28 Jan 2017

TOEFL Reading Overview

When it comes to the TOEFL, no one’s favorite section is the reading. It’s probably not the worst, as more test takers tend to be nervous about the speaking portion, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park.


The reading section is the very first section of the TOEFL (thanks!). It consists of 3 reading passages, with 11-13 questions for each passage. However, if you have done something terrible in your life and Karma knows your name, you might get a 4th passage, which will be experimental and unscored. You won’t know which passage it is, just that you got one, so treat all of your passages as if they count.

Just like the other sections, the reading is scored on a scale of 0-30, but has 36-39 questions. In this sense, it is very similar to the listening, which also has more questions than points. The TOEFL is trying to keep its scaling system a secret for this section because it’s an “input only” section, meaning it tests only 1 skill (reading) in one medium (written word). Why would they do this? Because certain questions have a higher value, but there are more questions of lower value…


Anyway, the topics come from standard academic areas: physical science, such as geology or astronomy, and humanities, such as history or art theory. They are entirely snooze worthy. However, there is a bright side, and that bright side is the number and types of questions you will see on your exam:


Vocabulary in context questions, with approximately 4 questions per passage, are easily the most common type of question (which means you don’t have to actually understand the passage, just particular sentences). Detail questions are a close second, with 3-4 per passage. These will require understanding portions of paragraphs and what is being stated. After that distribution, all of the other questions you will see will be single types: paraphrase questions, insert sentence questions, and a summary/table question at the very end.


So, knowing all that, how do you improve your reading score? By reading more things. Not fun things. Boring things.

Things you find on websites like these:

  1. http://aldaily.com/
  2. http://www.newyorker.com/
  3. http://discovermagazine.com/
  4. https://phys.org/

What should you do while reading? The most important task is to pick an article that looks relatively boring and read it. Any time you come across a word you are unsure of, write it down. But before looking that word up in the dictionary (or google, whom are we kidding), try to see if you can decipher the meaning based on context. After that, try identifying important details in the article. Once you’ve accomplished that, then you can worry about silly things like main ideas and purpose. Remember, the more you read, the more you understand what you read. Keep on doing it!

If you have any questions about the TOEFL reading, or any section at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Also, beginning in February, we will be launching our TOEFL program, taught by experienced and engaging TOEFL teachers. Check out the schedules because we would love to see you there.

And now, we mix it up with a duckling who demonstrates how we all feel after reading this reading information (haha):