remember that there are two styles. First, choose an article and go straight through without stopping to gain the general gist or sort of a general understanding of the text. Then retrace your steps, but this time goes slower and look up every word you don’t understand. This can take a little time and focus, but by the end, you’ll have gained a number of key pieces of information. If you can find time to do that every day, you’ll soon find that your reading skills improve.
CJ [00:02:16] That’s really great advice, Chris, thanks. So today is definitely going to be a fantastic resource for test takers. Shall we bring in our special guest?
Chris [00:02:25] Yes.
CJ [00:02:27] OK, everyone. Many of you know her as the face of CELPIP Live. It’s our wonderful Brandi. Brandi is here today to share some reading strategies to help our test takers prepare for their CELPIP Test. Welcome back to the pod, Brandi.
Brandi [00:02:42] Thanks. It’s great to be back in the studio today. I’m an avid reader myself, so I’m happy to share some reading tips that I hope our listeners will find helpful for testing.
Chris [00:02:53] Excellent. I know one challenge that our test takers face is finishing the questions on the test before the timer reaches zero. Are there any reading strategies we can discuss that will help people plan that time and find the answers more quickly?
Brandi [00:03:07] Yes, time management is so important on a reading test because we can’t read slowly and carefully like we might if we were reading for pleasure in our spare time at home. All tests will give us a certain length of time to complete each section, and the CELPIP Reading Test is no different.
Chris [00:03:24] Right; for CELPIP, test takers will read four different passages and answer 8 to 11 questions for each part.
Brandi [00:03:31] That’s right, and test takers will be given between 9 and 13 minutes to complete each reading section. The timer at the top of the computer screen will count down the time.
CJ [00:03:42] So how can test takers make sure they finish their reading test before their time is up?
Brandi [00:03:48] I recommend a five step process. First, I encourage all test takers to take 10 seconds to preview the page. When we preview, we simply look at the computer screen to see how much time we have, how long the passage is, and how many questions there are to answer. If we have 11 minutes to answer 11 questions, for example, we might plan to spend no more than 45 seconds answering each question to make sure we finish in time and to have a bit of time left over to double check our work.
Chris [00:04:19] Yes, previewing the page takes such little time, but prepares us to finish the task ahead of the timer. What’s next?
Brandi [00:04:27] That second step is to skim read the passage to understand the gist or general meaning. This is most easily accomplished by quickly reading the first sentence of each paragraph, because the main idea of most paragraphs is usually presented at the beginning.
CJ [00:04:44] And how long should test takers spend skimming the passage?
Brandi [00:04:48] Well, that depends on the complexity of the passage. The CELPIP Reading Test is designed to become increasingly more challenging as the test progresses, meaning Part 1 should feel easiest and Part 4, the last part, will contain more complex vocabulary, sentence structure and ideas. I would take about 30 seconds to skim through Parts 1 and 2, and even around a minute to skim through Parts 3 and 4. In fact, we can even take short notes to help us remember the main ideas covered in the reading passages in the more challenging parts of the test.
Chris [00:05:23] Yes, once we know what each paragraph is about, we’ll know where to look at a reading passage if we see a question about that topic.
Brandi [00:05:31] Exactly. We won’t have time to read the entire passage from beginning to end each time we want to answer a question. So knowing which paragraph will likely contain the answer narrows our search and saves us time on the test.
CJ [00:05:45] OK, so we started by previewing the page and skim reading the passage. What’s next?
Brandi [00:05:51] Step three is to identify the key words in the question and answer choices. Key words are the most important words. These are the words that we’ll need to find in the reading passage to help us answer the question correctly. For example, let’s say that we’re reading an email on Part 1 of the test written by a man named Adam, and a test question asks us to identify where Adam now lives. When we look at the four possible answers, we see four different locations presented, namely: in Gloucester, in the downtown area, outside the city, and near McLeod Street.
Chris [00:06:30] OK, so four different locations, and Adam lives in one of them.
Brandi [00:06:35] Right. When we quickly skimmed the passage earlier, hopefully we noticed that one paragraph discusses Adam’s move. That’s where we begin our search for the answer to this question. We won’t need to read all the words on the page, since we know the four exact locations that are listed among the multiple choice answers. Those are the four locations we’re trying to find within the passage. Do you remember which locations they were?
CJ [00:07:02] OK. Downtown was one and McLeod Street, I think you said.
Chris [00:07:07] And Gloucester and outside the city.
Brandi [00:07:11] That’s right. You’ll always see these answer choices on the computer screen during the test. So now let your eyes fall quickly over the paragraph and stop when you see one of these key words or locations. As soon as you find one, read the sentence that contains that key word to see if it gives you the answer. Remember, in this case, you’re looking specifically for the location where Adam now lives.
CJ [00:07:35] Right. So just because you see one of these locations mentioned somewhere within the reading passage, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s the correct answer.
Brandi [00:07:45] Not at all. Two, three, even all four of these locations might be mentioned somewhere within the passage. It’s up to you to determine which one actually gives us Adam’s current place of residence.
Chris [00:07:57] Great. To recap, we previewed the page, then we skimmed, then we identified key words in the question and answer choices.
Brandi [00:08:06] And then we scanned the passage until we found the key words. When we scanned for information we aren’t really reading at all. Our eyes are simply looking for a key word or words. Scanning is such a valuable reading strategy because it allows us to find important information as quickly as possible.
CJ [00:08:24] And the faster we find the information in the passage, the more likely we’ll finish answering all the questions before our time is up.
Brandi [00:08:31] Exactly.
Chris [00:08:33] This example we just discussed about Adam and where he now lives was relatively easy in the sense that we were looking for four specific locations in the reading passage. Once we found them, we could read more carefully to determine which location was the correct answer. We won’t always be able to match the exact same words from the question to the answers to the reading passages. Isn’t that right?
Brandi [00:08:56] You’re right, Chris. Remember, I mentioned earlier that the CELPIP Reading Test is designed to become more challenging as we work our way through to part four. This means that, especially in the later parts of the test, the reader will need to be able to recognize paraphrased ideas and synonyms to answer the questions correctly.
CJ [00:09:15] Yeah, so having a widely developed vocabulary is helpful for the CELPIP Reading Test.
Brandi [00:09:21] Absolutely. Synonyms are words that mean the same, like “small” and “little” or “worried” and “concerned.”
Chris [00:09:31] Paraphrased ideas are longer ideas that share the same meaning, but use different words to express it. For example, another way to say “Having a strong vocabulary will help you succeed on a reading test” might be…
CJ [00:09:45] “Understanding the meaning of a wide range of words will strengthen your performance on the CELPIP Reading Test.”
Brandi [00:09:53] Excellent example! Another example of a paraphrase comes to mind from a practice question we do with test takers in our Reading Pro webinar. When we look at the diagram in Reading Part 2, we read the detail “plenty of room for text.” This phrase matches the answer choice “substantive descriptive content,” which is the correct answer in this case.
Chris [00:10:15] Yes, because “plenty of room” means the same as “substantive.”
CJ [00:10:21] And that “text” that the diagram refers to is the “descriptive content.”
Brandi [00:10:26] Exactly. “Plenty of room for text” and “substantive descriptive content.” The two phrases expressed the same idea, but use different words paraphrased this can occur in all parts of the CELPIP Reading Test. So expanding our vocabulary at home while we study is important to maximize our performance on the test.
CJ [00:10:46] These are great tips so far. What can our test takers do if they have identified key words in the questions and answers, but just can’t find them in the reading passage. How will they be able to answer the questions correctly then?
Brandi [00:10:59] Well, if we truly don’t know the answer on the test, the best strategy we can use is to eliminate any answer choices that we know are wrong. Remember, most questions will provide four different answers to select from in multiple choice format. We might be able to locate key words from one or two of the answer choices in the reading passage and determine that these answers are not correct. If we can eliminate two answer choices from consideration, only two possible answers remain. So now we have a 50/50 chance of guessing the answer correctly.
Chris [00:11:31] And you will never lose marks for selecting the wrong answer. So really, you have nothing to lose by guessing.
CJ [00:11:39] Right, and if you guess correctly, you’ll earn one point towards your overall reading score.
Brandi [00:11:44] But if you leave a question blank, you have no possible chance of earning any points for that question. So it’s really important to answer something, even if you have to guess. Just try to eliminate any obvious wrong answers to increase your chances of guessing correctly.
Chris [00:12:00] And I suppose guessing also would be useful if the test taker had, say, 30 seconds left on the time clock and two more questions to complete.
Brandi [00:12:09] Right, in this case, you’d probably not have enough time to read both questions carefully enough and find the answers in the passage before the time reaches zero. And once the clock reaches zero, the test will automatically move to the next part. Any questions left blank will simply not be scored, which will lower the reading score. If time is short and you don’t have enough time to read the question and answer choices, the best thing to do is to randomly select an answer choice. If you’re very lucky, you may just guess correctly and earn a point towards your score after all.
CJ [00:12:42] OK, so we heard today how having a strong vocabulary is helpful for the CELPIP Reading Test. And before we finish our podcast, can we share some vocabulary tips with listeners: how they can learn and remember the meanings of new words while they study at home?
Brandi [00:12:59] The first thing we always recommend is to read in English daily. Setting aside even 15 to 30 minutes a day is helpful. You might want to read the news while you enjoy your morning coffee. You might enjoy a chapter in a novel before you get ready for bed.
Chris [00:13:15] I think reading at the same time each day helps to establish a steady routine, so you are more likely to stick to it.
Brandi [00:13:22] I agree. Personally, I read for about 20 minutes each night just before bed as it helps me to unwind after a busy day.
CJ [00:13:30] Does it matter what test takers read? Like would you recommend fictional stories, online news articles, poems, essays?
Brandi [00:13:37] The trick is to find a topic that you enjoy. If you’re not interested in what you’re reading about, you’ll likely daydream and not pay attention to the words and ideas, or you won’t be motivated to read in the first place. We all have different interests, so find something that you want to read about. I prefer fictional novels, so that’s what I usually read.
Chris [00:13:57] And I enjoy books about personal development.
CJ [00:14:00] And I like to read about space democracies and aliens myself.
Brandi [00:14:06] So we all have very different interests. The next factor to consider when you’re selecting your reading material is to make sure it’s written at a suitable level of difficulty based on your current ability level. You should be able to understand the gist of what you’re reading about and follow the plot or main events of the story or article. But there should also be some new words or expressions that you’re unfamiliar with. When you come across an unfamiliar word, it’s helpful to write the word or expression in a vocabulary journal. Notice how it’s spelled and copy it correctly. Next, look the word up in a dictionary and write the definition in your journal beside the word. It’s most helpful if you can paraphrase the dictionary definition in your own words if you’re able to do that. The simpler you keep the definition and the more you think about the meaning in your own words, the easier it will be for you to remember the meaning.
Chris [00:15:02] And writing an example sentence or two that uses the new vocabulary correctly is also important.
Brandi [00:15:08] It sure is. Copying words and definitions into your journal probably won’t allow you to retain the meaning long term. Memorizing definitions may work for some of us, but it might not be useful for everyone. The more you can produce the new language through writing or speaking, the more likely you will commit these new words and expressions to your permanent vocabulary bank. You have truly learned a new word when you can use it correctly consistently.
CJ [00:15:34] And how many new words should our test takers include in their vocabulary journals each day?
Brandi [00:15:40] I would start by entering two or three new words, their definitions and a couple of sample sentences each day. Unless you’re gifted with a photographic memory, the brain can retain a limited amount of new information in each study session. Don’t overdo it and try to learn 10 new words a day. You’ll likely become frustrated by slow progress. Keep it simple to start, and if you find you need a greater challenge, you can always add more words as your language skills become stronger.
Chris [00:16:10] Keeping a vocabulary journal also provides a written record of your progress. It’s encouraging after weeks and months of study to see how much you’ve actually learned.
Brandi [00:16:19] I agree. One more tip I’ll recommend is to review the vocabulary words in your journal regularly before you add new ones to the list. For example, when you begin your regular reading session, take a few minutes to look at the words you wrote in the journal the day before. Close the journal and create a sentence that uses the word correctly. You can either speak the sentence aloud or write it down. Review the definition of the word in your journal and double check that the new sentence you just created conveys the correct meaning. If it does, you’re ready to begin a new reading session and add a few more new words to your journal. If you’ve forgotten the meaning of the words you learned yesterday, take some extra time to practice creating more sample sentences that use the word correctly. After some review time, you’ll be ready to continue with your new reading session.
CJ [00:17:10] Brandi, thanks so much for sharing some reading tips and strategies with us today. I hope our listeners will try some of these techniques when they’re studying at home so they feel more confident for test day.
Brandi [00:17:22] My pleasure. Happy reading, everyone.
Chris [00:17:26] Such a fantastic collection of tips there.
CJ [00:17:28] Oh my gosh, absolutely. Brandi is amazing. So what’s coming up on next week’s podcast, Chris?
Chris [00:17:35] Well, looking back over the past four episodes, we’ve covered writing, listening and reading. So one more skill left: speaking.
CJ [00:17:45] Then we’ll have the complete set of four skills for our listeners. Excellent. I know that for a lot of test takers, speaking is the most challenging part of the test, so I’m really looking forward to that. Thanks for joining us today, listeners, and we hope to see you again soon.
Chris [00:18:01] Thanks. Bye.
CJ [00:18:05] Bye.