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PTE reading: dealing with unknown vocabulary

The Reading section of the Pearson Test of English (PTE) challenges your ability to comprehend and analyze written texts. One common hurdle that test-takers encounter is encountering unfamiliar vocabulary. However, with the right strategies, you can effectively navigate through these challenges and maximize your score. In this blog, we will explore practical techniques to deal with unknown vocabulary during the PTE Reading section.

Use Context Clues:

Contextual clues can provide valuable hints about the meaning of unfamiliar words. Pay attention to the surrounding words, phrases, or sentences that offer clues to the intended meaning. Look for synonyms, antonyms, or explanations that help you infer the meaning of the unknown word. By analyzing the context, you can make educated guesses about the word's definition.

Break Down Words:

Sometimes, breaking down complex words into their root forms, prefixes, and suffixes can help you derive their meanings. Familiarize yourself with common prefixes (e.g., un-, re-, pre-) and suffixes (-tion, -ment, -able) to better understand the structure and function of unfamiliar words. This approach allows you to make connections between word parts and their respective meanings.

Make Educated Guesses:

While reading, you may come across unfamiliar words that are not crucial to understanding the main idea or passage. In such cases, make an educated guess based on the information provided in the text. Consider the overall context, tone, and purpose of the passage to infer the meaning of the unknown word. Remember, it's not necessary to know the exact definition of every word to comprehend the passage as a whole.

Look for Definition Clues:

Sometimes, the author may provide explicit definitions or explanations within the text itself. Keep an eye out for words or phrases that define or describe the unfamiliar vocabulary. Definitions can appear in parentheses, footnotes, or within the sentence structure. These direct explanations can clarify the meaning of the unknown word and help you grasp the intended message.

Utilize Online Resources:

Take advantage of online dictionaries, thesauruses, and vocabulary-building resources to enhance your understanding of unfamiliar words. If permitted during the exam, make use of these tools during practice sessions to familiarize yourself with different meanings, synonyms, and usages of the unknown words. This practice can strengthen your vocabulary and improve your comprehension skills.

Prioritize Key Vocabulary:

Focus on understanding the key vocabulary words that are essential to comprehending the main ideas or arguments in the passage. By prioritizing these words, you ensure that you grasp the core concepts and can answer related questions accurately. Pay attention to words that are repeated or emphasized within the text, as they often carry significance.

Expand Your Vocabulary:

While it's impossible to know every word, continuously expanding your vocabulary will make you more confident and better equipped to handle unknown terms. Engage in regular reading of diverse materials such as books, articles, and academic texts. Make a habit of noting down unfamiliar words and looking them up later to expand your vocabulary repertoire.

Practice Active Reading:

Developing strong reading comprehension skills through active reading techniques is crucial for effectively dealing with unknown vocabulary. Practice reading with focus and concentration, actively engaging with the text. Highlight or underline unfamiliar words for later review and take notes on their meanings or potential context clues. This active approach improves your overall reading comprehension and reduces the impact of unknown vocabulary.


Encountering unknown vocabulary in the PTE Reading section can be challenging, but with the right strategies, you can overcome this hurdle. Use context clues, break down words, make educated guesses, seek definition clues, utilize online resources, prioritize key vocabulary, expand your vocabulary, and practice active reading. By employing these techniques, you can enhance your understanding of the text, improve your overall reading comprehension, and perform better in the PTE Reading section. Remember, it's not about knowing every word, but effectively utilizing the tools and strategies at your disposal to comprehend the passage as a whole.