TOEFL Reading Exam Tips


The reading and comprehension section of the TOEFL is designed to test various skills associated with reading. It tests a candidate’s understanding of passages written on different topics from university-level textbooks to newspaper reports to magazine articles and so on. Although the passages are taken from different fields, they are designed so that all information required to attempt the questions can be found within the text.

So, unfamiliarity with the subject of the passage will not be an impediment to answering questions in the section. Also the TOEFL provides a glossary to define words that are not commonly used, if or wherever they may appear in the text.

Sources and guidelines regarding the passages:

  1. The TOEFL reading section contains three to four reading passages, approximately around 700 words long.

  2. Each passage is followed by 10 questions to be attempted in 54 to 72 minutes. All questions in the section are compulsory.

  3. The passages in the test could be from university texts, magazines, or newspapers. These passages are chosen for a general/neutral audience with no specialised knowledge required to write about them.

  4. The passage will generally deal with topics that are commonly heard of; are interesting; and which should also require some basic knowledge to understand and respond to.

  5. They could be depicting a range of styles such as discursive/argumentative, or narrative or descriptive.

  6. The passages can contain technical terms but they will be accompanied by a glossary.

Types of Questions in Reading & Comprehension Section

Question Type



1. Factual Information

These are questions that ask for factual information from the passage. The information is explicitly conveyed and includes facts such as definitions, major ideas, or supporting details.

There could also be questions on negative factual information in which, rather than only one correct answer, three out of four answers are correct and the examinee has to identify the wrong one.

These questions assess the examinees’ ability to identify and understand factual information.

2. Inference Rhetorical Purpose

These questions require an examinee to identify information or comprehend ideas not clearly stated in the text.

These questions generally include the words "infer", "imply", or "suggest”.

Rhetorical purpose questions test a candidate’s ability to infer from a set of information and correctly find meanings that are implied rather than expressed.

3. Vocabulary

Vocabulary related questions require a candidate to identify the word meanings, or meanings of phrases. The options could include the contextual meanings or generic meanings.

The words picked up for the questions are mostly those frequently needed for academic studies. They are grouped as academic vocabulary.

Questions could be like find the "closest in meaning" or "the writer means ____."

Since these words are from academic vocabulary, it is difficult to guess them from options if they are not known. These questions are a check on the strength and quality of vocabulary of the examinees.

Academic vocabulary refers to words that are found frequently in texts across university level books. They should not be confused with terminologies or subject-specific vocabulary.

Refer to the Exams Vocabulary and Themed Vocabulary sections for more knowledge.

4. Sentence Simplification

In these questions, examinees will be given alternatives to a sentence written in the passage. They have to identify the one having a similar meaning and that does not leave out any of the essential information, while doing away with the unimportant portions.

The right answer will be a sentence that is simpler in structure but restates the most important information.

Sentence Simplification questions are like: "Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the following sentence?”

These questions are meant to test a candidate’s understanding of sentences and their core meaning. They also test the knowledge of sentence structure. So, one must carefully select the option that preserves the essential information or meaning while presenting it in a different structure.

The sentences picked up could contain cause and effect relationships, or a conclusion based on evidence.

Refer to Conditionals for more knowledge.

5. Prose Summary

Prose Summary questions are intended to test an examinee’s ability to deal with major ideas and other relative information from the passage.

In these questions, there will be about six options, out of which three correct answers expressing the most important ideas from the passage have to be identified.

The incorrect answer choices will misrepresent information or will deal with minor points.

These questions are designed to test the ability to find and understand precise information in the passage. They also test understanding of the main ideas depicted in a long passage.

6. Insert Text

Insert Text questions check understanding of the logical/natural order of ideas in a passage. The question may come in the form of a paragraph picked from the passage and will ask the examinee to identify the correct spot where a given sentence can be logically inserted to make complete sense.

This question checks if the examinee understands logical or natural flow of ideas in a set-up. Thus, correctly inserting a sentence in the sequence of other sentences in a paragraph shows understanding of order and best fit.

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