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TOEFL Reading






The Reading section is done first in the IBT test. It is designed to test your ability to comprehend academic reading material. Academic means the passages are like what you would find in a textbook at university. All fields of study from chemistry to literature to psychology are possible topics of the reading passages. On average the length of a passage is about 700 words.

Typically you will have 3 reading passages which will have 12-14 questions that you need to answer for each passage. Each passage is timed separately. If you get 3 passages, the total time allowed is 60 minutes. The reading section can have up to 5 passages with a total of 70 questions with a total time of 100 minutes.

There are 10 types of reading questions and 4 different kinds of formats used. Most types are worth one point, but a type can be worth up to 4 possible points. Although you'll do 36-70 questions, the scaled score for the reading section has a maximum value of 30. No, we're not sure how ETS reduces the score down to 30.

When doing the reading section, the question is on one side of your screen and the passage is always available on the other side. When you start each reading passage, it's best to read it quickly. Many of the questions will refer to a specific paragraph, so you can then re-read that section. You don't want to run out of time! Also, you can click through all the questions of a given passage, you don't have to answer them in order. So answer all the ones you think are easy and then use the rest of your time to do the harder questions. To make sure you don't miss any, there is a review button that will open up a screen listing all the questions and show if they are answered or not. There are links to quickly go to any question.

Even if you are not familiar with the topic, if your English is good enough, you will be able to answer all the questions based on the information in the reading passage. If you see a highlighted word, you can see the definition for it by holding your mouse over it.

Now then, just what are the reading questions like? We'll go over the 4 formats and 10 types. You will never get all of them with a single passage.

TOEFL Reading Question Format: Multiple Choice
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Vocabulary
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Detail
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Purpose
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Negative Factual Information
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Essential Information
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Reference
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Inference

TOEFL Reading Question Format: Insert a Sentence
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Insert a Sentence

TOEFL Reading Question Format: Complete the Summary
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Complete the Summary

TOEFL Reading Question Format: Complete the Table
TOEFL Reading Question Type: Complete the Table


TOEFL Reading Question Format: Multiple Choice


The most common format is multiple choice. For these, there are always 4 answer options and only one correct answer (worth one point). There are 7 types: vocabulary, detail, purpose, negative factual information, essential information, reference, and inference. You will do at least 3 of each vocabulary and detail type per passage. The rest you will have 0-2 of each per passage.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Vocabulary


This reading question type is easy to identify because you are asked what a word or phrase is closest in meaning to which of the 4 answer options. You need to be able to understand the meaning of the word as it is used in the passage. Since the word or phrase is highlighted in the reading passage, you can easily re-read the sentence it's in to help you answer. Usually the vocabulary chosen for a question is necessary to know in order to understand a key idea or concept in the passage.

Example:

Part of a passage: The stone was promptly dispatched to Cairo's Institute of Egypt for further study by Napoleon's scholars, where it was christened 'The Rosetta Stone', for obvious reasons. Although it quickly became clear that the same message was indeed engraved in three different languages, only the bottom script, in Greek, could be read. The top script consisted of fourteen rows of hieroglyphics, followed by thirty-two rows of an undecipherable Egyptian writing that was simply termed 'demotic'.

Question: The word promptly in the passage is closest in meaning to

A.   purportedly
B.   secretly
C.   forcefully
D.   hastily

Explanation: The correct answer is hastily. In the context of the sentence, promptly means to do something without delay. A definition for hastily is to do something fast. Only hastily has a similar meaning to promptly that can be used properly in the sentence. Purportedly means something that apparently happened. Secretly means to do something without other people knowing about it. Forcefully means to do something against the will of another.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Detail


The detail type of reading question asks you to identify factual information that is stated directly in the passage. Usually the information is only given once in the passage. The question will not ask about a general theme or idea.

Sample prompts for this kind of question:
According to the paragraph, which of the following is true of DETAIL?
The author's description of DETAIL mentions which of the following?
According to paragraph 2, why did DETAIL do ________ ?
According to the paragraph, how did DETAIL do ________ ?

Example: Part of a passage: Finally, for a fear to truly be a phobia, it must be recurring. That is, if the man on the plane had flown before without incident and continued to use planes after this one panic attack without experiencing further bouts of unreasonable fear, then he would not be said to be suffering from a phobia. A true aviophobic could never contemplate flying in any form without experiencing severe symptoms of acute nervousness. In this case, the man's single onset of severe panic would most likely be viewed as symptomatic of some other mental disorder, perhaps brought on by unrelated stresses in his life. Obviously, the fact that phobias are recurring fears, or rather, that they involve constant fear of the object of the phobia, should not be taken to mean that the fear can never be overcome. A person who is suffering from a phobia may, either through great effort of will, or, more likely, through a course of psychiatric treatment, conquer his phobia and cease to be frightened of whatever it was he was formerly afraid of.

Question: According to the author, in paragraph 4, what might be one cause of a single instance of a phobic-like episode?

A.   Seeing plane crashes on the news
B.   Watching too much violent television
C.   Possessing a desire for public attention
D.   Having too much stress in one's life

Explanation: (D) is the correct answer. It is stated directly in the text. (A) is incorrect. Seeing plane crashes on the news is mentioned as something that might cause non-phobic nervousness in airline passengers. (B) and (C) are not mentioned in the passage.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Purpose


With this type of reading question, you need to be able to understand WHY a detail or idea or argument has been used in the reading passage. If writing is effective, everything has a reason for being in the passage. A purpose question will not be asking you why the entire passage is organized the way it is, but ask about the logical connections between certain sentences or paragraphs.

Many of the purpose questions will have "why" in the prompt, but not all. Some other prompts are "The author begins paragraph # with ________ in order to...", or "The author uses _______ as an example of...".

Example:

Part of the passage: Thus, American slaves soon found that music was one of the few methods of expressing themselves that their masters would permit and even encourage, as many of the slave owners found it pleasant to have slaves who could play music for them in the evenings. However, the plantation owners naturally wished to listen to music from their own culture, as well as to what they considered slave work songs. As a result, many slaves learned to play Western instruments and began to pick up Western songs, such as European dance music. European dance music at that time was characterized by harmony, or the playing of notes simultaneously to create a pleasing sound, an element previously lacking in the slave songs. It did not take long for blacks to begin experimenting with ways in which harmonic elements could be fused with the more tribal rhythms of the music of their own culture. The result of these experiments was the first type of jazz, known as the blues. The blues took their name from the reliance on blue notes, which are notes that are played at a lower pitch than would normally be expected in classical European music.

Question: Why does the author mention European dance music in paragraph 2?

A.   To describe one influence that helped turn African slave songs into jazz
B.   To argue that European dance music was inferior to jazz's antecedents
C.   To provide an example of a type of music that contrasts sharply with jazz
D.   To explain why slave owners found the music of their slaves refreshing

Explanation: (A) is the correct answer. The point of the passage is to trace the development of jazz music. (B) is illogical. European dance music was one of jazz's antecedents. (C) is wrong. The author does not explicitly compare European dance music to jazz. (D) is incorrect. European dance music was familiar to the slave owners, not new and refreshing.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Negative Factual Information


It's easy to identify this type of question because it will always have either "EXCEPT" or "NOT" in the prompt. Of the 4 answer options, you must choose which one is wrong, which one has a detail or idea that you did not read in the passage or is stated inaccurately. Unfortunately, picking it may mean you need to read over each paragraph carefully. Try to find the one that says something you cannot recall reading about, and then verify it's not in the reading passage.

Example:

Part of a passage: Their demise also resulted in the extinction of a half-dozen species of forest insects and the severe crippling of other animal populations such as the wild turkey: these all relied on the American Chestnut as a source of habitat and food. Affected wildlife attempted to adapt to their disrupted environment by looking to other species of trees, such as the Acorn, and seed-bearing plants for food. This placed great ecological pressure on those species, as none could equal the American Chestnut in its ability to provide a consistently abundant crop of nuts. The problems the American Chestnut blight engendered thus show the ripple effects that can occur within any ecosystem when new elements are introduced in an unsound manner.

Question: According to paragraph 3, all of the following were results of the wide disappearance of American Chestnut trees EXCEPT:

A.   The loss of creatures who required the tree's resources for their survival.
B.   Overuse of other types of trees by wildlife attempting to compensate for the change.
C.   A reduction in the total output of harvested nut crops within many major American forests.
D.   Macro-changes to the environment in which the trees previously flourished.

Explanation: (C) is the correct answer. The American Chestnut produced lots of nuts so the loss of the trees does mean a loss in tree nuts; however, the American Chestnut was not widespread across all of the United States and there is no mention of its nuts being a harvested crop. Choice (A) is a restatement of the first sentence in paragraph 3: some insects became extinct and the wild turkey population drastically declined due to the loss of the American Chestnut as a food and habitat source. Choice (B) restates what is in the second and third sentences of the paragraph. Choice (D) covers the last sentence in the paragraph: the loss of the American Chestnut caused changes, had negative effects, upon the land and animals within the environment of where the American Chestnut had thrived.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Essential Information


If you see an entire sentence highlighted in the reading passage, then it must be this type. The question will ask you to choose which of the 4 answer option sentences is equal to the highlighted sentence. The correct sentence will be simpler than the highlighted one, but still convey all the important information. Incorrect sentences will leave out an important detail, or represent a detail or concept inaccurately, or change the original meaning of the sentence.

Example:

Part of a passage: Men are more likely to manifest recessive biological traits than women are, because some traits are what scientists call X-linked. This means that the genes responsible for expressing the recessive trait are found only on the X chromosome. Men are much more likely to express these recessive traits, because the male genome consists of an X and a Y chromosome, whereas the female genome consists of two X chromosomes. If the male X chromosome contains any genes capable of expressing recessive traits, those genes will therefore be free to manifest themselves, as there will be no corresponding genes to interfere with them.

Question: Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

A.   The two X chromosomes in the female genome makes women more likely toexpress recessive traits than men because the male genome has two different chromosomes.
B.   The two different chromosomes in the male's genetic make-up, instead of the same two chromosomes in the female genome, makes men likely to have more dominant traits than women.
C.   Women are less likely than men to have recessive traits due to the differences between their genes.
D.   The male genome is comprised of an X and a Y chromosome which allows recessive traits to be more readily found in men than in women as the female genome has two X chromosomes.

Explanation: (D) is the correct answer. All of the correct information is included in this sentence. Men will likely have more recessive traits than women because the male genome has an X and a Y chromosome. The 2 X chromosomes in the female genome makes women less susceptible. Choice (A) is incorrect because it mixes up the genders by saying women will have more recessive traits when it is men. Choice (B) is incorrect because it says men will have more dominant traits when it should be recessive traits. Choice (C) does not have enough details and it isn't the differences between men and women's genes, but their genomes, that makes recessive traits more common in men.

To do an actual question of this type, go to the reading sample in our IBT demo.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Reference


The reference reading question is similar to the vocabulary type. A word, usually a pronoun, is highlighted in the passage. You are asked what the highlighted word refers to. If it's a pronoun then you need to identify what word the pronoun is replacing. All 4 answer options will be words in the reading passage near the highlighted word.

Example:

Part of a passage: The astrological nature of the Mayan use of astronomical data explains in part why so few written records exist of that data. The Mayans believed that the passage of the sun continued throughout the night, only, then, it was traveling through the underworld. This was believed to be a perilous journey, with many demonic figures lurking in the darkness, waiting to ambush the sun to prevent it from returning to the sky at dawn. .

Question: The word it in the passage refers to

A.   night
B.   sun
C.   passage
D.   data

Explanation: (B) is the correct answer. The sentence is describing the path taken by the sun. The other answer choices, though they are all words that appear in the paragraph, do not refer to things that are traveling.

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TOEFL Reading Question Type: Inference


The inference type can be recognized by the word "infer", or "imply" or "suggest" in the question prompt. Inference means something that is only suggested in the text, it is not something that is directly stated. You need to be able to understand all the concepts in the reading passage and from them be able to logically see what else the author is trying to imply.

Example:

Part of a passage: Derived from the penicillium mold, penicillin is one of the most powerful antibacterial agents ever developed. Penicillin and its derivatives have saved countless millions of lives by reducing once lethal infections to the status of minor inconveniences. Countless others have kept limbs that once would have needed amputating to stop the spread of an infection because penicillin stopped that spread in its tracks. The history of the discovery of such a wondrous medicine is long and complicated, but the man who normally gets the credit for discovering it is Alexander Fleming, who published papers on penicillin in 1928. It is well-known that several others, including a French medical student and a Costa Rican scientist, had noted the mold's antibacterial properties prior to Fleming. However, it was Fleming who drew the attention of the Western scientific establishment to the mold, and whose work eventually led to penicillin being developed into a potent medicine.

Question: What can be inferred from paragraph 1?

A.   Mortality rates from infections are much lower today than they were in the 1920s.
B.   Penicillin has proven very useful but can also have potentially deadly side effects.
C.   Alexander Fleming was disorganized in several aspects of his professional life.
D.   A Costa Rican scientist should really get the credit for first discovering penicillin.

Explanation: (A) is the correct answer. Because penicillin wasn't discovered until 1928, it is logical to assume that people in the 1920s died more often from infections that are now commonly treated by penicillin. (B) is incorrect because paragraph 1 focuses on the discovery of penicillin, not the side effects. (C) is incorrect because Fleming is mentioned in connection with the discovery, not because of his work habits. (D) is incorrect because a French student also recognized the mold's properties, but neither scientist went so far as to share their findings with the scientific community.

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TOEFL Reading Question Format and Type: Insert a Sentence


At most you will see this kind of reading question once per passage. You will be asked to decide where a new sentence best fits into the reading passage. Four squares will be marked off in the reading passage. Click on the square that you think is the correct place and the sentence will be added there. Read through the paragraph with the setence now added. Does it make sense? Or maybe it should go in one of the other 3 positions. This question type tests your understanding of the logic in the passage. It also tests your ability to understand the grammatical connections from one sentence to another.

Example:

Part of a passage: Their demise also resulted in the extinction of a half-dozen species of forest insects and the severe crippling of other animal populations such as the wild turkey: these all relied on the American Chestnut as a source of habitat and food.      Affected wildlife attempted to adapt to their disrupted environment by looking to other species of trees, such as the Acorn, and seed-bearing plants for food.      This placed great ecological pressure on those species, as none could equal the American Chestnut in its ability to provide a consistently abundant crop of nuts.      The problems the American Chestnut blight engendered thus show the ripple effects that can occur within any ecosystem when new elements are introduced in an unsound manner.     

Question: Look at the four squares      that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage.

In fact, is it widely believed that the scope of its devastation far eclipses even that of the fungal disease, also accidentally introduced, that ravaged Dutch Elm trees across Europe and North America, from 1910 to 1928.

Where would it best fit?

Explanation: The correct answer is the fourth insertion point. This is the logical place to insert the sentence as it expands upon the previous sentence. The phrase "its devastation" in the sentence to insert directly refers back to the American Chestnut blight in the previous sentence. This is also why the sentence cannot be inserted at choice (C), directly before the last sentence. If the sentence is inserted into choice (A) or (B) it would disrupt the description of the effects of the demise of the American Chestnut upon the ecosystem.

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TOEFL Reading Question Format and Type: Complete the Summary


You will see this kind of reading question or the complete a table type once per passage. With this question you are given a summary statement of the reading passage. You are given 6 answer options. You must choose which 3 represent major ideas or contain critical information from the passage. The 3 correct options will NOT have the exact wording of any sentence in the passage. The other 3 will have errors in detail, or state an unimportant concept. You are being tested on your ability to recognize the major ideas in a passage as well as being able to decide what is essential, or important, information from the passage.

This question always has a value of 2 points. You can get 0-2 points depending on how many of the options you correctly match. You will get 1 point if you get 2 out of 3 correct.

With this reading question, you drag and drop the answers you think are correct from the bottom area of your computer screen into a blank area above with 3 positions marked off. You click and hold your mouse on an answer, move it (drag) to one of the positions and release it with your mouse (drop). You can remove an answer and switch it with another. Because the question will take up the entire screen, there is a button to click to view the reading passage.

Example: Image of a newly completed question.



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TOEFL Reading Question Format and Type: Complete the Table


You will have this kind of reading question or the complete a summary type once per passage. You will see 2 or 3 categories in an otherwise empty table. From the options provided, you must select which ones correctly belong to each category. Each correct option is used only once, but there will also be 2 options that won't be used. There will either be 5 or 7 correct options depending on the question. Questions with 5 correct options are worth a maximum of 3 points, and ones with 7 are worth a maximum of 4 points. You need 3/5 or 4/7 done correctly to get at least 1 point, 4/5 or 5/7 for 2 points, 5/5 or 6/7 for 3 points.

To be able to pick the correct options, you have to be able to organize major ideas of the reading passage and important information. You need to be able to recognize what information is essential. To get all of them right, you must be able to understand cause-effect relationships, able to compare and contrast concepts, andbe able to put major ideas in their proper context. In a way, the question is asking you to create a detailed outline for the reading passage.

Example: Image of a partially completed question.



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You can get a good feel for what the different reading question types are like if you do all of our free mini-TOEFL tests. So be sure to check them out. You might even win yourself an iPod. If you want some more basic reading skills practice, there's a sample lesson you can try in our TOEFL Grammar Skills Trainer demo.



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