toefl guide

TOEFL Reading Question Type - Reference Question

Madison Oster November 9th, 2022

This is part of a series of TOEFL Reading Question Types. In today’s post, we will discuss a "Reference" question. In a "Reference" question, 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. Here are highlighted words you might be asked about:

  1. Subject pronoun: it, they
  2. Object pronoun: it, them
  3. Demonstrative pronoun: these, those, this, that
  4. Possessive adjectives: its, their
  5. Other reference words: the former, the latter, one, ones, another, other, others

It is important to remember that you don’t need a full understanding of the complete passage in order to solve this question type. You just need to study the context surrounding the word. Usually, you just read the sentence where the highlighted word is mentioned, and then read a few sentences that come before it. 

Let’s see an example of a reference question.

TOEFL Reading Practice: Reference Question

[3] Economic contact between Native Americans and Europeans can be traced back to the English and French fishermen off the coast of Canada in the 1500s. They traded guns and other weapons for beaver fur.  The first explorers to trade with the Native Americans were Giovanni da Verrazano and Jacques Cartier in the 1520s and 1530s. In Verrazano's book, he notes, "If we wanted to trade with them for some of their things, they would come to the seashore on some rocks where the breakers were most violent while we remained on the little boat, and they sent us what they wanted to give on a rope, continually shouting to us not to approach the land."

Question: The word 'They' in paragraph 3 refers to?

  1. Native Americans
  2. Beavers
  3. Europeans
  4. Traits and characteristics
C is the correct answer. It is referring to who traded guns and other weapons for beaver fur which was the Europeans.


If you want to practice more TOEFL reading reference questions and learn strategies for successfully answering this question type, sign up for our TOEFL preparation course to access our 72 complete TOEFL reading practices and TOEFL reading reference lesson.

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