Don’t be intimidated by the TOEFL reading tasks! They’re straight forward if you know what you’re doing. 

This article will prepare you for the most common TOEFL reading question types, including Summarizing Information and Make Inferences.

TOEFL reading
TOEFL reading requires comprehension and understanding of what is being tested of you. Build your skills around the common TOEFL reading question types.

Introduction to TOEFL reading

In the TOEFL reading section, you’ll get three to four reading passages, each with 12-14 questions.

They’re extracts from university textbooks or academic articles on a wide range of topics. These will be similar to the types of texts you’d find in college.

Although you don’t need to be familiar with the topics, the more you read during your preparation, the more you will understand.

You’ll have 20 minutes to read each passage, and answer its associated questions. Depending on how many passages you get, the reading section will last between 60-80 minutes.

TOEFL reading question types

There are 10 different question types you might encounter, each requiring a different skill. These are:

  • Summarize Information in a passage
  • Guess vocabulary from context
  • Make Inferences about what the author means
  • Identify a reference
  • Identify a fact
  • Understand rhetorical Purpose – why the writer included particular information
  • Identify a negative fact (a fact that was NOT included in the passage)
  • Insert a word or sentence into the appropriate place in a paragraph
  • Simplify information by identifying the correct paraphrase
  • Complete a table by dragging and dropping sentences

Common TOEFL reading question types

Below are some tips for how you can build specific skills for some of the most common question types. It’s very important to build up these skills.

To do so, you’ll need to read daily, especially university level books and articles covering a wide range of topics related to the arts, humanities, nature or social science.

TOEFL reading
Topical newspaper articles are an excellent way to practice your reading comprehension.
Summarizing Information

This type of question requires you to complete a summary of a reading passage by choosing three out of six sentences provided.

You’ll need to drag and drop the correct three sentences into boxes provided on the screen and identify main ideas (which belong in a summary) from details (which don’t).

To build this skill, read an article a day and write a short summary by paraphrasing important ideas from the article.

Take notice of main ideas – these are general, and details – which are specific. A summary should only include main ideas.

Guess Vocabulary from Context

For this question, a word in the passage will be highlighted. The question asks you which word from a list of four best matches the meaning of the highlighted word. Here, context will help you, and so will a wide vocabulary.

To develop your vocabulary, you need to read. Reading is the best way to see how words are used in context. You don’t have to read complicated books.

The best way is to make reading fun by reading things that interest you: Food, gardening, fashion, celebrity news, economics, science, politics, etc.

As you read, you will discover new words in context. Try to get the meaning of an unknown word by understanding the whole sentence.

Then, look up the word on dictionary.com or on thesaurus.com to see if your guess was correct. This skill will help you with the guess vocabulary from context question.

Also, try to learn a word a day.

Check the English Learner’s Dictionary word of the day for a new word each day with the definition, pronunciation, word form and example sentences.

Make Inferences

Inference is about understanding what the author is trying to say, without actually saying it.

TOEFL reading
Making an inference is liked making an educated guess: you have drawn an idea or conclusion from evidence, reasoning and experience.

You’ll be asked something like “what does the author mean by…”.

With this kind of question, you won’t find the answer directly in the text. It will be implied, so you’ll need to infer the meaning.

To do that, you need to go beyond the text which means using higher-level thinking skills.

A good way to develop this is to do riddles. There are plenty of inference riddles that you can find online that will help you practice making inferences.

Making inferences relies on what it says in the text plus your background knowledge and ability to connect information to draw conclusions.

Another way to build this skill is, as you read, ask yourself questions about the meaning behind what is written and make guesses.

Find connecting points and bring them together to draw a conclusion. Make predictions about the information provided.

Identify a Reference

This question type is all about understanding what a word or words in a sentence refers to.

For example, “I watched Star Wars yesterday. It was a great movie”. Here the word “it” refers to “Star Wars”.

Of course, this type of question will be a bit more challenging in the actual TOEFL reading. So, you need to build up your knowledge of grammar and sentence structure.

As you read different articles, highlight any reference words like it, they, they, which, whose, who, etc. Then ask yourself, what does that word refer to?

To answer that question, you’ll need to identify the subject of the previous sentence. This is an exercise you should keep in mind when doing your daily reading practice.

It will help prepare you for this very common TOEFL reading question.

Identify a Fact
TOEFL reading
Facts are snippets of concrete evidence drawn from your reading.

In the TOEFL reading, you might be asked to find a fact from the passage.

Facts are the supporting information that tell more about the main idea. Facts often tell about the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the main idea.

The fact question is based upon information which is actually stated in the passage.  You must find the part of the passage which deals with what is being asked.

The best way to build this skill is to practice reading and answering comprehension questions.

Rhetorical Purpose

This kind of question asks you why the author mentioned something. Authors say things for different purposes.

For example:

  • To persuade the reader of something
  • To describe something
  • To make a suggestion
  • To illustrate a point
  • To prove a theory

Like the inference question, the answer will not be stated in the passage. You will need to infer.

A good way to build this skill in preparation for this type of question, is to read critically. That means, as you read, ask yourself:

  • Why did the author mention that?
  • What was the purpose of including that information?  
Simplify Information

This question type asks you to pick the best paraphrase of a sentence from a passage. You’ll be given four options to choose from.

Paraphrasing is all about expressing the same idea in a simpler way. To build this skill, read an article and pick a paragraph to paraphrase.

Write a couple of sentences using your own words to capture the same idea that the paragraph expresses.  Then read your paraphrase and compare it to the original paragraph.

Keep refining your paraphrasing skills by doing this each time you read an article.

Jump onto Youtube to watch free E2Language TOEFL videos and start learning TOEFL reading methods today! 

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Written by Jamal Abilmona

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