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In this blog we’ll be talking about time management, which is critical, but more importantly, we’ll find out why people get questions wrong because of the way they read. I seriously encourage you to stick around to the end.

This blog has seven equally important parts.

  1. The challenge
  2. Quick overview
  3. Three Reading Types
  4. Why people fail / run out of time
  5. What makes a fast and accurate reader
  6. The ultimate TOEFL Reading process
  7. Critical time management tips

So, that’s what we’re gonna do. Before we get started, you might want to download the infographic in the description below. It actually summarizes what we’re going to learn.

Ok, part 1.

1. The TOEFL Reading Challenge: What is in the Reading Section of the Exam

In your reading test, you will get…

  • 3 reading passages
  • 30 questions
  • 54 minutes

If you get 30 questions then you’ll have 54 minutes. That means you have just under 2 minutes to answer each question. But that doesn’t tell us how many words per minute you need to read.

According to the ETS TOEFL website, each passage has around 700 words. If there are 3 passages, that means you have 54 minutes to read 2,100 words, plus another, say 400 words in the questions, so that’s 54 minutes to read 2,500 words.

 
To read 2,500 words in 54 minutes means that you need to read at an average speed of 46 words per minute. For argument’s sake, let’s just say 50km per hour.

That is slow. In fact, that’s a turtle’s pace. Let’s put it into perspective.

The average native-English speaker reads at an average rate of 250 words per minute – by analogy, that’s the equivalent of driving a car at 100km per hour.

 

So if you only have to read at about 50 words per minute. Well, that’s the equivalent of driving at about 20km per hour.

So what’s the problem then? it seems that you have more than enough time to read.  

You could probably read everything in about 12 minutes. So why do so many people struggle with time management and accuracy in TOEFL reading?

There are a few critical things we need to iron out because it’s not necessarily how fast you read, it’s not just about speed or pace; it’s actually more about how you read and what you do with your mind (and eyes) on test day.

Before I show you why people fail TOEFL reading, let’s look a little bit more deeply at the test so we know what we’re dealing with.

2. Quick TOEFL Reading Overview

Each passage will have 10 questions. The passages are semi-academic and each one will be on a different topic. They’re not super-complicated but they are challenging to read. You don’t have to have a background in the topic because all the information you need to answer the questions come from the passage itself.

There are 10 different question types you might see on test day:

 

  1. Vocabulary questions
  2. Sentence simplification questions
  3. Reference questions
  4. Factual information questions
  5. Negative factual information questions
  6. Inference questions
  7. Rhetorical purpose questions
  8. Insert text questions
  9. Prose summary questions
  10. Fill in a table questions

By the way, if you need help with any of these question types, then sign up to E2 to watch the individual methods lessons as they will walk you through each question type showing you how to answer them step by step with practice questions you can then use to apply the methods.

3. Three Reading Types to Nail your Time Management

There are actually three ways of reading or three types of reading that you need to do on test day :

Speed reading

Search reading

Careful reading

Let’s understand:

1. Speed reading

The first thing you should do when is a very quick ‘speed read’ of the first passage. You should speed read the passage at about 500 words per minute. That’s the equivalent of driving at about 200 km an hour. Or, put another way, you should read

the entire passage in about a minute.
 
Let me help you to understand this a bit better.

Imagine that you are driving through a country town at 200 km per hour. Don’t worry, there are no police or pedestrians on the road. If you’re driving this fast, what information can you pick up about the town? What can you see? Well you certainly won’t see much. You’re driving way too fast to read street signs or house numbers but you can get an idea of what’s in the town. As you drive, perhaps you notice a school, a cinema, a supermarket or even a football field.

This is speed reading. You should do this to get an idea of what the text is about generally, and hopefully, what each paragraph is about at a very basic level.
 
Let’s do a little practice. Ready to drive at 200km per hour?

Milk is not what it used to be. For centuries milk was associated with animal milk – and certainly in the UK, with cow’s milk. But now there are dozens of different types of milk products, which are derived from vegetables, legumes or nuts. While soy, almond, oat, rice and coconut are the current popular milk alternatives, there are even lesser-known milk types including pea, hemp and macadamia. Many people are choosing these different types of milks for environmental purposes, while others are doing it for health reasons.

Milk alternatives aside, what are the health benefits of dairy milk – the world’s most popular milk? Dietician and celebrity chef Marcus Adams says that there are many reasons to stick to the most classic of milk types. It’s a great source of vitamin A, D, B12 and zinc. And while it might be slightly higher in saturated fats than plant-based milks, there is always the option to buy low-fat milk.

As for its environmental impact, London University professor, Dr. Mary Wilks says that it is indisputable that cow’s milk is the worst possible choice for the planet. Wilks’ research suggests that a single glass of “moo juice” accounts for three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions compared to non-dairy milks. It also takes much more land to raise dairy cows and they consume huge amounts of water.

Almond milk is quickly becoming the most popular alternative to cow’s milk. If you visit your local café the term “almond latte” has now become commonplace. Despite its popularity, almond milk offers very little in terms of health benefits mainly because it consists almost entirely of water; most almond milk products contain less than 2% almonds. And be careful of the sweeteners used to make this milk taste better, as well. Fitness coach Peter Jenners says that while many people turn to almond milk because of its low-fat content, most people fail to understand that its sugar content is actually the culprit of weight gain, not fat. He recommends purchasing almond milk that contains no added sugar.

Concerningly, almond milk’s impact on the environment is almost as severe as dairy. While it doesn’t have the same greenhouse gas effects, it does lead to major water loss as almond trees are extremely thirsty. Environmental scientist Dr. Abdul Karim calculates that a single almond kernel – the basis of almond milk – requires up to 10 litres of water to grow. Put simply, an almond latte will need 60 litres of water to

produce – an alarming realisation for many who have made the switch from dairy to almond. Karim also notes that almond trees can have devastating effects on bees, which are used to cross-pollinate the trees, but are susceptible to insecticides. He advocates for drinkers to choose locally produced almond milk rather than imported varieties.

Soy milk is the oldest alternative to animal milks and is made by dissolving soybeans in water. In terms of nutrition, it is one of the best alternatives to dairy milk. “It is one of the healthiest dairy-free options you can buy,” says Samantha Deubey, a health and wellness practitioner. “It has just as much protein as milk but has far less saturated fat, which makes it a far better choice.” Deubey recommends that consumers make sure they choose a fortified soy milk that has added calcium. Deubey also maintains that while some people fear that soymilk can cause breast cancer, the science doesn’t stack up to support this claim. In fact, the only condition soy milk has been proven to cause is acne but only if drunk excessively.

In terms of its environmental impact, in contrast to cow and almond milk, soy uses very little water, and, according to Dr. Karim, its land use and greenhouse gas emissions are negligible. The problem with soy milk is its popularity, not as a milk, but as a feed for livestock. It turns out that large parts of the Amazon rainforest are being cleared to grow soybeans. Abdul Karim recommends, again, that people choose soymilk with soybeans sourced from countries other than Brazil.

This is speed reading, and you may need to practice it in the E2 live classes. You should do this to get an idea of what the text is about and you won’t pick up many details at all. That’s not the point.
 
After you have sped read passage one you should then go straight to question 1. And this brings me to an important point:

The order of the questions follows the order of the passage

TOEFL reading is great because the question tells you where to read. The question will explicitly say “In paragraph 1” or “In paragraph 2” etc. And if one of the questions doesn’t mention the exact paragraph, it will contain an easy to locate keyword, so you never get lost.

Complete the reading test question by question, paragraph by paragraph.

Okay, so, you’ve sped read passage one at 200km per hour. You should then turn your attention to the first question. And read it very carefully. We’ll talk more about careful reading in a sec.

2. Search Reading

Search reading is different from speed reading. When we speed read we rush through the text to get an idea of what it’s about. With search reading you are looking for something, similar to how you might look for a street sign while you drive.

If we go back to our car analogy, it’s like driving at about 60 km per hour. You want to slow down because you’re looking for something but not driving too slow because

you’re not yet worried about details.

The reason why you search read is to find information that was mentioned in the question in the text. Sometimes you will find the exact same word from the question in the text, but most of the time it will be a synonym or paraphrase.
 
Let me explain… Take a look at this table:

 QUESTIONPASSAGE
Same wordalmond milkalmond milk
Synonympurchasebuy
Paraphrasewatch out forbe cautious of

Rarely, will you see the word “almond milk” in the question and the exact same word in the text but sometimes it might happen.

 

Most of the time you will see a synonym or paraphrase. So, for example, you will see the word ‘purchase’ in the question and ‘buy’ in the text or ‘watch out for’ in the question and ‘be cautious of’ in the text.

This is what we’re looking for, so to speak, when we search read. We’ve located an important key word or phrase in the question and now we’re hunting around looking for the same or similar word in the text.
 
Let’s do a little practice. Ready?

Milk is not what it used to be. For centuries milk was associated with animal milk – and certainly in the UK, with cow’s milk. But now there are dozens of different types of milk products, which are derived from vegetables, legumes or nuts. While soy, almond, oat, rice and coconut are the current popular milk alternatives, there are even lesser-known milk types including pea, hemp and macadamia. Many people are choosing these different types of milks for environmental purposes, while others are doing it for health reasons. The word lesser-known is closest in meaning to:
A. unpopularB. dubiousC. obscureD. concealed

Some of the questions will be very straightforward. They actually do the ‘search reading’ for you by highlighting the particular word in the paragraph. So you can go straight from the question to the particular area.

Concerningly, almond milk’s impact on the environment is almost as severe as dairy. While it doesn’t have the same greenhouse gas effects, it does lead to major water loss as almond trees are
What can be inferred about the water consumption of almond trees?
A. Almond trees consume more water
extremely thirsty. Environmental scientist Dr. Abdul Karim calculates that a single almond kernel – the basis of almond milk – requires up to 10 litres of water to grow. Put simply, an almond latte will need 60 litres of water to produce – an alarming realisation for many who have made the switch from dairy to almond. Karim also notes that almond trees can have devastating effects on bees, which are used to cross-pollinate the trees, but are susceptible to insecticides. He advocates for drinkers to choose locally produced almond milk rather than imported varieties.than all other plants used to create milk products.
B. Environmental scientists would like to cease almond milk production.
C. Dairy milk is a far a more environmentally friendly milk compared to almond milk.
D. People are largely unaware of how much water is used to grow almond trees. 

Some questions, however, like this one, require you to search read a paragraph for a particular area to find the right information to answer the question.

3. Careful Reading

When you careful read you read word by word, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence for a full and maximum understanding of what’s being said.

It’s the equivalent of slowing right down to about 20 km per hour to find a house number. You really have to slow down and concentrate. You might even stop for a little bit. Is the house number on the letterbox or is it on the door. Wait, was that it? No, that was 14 and I’m looking for 4…. Let me reverse my car and take a closer look.

Let’s practice with one question. Slow down and read very slowly and carefully going from the question prompt to the text to the answer options. I’ll give you 60 seconds, but you can pause the video and read as carefully as you can. Don’t rush!

Concerningly, almond milk’s impact on the environment is almost as severe as dairy. While it doesn’t have the same greenhouse gas effects, it does lead to major water loss as almond trees are extremely thirsty. Environmental scientist Dr. Abdul Karim calculates that a single almond kernel – the basis of almond milk – requires up to 10 litres of water to grow. Put simply, an almond latte will need 60 litres of water to produce – an alarming realisation for many who have made the switch from dairy to almond. Karim also notes that almond trees can have devastating effects on bees, which are used to cross-pollinate the trees, but are susceptible to insecticides. He advocates  
What can be inferred about the water consumption of almond trees?
A. Almond trees consume more water than all other plants used to create milk products.
B. Environmental scientists would like to cease almond milk production.
C. Dairy milk is a far a more environmentally friendly milk compared to almond milk.
D. People are largely unaware of how much water is used to grow almond trees. 
for drinkers to choose locally produced almond milk rather than imported varieties.

Did you get it? The answer is… D

This is an ‘inference’ question and the inference made is that because people have an ‘alarming realisation’ they were ‘unaware’ of how much water almond trees consume.

Let’s recap our reading process again.

Speed read the passage (200 km) – only do this once! 

Read the question (20 km)

Search for the right section of the text (60 km) – usually a single sentence in a paragraph!

Carefully read the sentence (20 km)

Answer the question

You will then repeat steps 2-5 until you have completed all of the questions related to passage number one. Then you will repeat the whole process for passage two and again for passage three.

Wait a minute…

But it’s not that easy… I wish it were. This is a great plan going from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and then 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. B what actually happens when you complete reading questions is that you’re going to go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth between the question and the text dozens of times. This is the most important TOEFL reading tip… ever. Make sure you share this video with your friends.

4. Why people fail / run out of time in TOEFL Reading

Take a look at this image. This is from a scientific study that used eye-tracking to see how many times an effective reader looked back and forth from the question to the text. This is an IELTS test, but it’s very similar to TOEFL. Both are computer based English reading tests.:

     

Bear in mind two things: This is a good reader and this is for a single question – question number 2.

Here’s a different way to look at it. You can see from this heat map that the reader has spent a lot of time looking at the question and then read very widely in the second and third paragraph to find the answer.

     

And that was a good reader! Now let me show you a bad reader, a very slow reader – someone who got the question wrong and who struggled with time management:

Yikes! This is for a single question. Their eyes went all over the place – up, down, left right and looked back and forth, quite literally 465 times. They even looked at the timer 6 times!

     

Their heat map looked like this… And you can see why they got this question wrong. They’re looking everywhere! Imagine how much time this is taking. This is question two and they’re looking in paragraph four. They clearly don’t understand that the questions and the paragraphs follow the same order and they’re spending way too long in the wrong place.

     

This is not an effective reader. If you move your eyes around too much you’re not concentrating and you’re wasting valuable time. Imagine how much time was wasted on this single question moving your eyes back and forth over 465 times.
 
We need to think about…

5. What makes a fast and accurate reader?

Reading quickly and accurately means that you read with minimal back and forth so that you complete all the questions in time and get them all correct – that’s the aim.

When effective readers read, they move through a text from left to right and from word to word or phrase to phrase with minimal re-reading. If they do move their eyes to re-read a word, phrase or sentence it’s to ‘reprocess’ the meaning to make sure they have fully understood what was said.

Sometimes effective readers will stop and ‘focus’ on a word to comprehend its meaning but then they will continue to read through the text from left to right. And sometimes effective readers will also ‘sweep’ back to a certain part of a text to re-read a particular section or sentence until they have fully understood it.

Importantly, effective readers can memorise ‘where’ in the text they need to re-read so they can try to find an answer. They remember where things were mentioned in the text.

Let’s compare good fast readers with bad slow readers…

GOOD, FAST READERSSLOW, BAD READERS
Continue from left to right moving through the text understanding the meaningRead up, down, left, right – all over place!
Don’t often re-read single words or phrasesDo lots of re-reading of single words or phrases or entire sentences or even paragraphs
Sometimes re-read a section of textDo lots of re-reading of whole sections
Concentrate and focus on meaningLose focus and do not concentrate on meaning

 
Let me take you through a process now so you can see how to tackle a passage from beginning to end and complete it efficiently and effectively:

6. The ultimate TOEFL Reading process for Time Management

Speed read the passage (200 km) – only do this once! Zigzag your eyes from top to bottom very quickly to get an idea of what the passage is about and pick up some key words as well.

Read the question carefully (20 km). Make sure you understand it fully.
Search for the right section in the paragraph (60 km) – a particular sentence or phrase in a paragraph! Keep in mind that the order of the questions follows the order of the passage.

Carefully read the important part of the paragraph (20 km) – It’ll be a sentence or a phrase. Reread it again and again if necessary.

Try to answer the question

Now, more than likely, because of your memory you’ll need to go back to the question to remember what it asked you and that is fine but concentrate. Stay on task. Don’t let your mind and your eyes wander. You can do this!
 
Before I wrap it up, I want to give you some critical additional tips to manage your time:

7. Critical Time Management Tips

When you prepare for TOEFL Reading and on test day:

  • Remember that you have enough time (if you don’t waste time).
  • Don’t move your eyes all over the place. Relax and let the meaning sink in.
  • If you can’t find an answer to a question skip it and come back to it later or at the end. Don’t waste time on answers you can’t find or are unsure of.
  • Answer every question – even if it’s a blind guess; there are no points lost for incorrect answers.
  • Relax. I know it’s hard, but relax and breathe – you have plenty of time!

Knowing all of this will help you with TOEFL Reading time management, but if you really want help then you need to learn the methods so you understand each of the question types and then you need to complete practice questions. You can do all of this at E2 Test Prep

Watch our Video on TOEFL Time Management

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