10 TOEFL Reading Question Types
Reading can be tricky for English-language learners to master, and TOEFL reading passages can be especially challenging. To do well in the TOEFL reading section, you need to have a quick reading comprehension speed. This requires a great understanding of complex grammatical structures and knowing a lot of high-level vocabulary words. On top of that, you need to answer a lot of questions in a short period of time. No wonder many TOEFL test takers feel intimidated by the Reading section. However, TOEFL Reading is actually one of the more straightforward sections of the TOEFL test. Knowing what to expect will make it a lot easier to do well on this section on test day. One of the things you need to know is 10 TOEFL reading question types.
This article will look at the 10 question types appearing in the TOEFL reading test. Once you know these question types, you will be much better prepared to get a high score. Here is a quick run-down of each question type you will encounter.
Table Of Contents
- Inference Question Type
- Vocabulary Question Type
- Rhetorical Purpose Question Type
- Detail (Factual Information) Question Type
- Negative Factual Information Question Type
- Essential Information (Sentence Simplification) Question Type
- Sentence Insertion Question Type
- Complete the Summary (Prose Summary) Question Type
- Complete the Table (Fill in a Table) Question Type
In an "Inference" question, you will see the question phrased something like the following: In paragraph 5, what does the author imply about ….? or What can be inferred from paragraph 5? In this type of question, the answer is not directly stated in the reading passage. It requires you to draw conclusions based on information that is given in the passage. You need to find out the correct conclusion from the choices. Here is an example.
Question: Paragraph 5 suggests that a distinct interpretation of the Iridium (Ir) in the boundary clay is necessary because
- the Iridium from microscopic meteorites that reached Earth during the Cretaceous period would have been integrated into Earth's core
- the Iridium in the boundary clay was laid down much earlier than a million years ago
- the density of Iridium in the boundary clay surpasses that in microscopic meteorites
- the volume of Iridium in the boundary clay exceeds what could have been delivered by microscopic meteorites in the timeframe the boundary clay was formed
In a reading "Vocabulary question", you are asked what a word or phrase is closest in meaning to and are given 4 answer options. You need to be able to understand the meaning of the word as it is used in the passage. Here is an example:
Question: The word "indigenous" in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to
Rhetorical Purpose Question
This type of question requires you to understand why the author has included pieces of information. The answer is not directly stated in the reading passage. To solve this type of question, you need to understand the main point of the paragraph and how the referenced information is related to the main point of the paragraph. You will see the question phrased something like the following: Why does the author mention XXX in paragraph 2? Here is an example.
Question: In paragraph 4, What was the intention behind the author's inclusion of a quote expressing skepticism towards the idea that natural selection could account for the intricate complexity of the human eye?
- To present evidence supporting the existence of irreducibly complex systems
- To demonstrate a potential contradiction between natural selection and the fundamental principles of Darwin's theory
- To provide support for the role of natural selection in the foundation of Darwin's theory
- To substantiate the claim that natural selection is a theory that poses challenges in terms of definitive proof
Detail (Factual Information) Question
Detail questions ask you about information that’s specifically stated in a small part of the passage. They generally focus on the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” as explained by the author. Here is an example.
Question: According to paragraph 3, by what means has the estimation of the development of a fully functional vertebrate eye been conducted?
- Estimations have relied on mutation rates, the organism's relative advantages, and natural selection.
- Estimations have been derived from studies of the fossil record during this era.
- Estimations have been based on the influence of natural selection alone.
- Estimations have been derived from the examination of the earliest eye fossils, dating back 540 million years.
Negative Factual Information Question
You can recognize a negative factual information question by either the word “NOT” or “EXCEPT” in the question. The question can appear like the following: According to the passage, which of the following is NOT true of X? Here is an example.
Question: All of the following are mentioned in paragraph 4 as a viewpoint to state the natural selection is difficult to prove EXCEPT
- The notion that natural selection could account for the intricate complexity of the human eye appears highly implausible.
- The existence of irreducibly complex systems contradicts the mechanisms of evolution.
- Modern microbiology provides evidence for the existence of irreducibly complex systems.
- The presence of selective breeding poses a significant challenge to the theory of natural selection.
Essential Information (Sentence Simplification) Question
In an “Essential Information question”, you will see the question you see an entire sentence highlighted in the reading passage. 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 paragraphed so it is different than the highlighted one but still convey all the important information. Incorrect sentences will represent a detail or concept inaccurately, leave out an important detail, and change the original meaning of the sentence. Here is an example.
Question: Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 4? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.
- Evidence from the fossil record implies a sudden extinction event affecting numerous plants and animals at the conclusion of the Mesozoic era.
- Only a handful of Mesozoic era fossils have been preserved in the rock formations that delineate the end of the Cretaceous period.
- Fossils from the Cretaceous epoch of the Mesozoic through to the onset of the Cenozoic era have been extracted from their encasing rock layers.
- Flora and fauna from the Mesozoic era failed to persist into the Cenozoic era.
Sentence Insertion (Insert Text) Question
In an "Insert a Sentence" question, you will be asked to decide where a new sentence best fits into the reading passage. 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. Here is an example.
█ [A] 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. █ [B] The first explorers to trade with the Native Americans were Giovanni da Verrazano and Jacques Cartier in the 1520s and 1530s. █ [C]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 █ [D]and they sent us what they wanted to give on a rope, continually shouting to us not to approach the land.
Question: In paragraph 5 of the passage, there is a missing sentence. The paragraph shows four letters (A, B, C, and D) that indicate where the following sentence could be added.
Choose the place where the sentence fits best.
Complete the Summary (Prose Summary) Question
In a ‘Complete the Summary’ question, you are given a summary statement of the reading passage and 6 answer options. You need to drag and drop 3 answers that represent major ideas or contain important information from the passage. You need to drag and drop them from the bottom area of your computer screen into a blank area above with 3 positions marked off. 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. This question always has a value of 2 points. You will get 1 point if you get 2 out of 3 correct. Here is an example.
 However, geological evidence from the end of the Cretaceous shows a receding of these shallow seas from the continents, moving back into the broader ocean basins. The reasons for this are yet unknown. During a timeframe of roughly 100,000 years, as the seas retreated, global climates experienced drastic fluctuations: days became hotter, nights colder; summers intensified in heat, and winters became chillier. It is possible that such harsh changes in temperature were not sustainable for the dinosaurs, leading to their extinction.
 However, if this were accurate, how did ectothermic species such as snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles persist through the icy winters and sweltering summers? These animals are dependent on the environmental conditions to maintain a habitable body temperature. It's perplexing why these creatures weren't impacted, yet dinosaurs were rendered too incapacitated to manage, especially considering the theory posited by some scholars that dinosaurs were endothermic. Detractors also emphasize that the shallow seaways had alternately retreated from and advanced towards the continents numerous times throughout the Mesozoic, so why were the dinosaurs able to survive the climatic shifts related to the earlier variations, but not this one? The theory of a simple climatic alteration tied to sea levels, although initially compelling, fails to thoroughly explain all the available data.
 The dissatisfaction with traditional explanations for the extinction of dinosaurs led to a notable observation, which subsequently gave rise to a fresh hypothesis. Numerous plants and animals abruptly cease to appear in the fossil record when transitioning from rock strata marking the end of the Cretaceous to those denoting the start of the Cenozoic (the era succeeding the Mesozoic). Frequently, there is a slender layer of clay between the final layer of Cretaceous rock and the initial layer of Cenozoic rock. Scientists hypothesized that they could approximate the duration of the extinctions by determining the deposition time of this one-centimeter-thick clay layer. They proposed to measure this period by quantifying the amount of the element iridium (Ir) present in the clay.
 Iridium (Ir) has been scarce on Earth's surface since the early stages of the planet's formation. As it typically exists in a metallic form, it was predominantly incorporated into the Earth's core as the planet cooled and solidified. Iridium is found in high quantities in some meteorites, where the initial chemical composition of the solar system is retained. Even today, Earth is persistently struck by microscopic meteorites that land on both terrestrial and aquatic surfaces. By quantifying the number of these meteorites that land on Earth over a specific timeframe, scientists can estimate the duration it might have taken to accumulate the observed quantity of Iridium in the boundary clay. These computations indicate that it would have taken approximately one million years. Nevertheless, other trustworthy evidence implies that the deposition of the boundary clay couldn't have spanned one million years. Thus, the unusually elevated concentration of Iridium appears to necessitate a unique explanation.
 Considering these pieces of evidence, scientists formulated a hypothesis suggesting that a solitary colossal asteroid, measuring approximately 10 to 15 kilometers in diameter, collided with Earth, resulting in the formation of the boundary clay. Their calculations indicate that the impact generated a dust cloud that obstructed sunlight for several months, impeding photosynthesis in plants, causing continental surface temperatures to plummet below freezing, inducing extreme episodes of acid rain, and significantly elevating long-term global temperatures through the greenhouse effect. This disturbance in the food chain and climate would have led to the extinction of dinosaurs and other organisms within a span of less than fifty years.
Drag your answer choices to the spaces where they belong. To remove an answer choice, drag it back.
- Major shifts in daily and seasonal climates were followed by the retreat of the seas back into the vast ocean basins.
- A straightforward climate change fails to account for some crucial data linked to the extinction of dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous period.
- The receding of the seaways at the conclusion of the Cretaceous period remains largely unexplained.
- The sudden nature of extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous and the elevated concentration of Iridium found in clay from that era have inspired the formulation of a new hypothesis.
- Some researchers propose that the demise of dinosaurs was caused by the aftermath of an asteroid hitting Earth.
- Scientists utilize layers of boundary clay, like the one between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, to estimate the pace at which a species went extinct.
Complete the Table (Fill in a Table) Question
In a “Complete a table” question, you will see 2 or 3 categories in an empty table. From the options provided, you must select which ones correctly belong to each category. There will also be 2 options that won't be used. There will either be 5 or 7 correct options depending on the question.
This question has a value of 3 or 4 points. Questions with 5 correct options are worth 3 points, and ones with 7 are worth 4 points. You get 1 point if you get 3/5 or 4/7 correct. You get 2 points if get 4/5 or 5/7 correct. You get 3 points if you get 5/5 or 6/7 correct
This question tests your ability to organize major ideas of the reading passage and important information. It also tests your understandings of cause-effect relationships and compare and contrast relationships. Here is an example.
 Carbon proportion analysis in the atmosphere has been an ongoing pursuit for more than five decades. The burning of fossil fuels and nuclear testing during the 20th century led to a significant increase in atmospheric carbon levels, further complicating carbon calculations. Scientists initially utilized solid carbon samples for testing purposes. However, it was soon realized that converting these samples to liquid or gas form yielded more precise outcomes. The current preferred method of analysis is accelerator mass spectrometry, which involves quantifying all carbon atoms present in the sample. This technique offers rapid and highly accurate results.
 The progress in radiocarbon dating has had a profound impact on the field of archaeology, significantly advancing faunal analysis as well. Faunal analysis focuses on studying animal remains to enhance our understanding of past human activities.
 The end of the Pleistocene Era witnessed a series of rapid extinctions, particularly among megafauna in the Americas. Notably, Vartanyan et al. reported on the extinction of pygmy mammoths, using radiocarbon dating to date their demise approximately 3700 years before the present. Radiocarbon dating has also been applied to estimate the age of extinct species found in the La Brea tar pits in California. In their faunal analysis, scientists employed a pre-treatment method involving the use of tar. Bones were collected, fragmented, and crushed into smaller pieces. These bone fragments were then subjected to various solvents, including benzene, to analyze species such as the Cuban Caribbean ground sloth and the Xenarthra armadillo. Carbon dating was performed on the organic material extracted from the tar, revealing an estimated dating of the sloth remains to around 5400 years before the present. This information is particularly significant as it suggests a possible correlation between the sloth's extinction and the arrival of humans in Cuba.
 Comprehensive research is still required to further investigate the abundance of fossil materials discovered in pits across Central and South America, including the notable site of Talara, Peru. These pits contain numerous remains of extinct megafauna alongside artifacts linked to human activity. Ongoing studies conducted at these sites hold the potential to validate theories regarding extinction events and their impact on human behavior.
 Two Creeks Fossil Forest stands as a noteworthy achievement in the realm of radiocarbon dating. Geologists throughout the 20th century sought to establish a precise transition date from the Pleistocene to the Holocene era. The Pleistocene epoch, which commenced around 2.6 million years ago, was followed by the Holocene period approximately 11,700 years ago. The discovery of Two Creeks Fossil Forest in Wisconsin, USA, predated the advent of radiocarbon dating. Initial estimates placed the age of the trees in this forest at around 24,000 years, based on correlations with sequences found in Scandinavia. Libby and subsequent scientists conducted extensive investigations and utilized radiocarbon dating to more accurately determine the age of the trees. Samples from the fossil forest underwent testing in over 70 labs, resulting in a revised dating of approximately 13,730 years before the present. This remarkable achievement significantly contributed to our understanding of glaciation in North America and marked the culmination of the Pleistocene epoch.
Directions: Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices and match them to the Radiocarbon Dating Historical Impact and Environmental Applications to which they relate. Some of the answer choices will NOT be used. This question is worth 4 points.
|Historical Impact of Radiocarbon Dating||Environmental Applications of Radiocarbon Dating|
There are over 10 different types of questions on the reading test and all of them require a different strategy. Doing them all in the same way will waste a lot of time and will probably result in you getting a lower score than you deserve. Instead of approaching each question the same way without thinking about the question type, you should have a strategy in place for each of the different question types. Our comprehensive lessons will tackle each of these question types in detail. To view them, create a free account and start your 7 day free trial.
Looking for TOEFL preparation?
Check out our NEW TOEFL prep online learning tool called TOEFL Tutor.
TOEFL Tutor will help you achieve your target score with 1500+ TOEFL practice questions.