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Improving Knowledge Outside of Your Field

In an earlier post, we talked about learning specialized vocabulary for your profession. But to ensure success on the TOEFL, you need to be able to work with a wide variety of topics. The TOEFL doesn’t require subject-specific knowledge. But have you ever gotten lucky and gotten a practice section that did relate to your field? Most people feel much more comfortable with material they’re already familiar with than with completely new material, and their scores reflect this. Familiarity with the topic helps you out in a couple of ways: not only are you more comfortable with the way that people in that field talk and write, but you can also use your prior knowledge to fill in information that you missed.

The nice thing about studying a broad range of topics doesn’t have to detract from your study time; in fact, it’s exactly what you should be doing, anyway. Instead of slogging through an entire textbook on a topic that interests you, pick up a pop science magazine, news magazine, or check out a TED talk (here’s a great TED playlist to get you started). The good news about these resources is that they’re intended for the layperson, so they should appeal to you even if they’re not on a topic that you’re really interested in as a whole.

Once something catches your eye, delve deeper. Did the article you just finished leave some unanswered questions? Do you just have to know more about Amazon river dolphins? Did the author make references to any other publications or provide hyperlinks to outside sources that elaborate on the information in what you just read/watched? Follow these threads as far as you can, and you’ll find a whole new set of questions and topics to explore. This process will eventually make it easier—and, quite likely, even enjoyable, to read about topics you used to have no interest in.

Here are some resources to get you started:

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