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About the TOEFL Reading to Learn Questions

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  • 0:01 Reading to Learn
  • 0:25 Category Charts
  • 1:25 Summaries
  • 2:04 Questions Tips
  • 2:52 Practice Question
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Reading to Learn questions on the TOEFL are just plain weird - so it's important to practice them beforehand! Here's a lesson full of practice and tips so you're ready for them when they come.

Reading to Learn

On the TOEFL Reading Test most of the questions are pretty standard. They're multiple-choice; they ask you about information in the passage. You've seen these before; you know how they work. But the Reading to Learn questions are in a league of their own. Reading to Learn questions ask you to organize key points of the passage in one of two ways: a category chart or a summary.

Category Charts

If the question asks you to work with the category chart, you'll get a chart with two columns. Each column will be labeled with a major category from the passage. For example, if the passage discusses two different countries, the columns might be labeled with the country names. It will look something like this:

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Below the columns, you'll get several sentences. There will be more sentences than numbers in the columns. You'll have to choose which sentences fit in Column A, which fit in Column B, and which don't fit in either. Then, you'll drag the sentences that fit in one of the columns into the appropriate column.

a. These animals are more popular in Asia.
b. In the United States, they've earned the nickname 'man's best friend.'
c. Even the large and exotic members of the species have the same basic physiology as their house pet relatives.
d. Their hooves often break on the hard asphalt, so they have to be fitted with metal 'shoes' to protect the bone.
e. The ancient Egyptians revered their feline pets so highly that they mummified them after death.
f. Today's domestic pets descend from wolves domesticated thousands of years ago.
g. Movies like Old Yeller celebrate their famous loyalty.
h. Pests who infested granaries and storage houses; they could seriously threaten a crop.
i. Some species, labeled 'hypoallergenic,' produce less of this protein

The example above would be worth four points. Sometimes, you'll also get slightly smaller category questions with only five spaces in the chart. These will be worth three points. You can get partial credit for getting some of the answers right.

Summaries

Summary questions are the other type of Reading to Learn questions. They'll look something like this:

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At the top of the chart, you'll see a sentence summarizing the entire passage. You'll have to pick the three sentences that best express the three main points of the passage and insert them into the summary chart as appropriate. These questions are worth two points, and you can get partial credit. Each Reading passage on the TOEFL will have at least one Reading to Learn question. That's a guaranteed three to four of these on the whole test.

Question Tips

Before heading into the practice, here are some general tips for managing Reading to Learn questions:

Save them for last.
Reading to Learn questions are typically the hardest Reading questions of all because you have to understand the entire passage to answer them. Use the other questions to get a feel for the passage and then look at the Reading to Learn question once you're already familiar with the passage.

Use elimination.
Even if you don't know exactly which answers are correct, get rid of anything that's wrong right away. This will help you narrow down your options.

Use your scrap paper.
Don't just 'eliminate' things in your head. Instead, write down the letters of every answer choice on your scrap paper and cross off the ones that are wrong. This will help you focus and stay on track.

Practice Question

Ready to test your skills? Here's a passage followed by a practice summary question:

Although we have many sources about the Late Republic (147-30 BC) and the Roman Empire (27 BC-476 AD), information about the early days of the Roman Republic, from approximately 458-274 BC, is still hard to come by.

One reason why sources from this period are so few and far between is simply time. Several historians recorded the events of the early Republic, but many of their chronicles have been lost or damaged in the intervening 2,500 years. Manuscripts were often accidentally destroyed, lost, or simply mis-copied by the generations of Medieval monks who handed them down through the Middle Ages.

Even records more permanent than paper have suffered the ravages of time. Architecture, for example, can tell us a great deal about a city and its people, but the Rome of the early Republic was rebuilt and beautified by the emperor Augustus, and traumatic events like the Great Fire of Rome (64 AD) and the sack of the city by the Goths in 410 AD further damaged whatever early buildings were left.

Another problem, from the point of view of modern historians, is that the sources we do have are often less concerned with historical accuracy than with moral rectitude. For example, the historian Titus Livy, who wrote a history of Rome starting with its foundation, was primarily concerned to show that the aristocracy was the pillar of Roman society. He frequently bent historical truths to present Rome's political elite in a good light, making it hard to determine what actually happened.

While some sources on the Republic still do remain, much of our potential source material has been destroyed by time or neglect, and the material we do have is often factually imprecise to begin with. This makes studying the Early Republic frustrating for modern historians.

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