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A Brief Overview of the TOEFL iBT Reading Section

The following will serve as an introductory feeler for students who want to have a very basic overview of what is included in the TOEFL iBT reading section.

The reading section consists of 36 to 59 questions, lasting between 60 to 80 minutes.

You, the test writer, are tasked with reading either 3 or 4 passages, and then answering a series of questions (36 to 59) based on the passages you have read.

The majority of the questions are in multiple choice format.

The reading section is the first of 4 components, followed by the listening, speaking and writing sections – with a 10-minute break given between the listening and speaking components.

The table below represents a basic structure of the TOEFL iBT exam:

 

Section Time limit Questions Tasks
Reading 60-80 min. 36-56 Read 3 or 4 passages
Listening 60-90 min. 34-51 Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations
Break 10 min.
Speaking 20 min. 6 tasks Express opinion on topics based on reading and listening tasks
Writing 50 min. 2 tasks Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks

 

The 4 Types of Reading Passages in the TOEFL iBT

The reading passages can be classified into 3 different types.

  • The first type is referred to as classification, wherein the topic will be presented to you such that each paragraph will contain different types of classifications of an object or a subject. For example, a passage might discuss the different types of medicine available to people in this modern era.
  • The second type of passage which appears on the TOEFL iBT is a comparing and contrasting passage which will discuss the similarities and differences of a subject. An example of this would be a compare and contrast passage in which the differences of travel by car and train would be discussed.
  • The third type of passage is one that speaks about cause and effect in which the questions are often dealing with subjects of great importance such as hurricanes. The cause (hurricane) and effect (the damage it causes) would be highlighted in this passage.
  • The fourth type of passage to expect is the problem/solution type, in which a crucial situation is discussed such as the problems modern educational systems are facing, and the potential solutions that might be offered to solve these problems.

That is as far as the passages as a whole are concerned.

The 3 Types of Paragraphs in These Passages

Regarding the actual paragraphs in the passages, you will come across 3 types of paragraphs.

The first type will be descriptive, which will describe or explain something by referring to the topic being discussed.

The second type of paragraph you might come across when writing the TOEFL iBT will be argumentative, meaning a paragraph that is presented as the point of view of the writer.

The third type of paragraph you might see on the TOEFL iBT will be chronological passage types.

They are often referred to as historical instead of chronological, as the passages are often constructed in relation to historical events.

Whether termed chronological or historical, test writers will need to be able to deal with chronological order and sequence of events (which is the meaning of chronology), and will also need to have developed excellent note taking skills.

The 10 Question Types that Follow the Reading Passages

What you just read was a brief overview of the passage and paragraph types you can expect to see on the TOELF iBT reading portion of the exam.

The following is a concise outline of the types of questions you can expect to be asked about in regards to the reading passages described above: 

  • Factual informationThis type of question focuses on facts, details, definitions or other information presented by the author in the passage.
  • Negative factual information You will normally see the words “not” or “except” in this type of question, and are therefore supposed to choose answers that were not mentioned in the passage.
  • Inference This type of question will measure your ability to understand an idea that does not appear in the exact same way as it does in the text. In other words, the argument or idea presented would not be stated clearly in the text, but instead expressed in an indirect manner (i.e. instead of being directly expressed). Therefore, you have to ‘infer’ (understand/deduce/conclude) the correct meaning from the text yourself.
  • Vocabulary These types of questions ask you to identify the individual meaning of words and phrases that are used in the passage.
  • Reference questions Although sometimes quite similar to vocabulary questions, in a reference question, you will not be asked to define the word in question. Rather, you will be asked to identify relationships between words in the passage. So, you will be referring back to other words to understand context (i.e. background/situation/perspective) for words in the passage.
  • Rhetorical purpose questions Here, you are asked to acknowledge why the author presented a piece of information, as well as the manner in which he/she did so. Put another way, you are asked what information the author presents, and why the author presents the information in that manner.
  • Sentence simplificationThis type of question will not always be found on the exam, although it is entirely possible that you will be asked a sentence simplification question. A sentence simplification question requires you to choose a sentence with the same essential meaning as the highlighted sentence in the reading passage. The key is to make sure that your answer does not leave out any information or contradict the highlighted sentence in the passage.
  • Insert text/sentences: In an insert text/sentence type question, you will be given a new sentence and asked where this new sentence would fit best in the reading passage. You must understand the logic of the passage as well as grammatical connections between the sentences. You will be provided with 4 black squares in the passage, and following this, you should insert the new sentence into one of the 4 provided squares.
  • The summary information type questions ask you to complete a brief rundown of the passage and to pick the choices that best express the most important ideas in a passage. It tests your ability to understand and recognize the main ideas of the passage while distinguishing them from the minor points they contain.
  •   Fill in table: A partially completed table will be given to you in the fill in the table question type. It is your responsibility to fill in the table with important information and ideas you came across while reading the passage. This question tests your ability to prioritize and distinguish between essential and non-essential information. You are also asked to conceptualize (i.e. truly grasp and understand) and organize major ideas and other important information across the passage and place them in appropriate categories.