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In this article we take a deep dive into the Reading section of the TOEFL IBT test. We are going to be addressing the following key points:

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What to Expect in the Reading Section of the TOEFL Test

The first thing to clarify is that the Reading section of the TOEFL differs a little depending on the type of TOEFL that you opt for.

If you’re taking the TOEFL IBT and you want to get prepared, you can expect the Reading section to include 35-56 questions across a selection of passages, requiring 60-80 minutes of the test time. If you’re taking the paper-based TOEFL, there are 50 questions and you should dedicate about 55 minutes of your time.

In both forms of the TOEFL, the Reading section aims to assess the same skillset. It tests your ability to understand non-technical English texts, to identify central ideas and to assimilate a wide range of vocabulary.

Taking the TOEFL Reading Section: What Does It Contain?

The Reading section is where the TOEFL iBT puts your comprehension of written English to the test.

On this paper, you will be presented with three or four academic-style texts of about 750 words each. You will be asked to respond to several questions about each of the texts. There are a total number of 36 to 56 questions in total and the questions will vary in difficulty and style.

The content of the texts can vary greatly, but you will not be required to have specific knowledge of the subjects dealt with in the text in order to answer the questions correctly. The best way to prepare is by developing your TOEFL Reading strategy, and that’s where we come in.

girl reading a book in a couch

General Advice to Succeed at the TOEFL Reading Section

Although you cannot predict what texts will appear on the test or what subjects they will deal with, there are still other types of preparations you can do to make sure the Reading section goes smoothly. Other than the Reading section, if you’re interested in getting tips for the rest of the sections, you can take a look at our following articles:

Get familiar with the requirements

It’s important to be as familiar as possible with the requirements of the Reading section before test day to ensure that there are no surprises when you open the paper.

In both the TOEFL iBT and the paper-based TOEFL, you will encounter similar types of questions about the same types of passages. In both versions of the test, the Reading section will require you to read and understand texts that deal with more than one idea or subject. You will be asked to compare and contrast ideas, and to assess cause and effect.

Understand the possible types of questions

These are the main types of tasks that you can expect to encounter in the Reading section:

  • Reading factual information
  • Understanding inference and rhetorical techniques
  • Vocabulary
  • Completing sentences
  • Prose summary

It is possible that your test may include some additional questions that do not count towards your final grade but serve to help the administrators behind TOEFL to understand how different questions are interpreted by test takers.

Responding to different question types

Part of any test is reading the instructions and correctly interpreting what it is you are being asked to do. Before test day, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of instructions that you will encounter in the test. Here are our recommendations for your TOEFL Reading strategy.

One of the most common types of questions in the TOEFL Reading section is multiple choice. In this case, you will be asked a question and presented four possible answers (a-d).

Answer #1:

Read all the possible answers and choose the one that is best supported by evidence from the text.

Another common type of question asks you to insert a sentence into the text. In this case, you will be given a sentence and asked to choose between four possible places where it could be inserted into the passage (a-d).

Answer #2:

Consider which place makes best sense, and which place maintains the original meaning of the passage.

You may be asked to organize the main points of a passage into a summary. For this type of question, you will be required to select some possible summary sentences and order them into a chart to accurately reflect the overall message of the text.

Answer #3:

For this type of question, focus on which sentences provide the best summary, rather than detail.

Top TOEFL Reading Tips You Must Absolutely Keep In Mind

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what to expect in the Reading section, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start your preparations. After all, careful preparation is an essential part of a successful TOEFL Reading strategy.

Tip #1: Read, read, read

This might sound a little obvious, but one of the best ways to prepare for the Reading test is… to read!

As you prepare for the exam, our number one TOEFL Reading tip is to dedicate some time every day to actively reading similar types of texts to those you will be confronted with on the day (news articles, books, and short stories, for example).

As you read, take note of the vocabulary and expressions that are unfamiliar to you, and make sure that you have a clear understanding of the main points. By reading a little every day, you will soon begin to see improvements in how quickly and effectively you can process texts in English.

Tip #2: Manage your time

One of the key skills required to pass the Reading section is good time management. For this one, our TOEFL Reading tip is to dedicate about five minutes to each passage in the section, with one minute for each question.

You can work on your time management by reading more frequently to increase the amount of information you can process in one sitting. Additionally, there’s no better training than practice tests themselves. Schedule a few mock Reading tests into your preparation schedule and track how your pace increases.

Tip #3: Prioritize high-scoring questions

As you prepare, you’ll notice that not all questions are equally weighted. It goes without saying that the questions with the highest marks are the most important, and they should be the focus of your attention.

As you move through the Reading section, our TOEFL Reading tip is to move as quickly as possible through the questions with the lowest number of marks, before focusing on the high scorers.

Tip #4: Vocabulary counts

A great way to improve your reading comprehension skills is to build your vocabulary. As you read in preparation for the test, note down the words you don’t know and incorporate them into your lexicon.

TOEFL Reading passages tend to use similar language from one test to another. This means that you can on board frequent terms to reduce the possibility that you encounter unfamiliar language on the day. As a way of remembering new terms, our TOEFL Reading tip is to group the vocabulary you encounter according to their meaning or spheres of use and to make a note of relevant synonyms and antonyms. 

girl reading a book on a tree

A Structured Preparation Is Key When Taking the TOEFL Test

Succeeding at the TOEFL comes down to preparation. So, what can you do between now and test day?

To help you organize your preparations, we recommend splitting your TOEFL Reading strategy into three parts:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the test (the format, the question types, and instructions)
  2. Polish your English comprehension through reading and vocabulary building
  3. Practice your TOEFL strategy with mock exercises

The good news is that you’ve already made a great start by reading through this article and noting down our TOEFL Reading tips. However, preparing for the TOEFL can be difficult by yourself, which is why we’ve created an online learning platform dedicated to guiding you through your preparation.

Why Globalexam Is the Best TOEFL Learning Resource Online

GlobalExam is an exam preparation specialist, offering training programs for 27 different tests across multiple languages. Our learning platform organizes your exam preparation for you, so all you need to do is log on and chip away at your preparation little by little.

One of the big advantages of studying for the TOEFL with our online platform is that you can tailor your preparations to your level of proficiency, your goals, and your timeline. With a Premium account, you can create your own study plan to clearly set out your goals and plan of action for reaching them.

When we say our resources are TOEFL specific, we mean it. On GlobalExam you can find hundreds of exercises that are specifically designed to prepare you for all parts of the TOEFL, including the Reading section. This means that whatever part of the test you’re worried about, we can help you master it. There’s no better way to get ready for test day than to prepare using real TOEFL-style questions and papers.

Our final TOEFL Reading tip? Start studying with GlobalExam today!