Everything TOEFL® Reading

About the TOEFL® Reading Section

Academic Reading Skills

The Reading section measures the test taker’s ability to understand university-level academic texts and passages. In many academic settings around the world, students are expected to read and understand information from textbooks and other academic materials written in English. The following are three purposes for academic reading:

Reading to find information
  • effectively scanning text for key facts and important information
  • increasing reading fluency and rate
Basic comprehension
  • understanding the general topic or main idea, major points, important facts and details, vocabulary in context, and pronoun references1
  • making inferences about what is implied in a passage
Reading to learn
  • recognizing the organization and purpose of a passage
  • understanding relationships between ideas
  • organizing information into a category chart or a summary in order to recall major points and important details
  • inferring how ideas throughout the passage connect

Reading passages: The TOEFL iBT uses reading passages from university-level textbooks that introduce a discipline or topic. The excerpts are changed as little as possible so the TOEFL iBT can measure how well students can read academic material.

The passages cover a variety of different subjects. Test takers should not be concerned if they are unfamiliar with a topic. The passage contains all the information needed to answer the questions.

Description

Length of each passage Number of passages and questions Timing
Approximately 700 words 3–4 passages
12–14 questions per passage
60–80 minutes
TOEFL Fact: TOEFL is made up of Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections.

All passages are classified into three basic categories:

Often, passages present information about the topic from more than one perspective or point of view. This is something test takers should note as they read. Usually, they are asked at least one question that allows them to demonstrate that they understood the general organization of the passage. Common organization types that test takers should be able to recognize are:

  • classification
  • compare/contrast
  • cause/effect
  • problem/solution

Reading Question Formats

There are three question formats in the Reading section:

  • questions with four choices and a single answer in traditional multiple-choice format
  • questions with four choices and a single answer that ask test takers to “insert a sentence” where it fits best in a passage
  • new “reading to learn” questions with more than four choices and more than one possible correct answer. (See page 10.)

What is Different?

  • Reading to learn questions
    These questions test the student’s ability to recognize how the passage is organized and understand the relationships among facts and ideas in different parts of the passage. Test takers sort information and place the text options provided into a category chart or summary. The summary questions are worth up to 2 points each. The chart questions are worth up to 3 points if there are five options presented, and up to 4 points if there are seven options presented. Partial credit is given in this question format.
  • Paraphrase questions
    Questions in this category are in multiple-choice format. They test the student’s ability to select the answer choice that most accurately paraphrases a sentence from the passage.

Reading Tips

English-language learners can improve their reading skills by reading regularly, especially university textbooks or other materials that cover a variety of subject areas (e.g., sciences, social sciences, arts, business, etc.) and are written in an academic style. A wide variety of academic texts are available on the Internet as well as in magazines and journals.

Reading to Find Information
  • Scan passages to find and highlight key facts (dates, numbers, terms) and information.
  • Practice frequently to increase reading rate and fluency.
Reading for Basic Comprehension
  • Increase vocabulary. Flashcards can help.
  • Practice skimming a passage quickly to get a general impression of the main idea, instead of carefully reading each word and each sentence.
  • Develop the ability to skim quickly and identify major points.
  • After skimming a passage, read it again more carefully and write down the main idea, major points, and important facts.
  • Choose some unfamiliar words in the passage and guess the meaning from the context (surrounding sentences). Then, look them up to determine their meaning.
  • Underline all pronouns (e.g., he, him, they, them, etc.) and identify the nouns to which they refer in the passage.
  • Practice making inferences and drawing conclusions based on what is implied in the passage as a whole.
Reading to Learn
  • Identify the passage type (e.g., classification, cause/effect, compare/ contrast, problem/solution, description, narration, etc.) and its organization.
  • Organize the information in the passage:
    • Create an outline of the passage to distinguish between major and minor points.
    • If the passage categorizes information, create a chart and place the information in appropriate categories.
  • Create an oral or written summary of the passage using the charts and outlines.
  • Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage. Then, paraphrase entire paragraphs.
  • Create an oral or written summary of the passage using the charts and outlines.
  • Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage. Then, paraphrase entire paragraphs.