ESL Reading Comprehension Tests

Instructor: Eric Campos

Eric has tutored in English, writing, history, and other subjects.

ESL reading comprehension tests can help students demonstrate their knowledge of English, usually by reading through provided texts and then answering questions related to a passage. Read on to learn about some of these tests and how students can prepare.

IELTS Academic and General Training Tests

The IELTS exam is designed to test the skills of individuals who want to work or study in an English-speaking setting. The Academic reading portion is a 60-minute reading comprehension test composed of exactly 40 questions. You'll be presented with 3 passages to read and answer a variety of questions for. These include testing your understanding of both the text and the context of the questions themselves. In addition to standard multiple choice questions, test-takers will also encounter 'true, false, or not given' questions. These questions will test a student's ability to pick out specific details within the writing or distinguish the author's opinions in order to answer correctly. Other questions will have test-takers match answers to certain parts of the writing, provide corrections to sentences, examine charts, write short answers, and more.

The General Training Test utilizes much of the same question types, but with a few additional formatting differences. Again, the test-taker has 60 minutes for 40 questions. However, this test is broken into 3 sections and has more passages for test-takers to read. The first section contains 2-3 short passages, the second section has 2 passages, and the third has 1 long passage. The various questions will be spread among the different passages just like with the academic version.


The TOEFL tests are actually a series of tests designed to examine a broad range of ESL students on the use and understanding of English. Reading comprehension is a major component of these exams, which is reflected in each of the levels. Below is a short breakdown of the main versions of the TOEFL.

  • TOEFL Primary: Designed for test takers ages 8 and up, this test is made up of 3 parts. The first 2 parts focus on reading and listening tests, as well as a speaking section. Each of the reading sections has a 30-minute time length. The goal is to assess what level of proficiency the test-taker is at in order to develop further educational plans to improve English skills.
  • TOEFL Junior: The core goals of the junior test remain the same. However, the targeted range is 11 and up. The results of this test also help pinpoint the appropriate books and reading levels for individual test-takers to steer improvement. This category of the TOEFL has 2 versions. The standard version is a paper-based test that assesses reading comprehension, language form and meaning, and listening comprehension. The comprehensive version is computer-based and currently delivered in phases, unlike the standard version which is in full.
  • TOEFL iBT: This version tests English language proficiency at the college level. Therefore, this would be a great test for ESL students to take in preparation for higher educational studies. The test levels range from intermediate to advanced understanding and cover the same range of English skills as the others.

Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)

As the name indicates, this is one of the more advanced ESL tests. Composed of 4 main sections, the biggest test section focuses on reading and use of English. This is a general reading comprehension section, but the emphasis is on testing the individual's ability to read and understand a wide variety of content. Passages will be excerpts from newspapers, fiction pieces, magazines, and more. This reading comprehension test also focuses on the test-taker's knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.

Developmental Reading Assessment, 2nd Edition (DRA2)

Designed for students in grades K-8, this assessment is unlike any of the other reading comprehension tests mentioned. The DRA2 is based on the teacher's observation of a student reading a sample text in real-time. The student is simply given a section to read aloud and then summarizes the content back to the teacher. This tests the student's pronunciation, reading fluidity, and understanding of the material they are reading. In order to provide an accurate summary, the student must understand the vocabulary and structure of the writing they are reading. Once assessed, students will receive a corresponding DRA reading level, which ranges from 1-80.

TOEIC Listening and Reading Test

This test is for adults who are learning English and want to prepare for the workplace. The TOEIC tests the English reading and listening skills needed to be successful in the workplace. To assess English proficiency, the reading content focuses on key English-language functions such emails, reports, business correspondence, and other tasks that are encountered at work. Not only can this test reveal areas to improve your English skills, but it can also be used to identify employees for recruitment and placement in the work environment. Resources

For those interested in preparing for these tests, be sure to take advantage of our selection of prep courses. All of's resources are mobile, allowing you to study whenever and wherever you want! Surge through your study time with video lessons, written transcripts, and practice quizzes and tests. All of our courses are self-paced, giving you complete control over your studies. Below is a small sampling of our resources. also offers resources for teachers who work with English Language Learners. Check out the following courses that teachers can use to help enhance the reading comprehension skills of English Language Learners.

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