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TOEFL Reading Section: Strategies

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  • 0:01 TOEFL Reading
  • 0:54 The Passages
  • 2:12 The Questions
  • 5:07 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.

Looking for tips to help you get through the TOEFL reading section? Here you go! From managing the passages down to the question types and what order to approach them in, we've got you covered.

TOEFL Reading

Before you can ace a test, you have to understand what it's testing. The TOEFL reading section is a test on how well you can read and understand passages in written English. On the TOEFL reading section, you'll get three to four passages. These passages are written like textbooks; you won't see anything weird, like poetry.

Each passage will be followed by 12-14 questions. That's 36-56 questions in total. The questions will only ask you about information in the passage. It's a test of reading comprehension, not outside knowledge. Most of the questions will be multiple-choice, but you'll also get a few special type called 'reading to learn questions,' which you'll learn about later in this lesson. There won't be any essays.

The Passages

Now that you know what's on the test, it's time to dive into strategy. Let's start with the passages. After all, you have to read the passages before you can start answering questions about them! Here are some tips for managing the reading passages on the TOEFL:

1. Read for the main idea, not the details

Skim the passage quickly to get the main idea. After you're done, try to summarize the main idea in one sentence, and then go straight on to the questions. This is good strategy because you don't get any points for understanding the passage; you only get points for answering questions. Most of the details in the passage won't show up in the questions, so you don't need to worry about them.

It's true that some questions will ask you about details. But for those questions, you can always go back to the passage to check the details as necessary. It's faster and easier to work this way than to try to read for every little detail the first time around.

2. Don't get hung up on words you don't know

Even if there are several words in the passage that you aren't familiar with, don't panic. Instead of sticking on individual words, focus on the meaning of the sentence as a whole. If you can understand that, you're set.

The Questions

Once you've read each passage, you'll turn to the questions. You'll get the best results from doing the questions from easy to hard and using the correct strategy for each type. Here's the list, from easier to harder question types. The easiest questions will probably be…

1. Questions about word meaning

These are the 'In context, -------- most nearly means…' questions. If you're not prepared for these, they can really wreck your day, but once you know how to manage them, they're some of the easiest questions on the whole test. The key to getting them right is this: they're about word meaning in context, NOT dictionary definitions. English words can have several different meanings depending on how they're used in a particular sentence. The word meaning questions on the TOEFL are testing whether you can figure out which particular meaning is being used in this particular case.

To answer these questions, go back up to the sentence and read it through. Underline the word you're being asked about and think of a synonym or another word you could replace it with. Then go back to the answer choices and pick the best match for your word. This will make sure you're thinking about the way the word is used in context, not the dictionary definition.

2. Questions with paragraph references

After you zoom through the word meaning questions, move on to the questions that will tell you specifically which paragraph they're referring to. They should start with something like 'In paragraph two…' These questions are still fairly easy because they tell you exactly where in the passage to look for the answer.

3. Other 'normal-looking' questions

After the paragraph reference questions, tackle any other standard multiple-choice questions (one question, four answer choices). Then go on to…

4. Insert-a-sentence questions

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