The TOEFL® iBT Reading Section

The Reading Section of the TOEFL® iBT tests your ability to understand written English as it is presented in textbooks and other academic materials in North America.

There are three reading passages with an average of 12-13 questions after each passage. The passages are about 700-800 words in length. There may be pictures in the text and questions that refer to the content of the reading passage.

Most of the questions are multiple-choice, but some of the questions have special directions. Some of the questions have two or more answers.

You will have 25 minutes to read each passage and answer the comprehension questions. You may take notes while you read. You may use your notes to answer the questions.

You can return to previous questions, change answers, and answer questions you have left blank, but you cannot return to a previous passage. A clock on the screen will show you how much time you have to complete each passage.

Reading Skills on the Test

Previewing:

Research shows that it is easier to understand what you are reading if you begin with a general idea of what the passage is about. Previewing helps you form a general idea of the topic in your mind. To preview, read the first sentence of each paragraph and the last sentence of the passage. You should do this as quickly as possible. Remember, you are not reading for specific information but for an impression of the topic.

Reading for main ideas:

By previewing, you can form a general idea of what a reading passage is about; that is, you identify the topic. By reading for main ideas, you identify the point of view of the author–that is, what the writer’s thesis is. Specifically, what does the author propose to write about the topic? If you could reduce the reading to one sentence, what would it be?

Using contexts for vocabulary:

In English, a context is the combination of vocabulary and grammar that surrounds a word. Context can be a sentence or a paragraph or a passage. Context helps you make a general prediction about meaning. If you know the general meaning of a sentence, you also know the general meaning of the words in the sentence. Making predictions from contexts is very important when you are reading a foreign language. In this way, you can read and understand the meaning of a passage without stopping to look up every new word in a dictionary. On an examination like the TOEFL®, dictionaries are not permitted in the room.

Scanning for details:

Reading a passage on the TOEFL®, you will be expected to answer six to ten questions. Most of them are multiple-choice. First, read a question and find the important content words. Content words are usually nouns, verbs, or adjectives. They are called content words because they contain the content or meaning of a sentence. Next, let your eyes travel quickly over the passage for the same content words or synonyms of the words. This is called scanning. By scanning, you can find a place in the reading passage where the answer to a question is found. Finally, read those specific sentences carefully and choose the answer that corresponds to the meaning of the sentences you have read.

Making inferences:

Sometimes in a reading passage, you will find a direct statement of fact. That is called evidence. But other times, you will not find a direct statement. Then you will need to use the evidence you have to make an inference. An inference is a logical conclusion based on evidence. It can be about the passage itself or about the author’s viewpoint.

Identifying exceptions:

After reading a passage on the TOEFL®, you will be asked to select from four possible answers the one that is NOT mentioned in the reading. Use your scanning skills to locate related words and phrases in the passage and the answer choices.

Locating references:

A passage on the TOEFL®, you will be asked to find the antecedent of a pronoun. An antecedent is a word or phrase to which a pronoun refers. Usually, you will be given a pronoun such as ititsthem, or their, and you will be asked to locate the reference word or phrase in the passage.

Referring to the passage:

The passage on the TOEFL®, you will be asked to find certain information in the passage, and identify it by line number or paragraph. First, read the question. Then refer to the line numbers and paragraph numbers in the answer choices to scan for the information in the question.

Reading faster:

To read faster, read phrases instead of words. Try to see an entire line of text when you focus your eyes on the passage. Scan for details and evidence. Make inferences.

Strategies for the Reading Section

Practice reading on a computer screen. On a computer screen is different from reading on a page. First, there is generally less text visible; second, you must scroll instead of turning pages; and finally, there may be quite a few icons or other distracting visuals surrounding the passage.

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