18 Mar 2017

Reading In-Depth, Part 3

Previously, we’ve looked at some of the most common reading questions that appear on the TOEFL: Vocabulary in Context and the Detail questions. This week we’re going to continue that journey with a different style of reading question: Paraphrase Questions.


Paraphrase questions may or may not appear in every reading passage, but you will see at least one of them in the reading test. The question itself is relatively straightforward, because it asks you to identify the best paraphrase of a highlighted question. The best part about this type of question is that you don’t have to read any other sentences, you don’t have to know how the sentence fits into the paragraph, and you don’t even have to know what the main idea of the passage is! The worst part is you have to know the essential meaning of the sentence and be able to identify the TOEFL’s approximation of the sentence.

Here’s an example of a paraphrase question:

Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the underlined sentence? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

Although the romantic image of the community-wide quilting bee is now fixed in the popular imagination, the historical reality is that the majority of women still sewed their own quilts at home or worked as a part of a small church or other civic group.

So how do we attack this type of question? Carefully. It’s dangerous.

giphy (2)

First things first: start by reading the sentence. Specifically, look for verbs, nouns, and transition words, as those will tell you what the main actions are, what nouns are doing those actions, and if there is a continuation or a reversal in the sentence. Our sentence begins with an “Although,” which means we’re going to be looking for a switch in direction. Then we get “image,” “fixed”, and “imagination,” followed by a comma. So we start with a switch transition, and an image fixed in imagination. Then, in the second portion of the sentence we can see “reality,” “is,” “majority of women,” “sewed,” “home,” “worked,” “church,” and “group.” So the second part of the sentence tells us that reality is women sewed at home or worked at church or group. Putting the two parts together, we contrast the image vs. reality, which has to involve smaller groups and not big quilting bees. If you don’t know what some of the words in the sentence mean, ignore them.

Now let’s look at the answer choices, keeping in mind we need a contrast between imagination and reality, and we need to eliminate anything which changes the meaning.

(A) Many women avoided quilting bees because they preferred to work in the quiet of their own homes.

(B) Quilting bees were first organized by women who belonged to churches or civic groups.

(C) Most women sewed quilts for their own families or in small, organized gatherings rather than participating in quilting bees.

(D) Quilting bees were first organized by women who felt bored and lonely from long days of household work.

Answer choice (A) starts with women avoiding something, which wasn’t in our original sentence. (B) states how they were first organized, which our sentence didn’t address. (C) indicates women sewed in small gatherings (good) RATHER THAN (excellent!) bees. Let’s keep this one. (D) again indicates who first organized the bees, which was never mentioned. So, through the process of elimination, we can confidently pick (C) as the best answer! Congratulations!

And that’s all there is to paraphrase questions. If you have any concerns about this question type, or about the TOEFL in general, please contact me at [email protected]. As always, thanks for reading.

giphy (3)