Tips for Scoring Well on the TOEFL® Reading Section
What’s the format?
The Reading section has a total of three or four passages (six paragraphs minimum) on a specific topic and each is followed by 12-14 multiple choice questions. The topics are often highly technical and are always written in an academic style These questions may test vocabulary knowledge, general comprehension of the passage along with sentence- or word-specific comprehension. They also assess your ability to infer and summarize information presented in the text.
Be prepared and confident
Don’t take this section section for granted! The readings and the accompanying questions can be challenging, so you’ll need to be prepared. You’ll want to get a high score (30 points maximum) just in case you don’t score as well in the other sections (Listening, Speaking, or Writing). Since reading is the first section on the test, being prepared, confident, and calm at the beginning will set you up for success on the rest of the test.
Here are some strategies and tips to practice so you can get a higher score on the reading section of the test.
- Manage your time
Knowing how to manage your time can make or break your TOEFL score, especially when it comes to reading. In the reading section, you need to monitor your own pace and determine how much time you have left to complete the readings and answer the questions. The maximum time is 80 minutes. The Reading section can have up to 56 questions for 3 or 4 passages. You’ll have about 5 minutes to read each text and about 1 minute to answer each question.
- Learn to improve your reading speed
As you prepare for the test, time yourself. How long does it take to read a passage? Notice when you slow down (most likely when you don’t comprehend what you’re reading). Do you spend time re-reading? Everyone reads at a different pace. But you need to practice to read more quickly. Aim for four minutes per passage.
- Find the purpose of the passage.
A key tool to understanding a passage is to determine what the writer is trying to accomplish. What is the purpose of the passage? You’ll most likely find the purpose of the passage in the introductory paragraph. Read that paragraph and determine if the purpose is (1) to explain, (2) to resolve, or (3) to convince. Once you have that determined, you’ll be prepared to understand the details. (Be sure to check out the WeSpeke Reading Lessons that focus on Determining the Purpose in the WeSpeke Shop.)
- Skim first. Read again.
Skimming means reading a text quickly to get an overall idea on what the text is about. What’s the main idea? Learn to skim quickly with the goal of identifying the major points of the passage. Then, read the passage again. Read more carefully but remember your time is limited. Take notes and identify the passage type. (Be sure to check out the WeSpeke Reading Lessons that focus on Skimming in the WeSpeke Shop.)
- Take notes
Note taking is allowed during the test. Use it to your advantage! It is difficult to remember all facts and details from a reading text in order to answer the questions. And you don't have enough time to search for those again in the text. When skimming and reading the texts, you should write down all important facts and details in order to find them fast and easily when you need them. (Be sure to check out the WeSpeke Reading Lessons that focus on Note taking in the WeSpeke Shop.)
- Don’t get hung up while reading a passage
Remember, you want prepare yourself to spend no more than 4 minutes per passage. Try not to stop even if you don’t understand a passage. You need to move on! Some passages will be harder and others will be easier for you. To get through a passage quickly, skim the passage. Take note of the key words. Read the first sentence in each paragraph. Move on if you don’t know a word.
- Learn how to handle unfamiliar words
The reading passages on the TOEFL will be full of challenging words that you have not seen before. This section is designed to test your ability to deduce meaning and to infer information from words that you do not know. When you arrive at an unknown word, skip the word and continue reading. You might find that you understand the meaning of the whole text without needing to know that specific word or the meaning may become evident once you’d read a bit longer.
- Use the Line Numbering
You’ll find that every fifth line in the passage is numbered to help you navigate to the words or sentences referred to in the questions. Practice locating specific lines by the numbers provided—they are there to help you!
Before the TOEFL
Here are two additional tips to help you prepare BEFORE the TOEFL.
- Work on expanding your vocabulary
As you practice for the TOEFL, don’t look at words in your practice passages--just keep reading! When you are done, you can go back and look up unknown words. Make a list of the words and use an English-English dictionary for the definition. You might include the phrase or sentence where it was used used in the passage. Reviewing the context helps learning. Organize your lists by topic. Don’t use a dictionary in your native language. As you grow your vocabulary list, you’ll be more confident when you take the test.
- Read, read, read.
Read in English regularly. As you prepare for the TOEFL, focus on academic texts from higher education textbooks or other materials. Don’t limit your reading to the topics that interest you. Read from variety of subjects. Look for sources in university libraries and online. But don’t read just read academic passages. Read a variety of other English language material such as magazines, online articles, and newspapers.
Want to learn all the different reading skills needed for success on the TOEFL? The WeSpeke Reading Lessons will help you both build the skills and become familiar with academic topics. Register for free and check our Lessons in the WeSpeke Shop.