Module 4

Reading

1.Reading section strategies

The TOEFL is designed for college-bound students.

Most of the questions in the reading section are multiple choice – a format often seen on college exams. In addition, the TOEFL’s comprehension passages come from university textbooks, articles, and lecture notes. This means the TOEFL is simply testing your ability to read and respond to questions about comprehension passages in your future university courses.

Here is an overview of what you will learn in this section of the module:
  • Section 1: Quickly reading a passage by using skimming/scanning techniques to find key facts and information
  • Section 2: Using the most efficient note-taking techniques to properly understand a passage’s content
  • Section 3: Dealing with each question type that will likely appear on the exam
  • Section 4: Putting everything together into a checklist of actionable points

To read or skim?

TOEFL exams are notorious for not being generous with time. The following will help you understand the examiner’s logic in giving you a limited period of time for completing your exam.

As you likely know, finishing a reading section in 20 minutes is difficult. Reading the whole passage in detail is perhaps the biggest mistake students make in the reading section. Do not do this.

Most students make this mistake because the reading passage appears before the questions. Therefore, students assume they should read the passage first, then answer the questions. This is an incorrect assumption.

You are not supposed to read the whole text. Rather, you should skim the text while dealing with the presented questions. With that in mind, you will need to perfect the skill of skimming.

Skimming is easy, but you must understand the required strategy in doing so. Do not look at the text for an extended period of time. If you do, your brain might create the illusion that you will not understand the text unless you read it repeatedly.

The following is a sound skimming strategy you can use throughout the exam. Do not make this complicated. If you stick to the following layout, you will use your time efficiently:

Section 1: How to skim a reading passage

The best skimming technique

The terms reading and skimming are often used interchangeably. However, skimming involves reading through a passage quickly to gain a basic understanding of the topic and main points.

The best way to skim is by looking at the first sentence of each paragraph, as highlighted in the image below. The first sentence usually explains the main point or idea of the entire paragraph. The sentences that follow contain either the supporting content or an explanation of the paragraph’s first sentence.

Step 1: Understand the passage’s title

If you understand the title, you will know what the paragraph’s topic is. For example, a careful perusal of the title will reveal whether the paragraph is about education, finance, sports, etc.

Step 2: Recognize the organization of the reading passage

The following are the various types of passage formats on the exam:

Classification:

In a classification format passage, the topic is presented in such a way that each paragraph presents different types of classifications of an object or a subject.

Example:

A passage that talks about the different fields of education will present the fields in order according to classification. Each paragraph will present a different field of education.

Comparing & contrasting:

A comparing-and-contrasting passage focuses on a subject’s similarities and differences. The paragraphs identify the similarities and differences in the subject.

Example:

A passage that talks about education is a general subject passage. However, if the passage talks about the differences of online and on-campus education, the passage is a compare-and-contrast passage.

Cause & effect:

A cause-and-effect passage notes a relationship between the cause and effect of an occurrence, especially a critical situation.

Example:

A passage about earthquakes talks about the damage they cause. The earthquake is the cause and the damage is the effect.

Problem & solution:

A problem-and-solution passage talks about a crucial situation and offers suggested solutions.

Example:

A passage about problems related to pollution will offer different solutions to this problem. Each paragraph will discuss one solution.

How does this help?

If you know a passage’s format, you will know how to deal with it. This skill will be of great use to you as you take notes during the exam.

For example, with a problem-and-solution passage, you must specify the major points that constitute the solution to the problem. In other words, you will look at the first sentence of each paragraph, as the first sentence will contain the solution.

To take effective notes, you must follow the note taking format that we will talk about in Section 2 of this chapter. Remember that the way you take notes will depend on the passage type, as you will soon see.

Also, reading comprehension questions might indirectly ask you for the passage type. The TOEFL examiners expect that you will be able to recognize the passage type you have received.

Reading and taking practice tests will help you easily identify the passage type, and will prepare you for the task of identifying the passage type, if needed.

Here is a helpful image of how you should structure your notes. This will be further elaborated upon in this chapter.

Analyzing paragraphs: Another helpful tool

You should practice being able to analyze and identify the types of paragraphs you will be presented on the exam. This will help you, as a paragraph’s structure will reveal how the paragraph will convey information to you.
Here is what we mean:

The 3 types of paragraphs:

Descriptive:

Descriptive paragraphs describe or explain something by referring to the topic. You must read the first sentence of each paragraph carefully because that sentence will specify the paragraph’s major points. Once you have read the first sentence of a descriptive passage, you can continue by skimming the rest of the paragraph.

Argumentative:

Argumentative paragraphs present the author’s point of view. The first sentence states the writer’s view of the paragraph’s subject. The sentences which follow provide evidence that supports the writer’s position. This means that you will need to skim an argumentative paragraph first (as a whole) to understand why the author is arguing the point. In other words, take a brief look at the whole paragraph in order to properly understand the author’s position on the subject matter.
If you make the effort to skim the whole paragraph when dealing with argumentative paragraphs, this will help you answer the comprehension questions. You can easily answer questions about the arguments by looking at the first statement of each paragraph. What follows is usually the evidence of and support for the argument.

Chronological:

Chronological passages (or historical passages, as some TOEFL books refer to them) are the most difficult types of passages. Pay close attention to the details presented, noting any facts you read.The reason why some sources call this type of passage a historical passage is because its topics often relate to history. It presents the facts in chronological order (i.e., from the earliest to the latest date). When dealing with this type of passage, scan the whole paragraph first for events or dates, then record them in your notes in chronological order. This is the best way to proceed, as the comprehension questions will also most likely be presented in chronological order.

Extra tip: Increase Reading Fluency and Rate

To improve your fluency and rate of reading, practice skimming newspaper articles. Start by skimming slowly, then gradually increase your pace. Online and downloadable applications and programs can also help you increase your reading rate.

Applications such as www.7speedreading.com can help you learn how to read 3 times faster within a period of about two weeks – all the while maintaining or bettering comprehension. Hence, giving this or any other similar online apps a try for a few weeks could potentially give you a great advantage over other test takers.

Section 2: Understanding the content in the passage (efficiently)

Taking notes for the reading comprehension passage

Taking notes will generally help you during the exam, but unfortunately, students often do not know how to take productive and effective notes.

First, you need a clear idea of the topic. Skim the whole passage while scanning the first sentence of each paragraph. Usually, the first sentence in every paragraph states the main point. While skimming each paragraph, look for important details like dates and events to add to your notes.

This is how your notes should generally be framed:

Introduction Main Idea

Paragraph 1
Main point. Add any
facts if available or a one-sentence summary of the details mentioned in the
passage.

Paragraph 2
Main point. Add any
facts if available or a one-sentence summary of the details mentioned in the
passage.

Paragraph 3
Main point. Add any
facts if available or a one-sentence summary of the details mentioned in the
passage.

Avoid plagiarism when taking your notes:

The TOEFL exam has a rule related to paraphrasing: no words can be copied from the text exactly. Therefore, taking notes will help ensure that you write your answers in your own words, which is another reason why you should make sure you take notes before answering the questions for a reading comprehension passage.

In your notes, do not write text verbatim (i.e. directly) from the passage. As such, notes should not contain sentences. Instead, use short forms and abbreviations. Obviously, this is a skill which you will need to develop over time as you prepare for your exam. But with a minimum of 6 months to prepare for the exam, you will have plenty of time to steadily improve your note taking skills. This means that when you sit down to write your exam, the note taking procedures outlined in this e-course will have become second nature to you.

Paraphrasing (rephrasing) will not only help you use different wording to understand the text; it will also help you during your later writing task. Getting used to paraphrasing is important. If you insist on using the original author’s exact wording, the examiners will penalize you.

The following is how you should structure your notes:

As you can see in the diagram above, you should abbreviate and rephrase the main point of the paragraph on the top left hand corner of the page, and then follow that up by adding the abbreviated and rephrased details below it. This allows the details to take up a greater portion of the lines so that they can be visibly distinct from the main points. This helps organize and clarify everything better for you.

This should be repeated for all three of the paragraphs.

Do not just read these tips and forget about them. Rather, you should be continuously using this system throughout your whole preparation period so that it will be like second nature to you on the exam.

This method of taking notes for the reading comprehension section of the exam will allow you to better understand the passage and answer its questions more efficiently – without the threat of being penalized for plagiarizing content.

Section 3: Solving multiple choice questions for the reading section

Question formats & types

The reading section of the exam will present you with different question types and formats. These are designed specifically to test your understanding of the passage.

A tip for solving multiple choice questions:

Start by eliminating the irrelevant answers. A multiple choice question always has one or two answers that are clearly incorrect.

Also, look for answers that resemble each other. They are tricky because one of them is likely to be the correct answer.

The 9 types of questions in the reading section

The exam’s reading section will contain from 36 to 56 questions. These questions will include all 9 types you will see described here. If you understand these question types and become familiar with the tactics that will be mentioned here, you will be able to score considerably higher on your exam.

Keep in mind that the first question type (Finding factual and negative information questions) is actually comprised of two parts (factual and negative information), so it could be argued that there are in fact 10 question types in the reading section of the exam.

1.Finding factual and negative information questions

This question type focuses on facts, details, definitions or other information the author presents in the reading passage.

It will ask you to identify information that is typically mentioned in a single paragraph. You will approach this question type by referring back to the paragraph and your notes.

How to recognize factual information type questions

Factual information questions are often phrased in one of the following ways:

  • Which of the following is correct to say about what you have just read?
  • Which of the following things was mentioned in the paragraph?
  • According to the paragraph, the professor spoke to his student in order to…
  • Which of the following choices was stated as a reason for the dean to have canceled the event?

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “. . . Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding of the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress. Paintings must have rigid stretchers so that the canvas will be taut, and the paint must not deteriorate, crack, or discolour. These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work. For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues of horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg. In other words, the demands of the laws of physics, not the sculptor’s aesthetic intentions, placed the ball there. That this device was a necessary structural compromise is clear from the fact that the cannonball quickly disappeared when sculptors learned how to strengthen the internal structure of a statue with iron braces (iron being much stronger than bronze)… “ (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.39)

According to paragraph 2, sculptors in the Italian Renaissance stopped using cannonballs in bronze statues of horses because

  • They began using a material that made the statues weigh less.
  • They found a way to strengthen the statues internally.
  • The aesthetic tastes of the public had changed over time.
  • The cannonballs added too much weight to the statues.

Answer: They found a way to strengthen the statues internally.

As you can see, this example is taken from the second paragraph of a reading passage. It talks about the necessity for Italian Renaissance sculptors to put a cannonball under the raised leg of a sculpted horse, because the horse was made out of bronze which would not fully support the pull of gravity over time.

We know that “they found a way to strengthen the statues internally” is the correct answer by turning to one of the later details in the passage, which states: “That this device was a necessary structural compromise is clear from the fact that the cannonball quickly disappeared when sculptors learned how to strengthen the internal structure of a statue with iron braces (iron being much stronger than bronze).”

We can therefore deduct conclude that the reason these sculptors stopped using cannonballs in bronze statues of horses is that they “found a way to strengthen the statues internally.” The newer and sturdier legs had “iron braces” which no longer needed any type of physical support (such as a cannonball), as they were fundamentally stronger.

We can therefore summarize that this question is of the factual information type because it is dealing with facts mentioned within the passage. The key to answering the question can be found in matching certain keywords in the answer such as “they found a way to strengthen the statues internally” with the same keywords in the text, such as “sculptors learned how to strengthen the internal structure of a statue with iron braces.” Can you see the almost perfect match in keywords and meaning between these two sentences?

As for the other answers, none of them match the context of the intended meaning of what is being discussed in the paragraph. In short, the other answers cannot be associated with the question at all, while the second answer fits perfectly, both in terms of words used, and intended meaning.

Firstly, we have successfully been able to identify this question as being a factual information one. Based on that, we have used the facts mentioned in the question to match them (1) lexically (i.e. word-wise) and (2) meaning-wise with the facts mentioned in the text. This matching of facts was done using a process of deduction (i.e. reasoning and inference).

A word of caution is needed at this point, though. Just because a keyword mentioned in the answer matches lexically (i.e. word-wise) with a keyword mentioned in the text, does not allow you to assume that they also match meaning-wise with the facts mentioned in the text.

For example, the first answer, “They began using a material that made the statues weigh less” could lexically (i.e. word-wise) be matched with the first sentence in the paragraph, “Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding of the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress.”

But nowhere does the paragraph state that the sculptors began using iron braces because they made the statues weigh less. So when dealing with the facts contained in the texts, questions and answers, do not allow lexical matches alone trick you into thinking that the all-important meanings of these words always match, too.

On the contrary, the writers of the TOEFL exam use these similar words to trip you up and see whether your understanding and inference (i.e. concluding deductions and reasoning) of the meaning and context of the passage is correct.

What has been outlined for you here is the same method you should use when faced with other factual information type questions on the reading section of the TOEFL exam.

For the negative factual information question type, you will see either NOT or EXCEPT in the text of the question. In this case, you are supposed to choose answers that the passage did not mention. These questions require a little more attention because they contain a lot of detail.

In the case of this question type, you need to understand that the right answer will be one of two things. Either it will directly contradict what has come in the passage, or it will be something that was not mentioned at all in the passage.

Such questions require a quick scan of the paragraph. Sometimes you will also have to read other paragraphs. In addition, the answers might be spread throughout the passage. After you have finished a negative factual information question, check your answers to make sure you have understood the task.

How to recognize negative factual information type questions

You will be able to recognize negative fact type questions by seeing either NOT or EXCEPT in capital letters. Remember that this will be in the question itself:

  • Based on what you have read in the passage, which of the following is NOT true about the professor?
  • The passage mentions all of the following EXCEPT…

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “The United States in the 1800’s was full of practical, hardworking people who did not consider the arts—from theatre to painting—useful occupations. In addition, the public’s attitude that European art was better than American art both discouraged and infuriated American artists. In the early 1900’s there was a strong feeling among artists that the United States was long overdue in developing art that did not reproduce European traditions. Everybody agreed that the heart and soul of the new country should be reflected in its art. But opinions differed about what this art would be like and how it would develop.” (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.40)

According to paragraph 1, all of the following were true of American art in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s EXCEPT:

  • Most Americans thought art was unimportant.
  • American art generally copied European styles and traditions.
  • Most Americans considered American art inferior to European art.
  • American art was very popular with European audiences.

Answer: American art was very popular with European audiences.

To answer this question type, look back at the passage for the details. Recalling can be tricky because this question type focuses on the details, facts, definitions, and information that the author has presented.

The first thing you need to do here is look at the question. What sticks out to you most? You should see that the negative “except”, sticks out like a sore thumb. Go back to the question and visualize that.

Based on the word “except”, you should be saying to yourself, “This is obviously a negative factual information question, based on the fact that it deals with facts, and has the keyword ‘except’ in it.”

Here is the key:

Once you have made the deduction that this is indeed a negative factual information type question, you should remember what you learned just a minute ago: In the case of this question type, you need to understand that the right answer will be one of two things. Either it will directly contradict what has come in the passage, or it will be something that was not mentioned at all in the passage.

In the case of this passage and question, it was never mentioned that American art was appreciated by Europeans, so “American art was very popular with European audiences” is the obvious answer to this negative factual information question, because it was never mentioned at all.

As for the other answers, all of them were mentioned in the paragraph, so none of them should be selected as this is a negative factual information question.

If you follow the tactics mentioned here, you should not get any of these types of questions wrong on the exam.

Let us move on to the next type of reading question you need to familiarize yourself with.

2. Inference questions

In the last question type (factual and negative information), we were looking at identifying and understanding facts contained within the passage. Inference questions, on the other hand, measure your ability to understand an idea that is not directly conveyed in the text. Right away, you can see the difference between these two question types.

The argument or idea of an inference question would be stated clearly in the text but expressed in an indirect manner. It is not a case of it not being there; the argument or idea is clearly there. However, it is expressed indirectly, and you have to show that you understood it fully. So the question will ask you to explain what is in the text.

In short, this type of question tests your ability to understand the hidden meanings of words.

If the paragraph describes an effect, the question might ask about the cause. If the paragraph makes a comparison, the question might ask for an explanation of that comparison. Knowing and understanding the passage type will help you answer the questions. Recall the passage types mentioned previously in this e-course.

For inference type questions, have your notes ready so that you can answer the question at hand. Your notes will be written in your own words, so since your thought process has already been engaged, you will be able to comprehend the passage in a logical manner. Make sure your notes do not contradict the passage’s main idea.

How to recognize inference type questions

Inference questions will most likely be presented with words such as suggest, deduce, infer, or imply. All of these words are essentially related to what you can logically conclude from the information that you have just read. Here are some examples of the types of questions you might see on the exam:

  • What was the student implying when he spoke about campus issues?
  • What can you infer from the professor’s question to the class?

Here is a more specific example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT:

“. . . The nineteenth century brought with it a burst of new discoveries and inventions that revolutionized the candle industry and made lighting available to all. In the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, a process was developed to refine tallow (fat from animals) with alkali and sulfuric acid. The result was a product called stearin. Stearin is harder and burns longer than unrefined tallow. This breakthrough meant that it was possible to make tallow candles that would not produce the usual smoke and rancid odour. Stearins were also derived from palm oils, so vegetable waxes as well as animal fats could be used to make candles…’ (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.41)

Which of the following can be inferred from paragraph 1 about candles before the nineteenth century?

  • They did not smoke when they were burned.
  • They produced a pleasant odour as they burned.
  • They were not available to all.
  • They contained sulfuric acid.

Answer: They were not available to all.

To answer an inference type question, choose the best explanation of what the author wants to convey in the passage.

This means that you do not want to get caught up in all the details of the passage. Look at the question carefully, and consider: what is really being requested of me here?

Well, the first thing that should set off an alarm bell is that the question “which of the following can be inferred” is asking you to infer something from the passage. Remember that we have said that the words infer, suggest, or imply are all words that are essentially related to what you can logically conclude from the information that you have just read.

That means that you should not be looking for something that is directly spoken about in the passage, but rather, what can logically be understood and concluded from what has been directly spoken about in the passage.

So now you know what is wanted of you. But the problem is: What should you infer, and from what?

The answer to that can be found in the second part of the question: “about candles before the nineteenth century?

Now you know that all the details about the way the candles were made is essentially noise for you that you need to ignore. Instead, concentrate on how things were—not during the nineteenth century—but before the nineteenth century.

Remember, though, that you will not be told directly how things were before the nineteenth century, because you will be asked to infer how they were based on what you have been told. So, go back to the passage, and look for what was directly said about how things were during the nineteenth century:

“The nineteenth century brought with it a burst of new discoveries and inventions that revolutionized the candle industry and made lighting available to all.”

Now, put your thinking cap on, and consider: If lighting was made available to all through this series of discoveries and inventions, what does that mean for the century before the nineteenth century? Obviously, that this lighting was not available to all. That is what can be logically deduced, or inferred, from this passage and question.

That is how you would go about choosing they were not available to all” as your answer for this inference type question.

3. Vocabulary Questions

Vocabulary questions ask you to identify the individual meaning of words and phrases in the passage. However, this might be tricky because the answers might have the definition you are looking for, but in a different context. This is due to the fact that a word might have more than one meaning. Just remember, though, that only one meaning is relevant for the passage you are being asked about. Therefore, you must skim the paragraph before you answer the questions.

If you come across a vocabulary word you do not know, do not panic. Read the whole sentence. If you discover the context of the sentence, you might find the answer. If that is not the case, read the sentence before and after it. Sometimes you might have trouble answering the question. If this occurs, skim the paragraph once more. If none of this helps, guess and move on.

In TOEFL iBT, the words or phrases you are questioned about are either unusual, technical or used in a specific context. Obviously, they wish to challenge you somewhat, so do not expect extremely easy vocabulary type questions.

How can you recognize vocabulary question types?

Vocabulary questions are usually easy to identify. You will see one word or phrase highlighted in the passage.

Some of the questions will look similar to these examples:

  • The term decentralized in the text is nearest in meaning to…
  • When the passage states that his punishment was a slap on the wrist, the intended meaning of this phrase is actually…

Remember that the question is not simply asking you for the word’s meaning; it is also asking you for the context in which the word is used in the passage. Do not choose an answer just because it states the word’s definition. You must understand what the author is trying to convey in the passage. This is key.

Of course you want to answer the question correctly, so the way to do this is to go back to the passage and read the sentence again.

The way to make sure you are selecting the right answer is to re-read the sentence in the passage. Take the word or group of words in the answer you are thinking of and check to see what type of sense those words make when placed in the passage. Does the substitution you have made really make sense when looking at the context of the passage as a whole, and furthermore, do the passage’s sentences transition well now? If they do, and you are certain that there you cannot find a more correct answer from the possible selections, then you can be sure that you have the right answer.

Here are two example of this question type. The first example asks about a specific word in the passage, while the second asks about a phrase.

Let us start with the specific word type example.

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “Students such as Caroline might work hard, but because they do not plan their study time effectively, their efforts turn out to be wanting.”

The word wanting in the passage is closest in meaning to:

  • desiring
  • coveting
  • lacking
  • fancying

Answer: lacking

As you can see, some of the answers such as fancying and desiring look like they could be correct, but when the word wanting is seen in the context of the sentence, it becomes clear that the correct answer is lacking.

Now, we can move on to the phrase type example.

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “When the policeman stopped Mr. Davidson and cited him for turning into the wrong lane, the policeman was surprised to hear Mr. Davidson, a trained lawyer, state that the law he was being cited for had been abrogated last year.”

When using the word abrogated, the author means that the law had been:

  • improved upon
  • repealed and replaced
  • changed and improved
  • worked on somewhat

Answer: repealed and replaced

To be able to answer effectively, identify the expression as it is used in the passage by substituting each answer in the relevant place of the sentence. This way, you will find something like the following:

…the policeman was surprised to hear Mr. Davidson, a trained lawyer, state that the law he was being cited for had been repealed and replaced last year…

Now we are ready to move on to the next question type.

4. Reference Questions

Reference questions can be similar to vocabulary questions, but they do not ask you to define the word in the question. Instead, they ask you to identify the referential relationships between the words in the passage. In other words, reference questions emphasize the words’ context.

How to recognize reference type questions

Reference questions are similar to vocabulary questions. In the passage, one word or phrase is highlighted. Usually the word is a pronoun. Then you are asked:

  • The word X in the passage refers to the four answer choices. Only one choice is the word to which the highlighted word refers…

Did you see how the word ‘refers’ was used in relation to the chosen word? That is what should help you understand that you are being faced with a reference type question.

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “. . . These laws are universal in their application, regardless of cultural beliefs, geography, or climate. If pots have no bottoms or have large openings in their sides, they could hardly be considered containers in any traditional sense. Since the laws of physics, not some arbitrary decision, have determined the general form of applied-art objects, they follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits… “ (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.45)

The word they in the passage refers to

  • applied-art objects
  • the laws of physics
  • containers
  • the sides of pots

Answer: applied-art objects

To answer a reference type question, substitute the answers in the multiple choice question for the highlighted word or words in the sentence. Does the answer violate any grammar rules? Does it make sense?

So, for example, “containers follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits” does not make sense, so “containers” could not be the right answer. The same is the case for “the laws of physics” and “the sides of pots.” Although all of these examples would make grammatical sense as, like the pronoun ‘they,’ these examples all happen to be plural entities; none of them make logical sense. “Applied-art objects,” on the other hand, do “follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits.”

This is why we would choose applied-art objects as the most appropriate answer for this question.

5. Rhetorical Purpose Questions

Rhetorical purpose questions ask you to acknowledge the reason why the author presented a piece of information and in what manner he/she did so. In other words, what information does the author present, and why does he/she present the information in that manner?

This type of question allows you to discover the author’s perspective in depth. These kinds of questions require that you concentrate on logical links between the author’s ideas, explanations, and perspectives.

How to recognize a rhetorical purpose question

  • Why does the writer reveal the name of the perpetrator?
  • The writer argues that teachers do not get paid enough in order to…

What is the reason for the teachers’ bad habits having been mentioned in the passage?

To answer a rhetorical purpose question, focus on logical links between the sentences and paragraphs. Answer the questions of what information the author is presenting in the passage, and why the author is presenting it.

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “… Sensitivity to physical laws is thus an important consideration for the maker of applied-art objects. It is often taken for granted that this is also true for the maker of fine-art objects. This assumption misses a significant difference between the two disciplines. Fine-art objects are not constrained by the laws of physics in the same way that applied-art objects are. Because their primary purpose is not functional, they are only limited in terms of the materials used to make them. Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding of the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress. Paintings must have rigid stretchers so that the canvas will be taut, and the paint must not deteriorate, crack, or discolor. These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work. For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues of horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg…” (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.43)

Why does the author discuss the bronze statues of horses created by artists in the early Italian Renaissance?

  • To provide an example of a problem related to the laws of physics that a fine artist must overcome
  • To argue that fine artists are unconcerned with the laws of physics
  • To contrast the relative sophistication of modern artists in solving problems related to the laws of physics
  • To note an exceptional piece of art constructed without the aid of technology

Answer: To provide an example of a problem related to the laws of physics that a fine artist must overcome

Although this passage seems somewhat difficult to deal with at first sight, try to remain focused. A good portion of this information is irrelevant to the question, so you will need to sift out this irrelevant information to arrive at the essential information which will show a clear logical link in ideas.

When you see the question “Why does the author discuss…”, you can easily identify this question type as being a rhetorical purpose question based on the fact that it is asking you to provide a logical link between the author’s ideas.

So, the question is asking you: “Why does the author discuss the bronze statues of horses…” Now go to the sentence which deals with the subject of bronze statues of horses, and you will quickly see that the sentence that comes right before it is providing the logical link you should be looking for:

These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work. For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues of horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg…”

Forget about all the other sentences which lead up to this segment. The logical link and topic at hand here is: The problems that must be overcome by the artist.

After identifying this as being a rhetorical purpose question with a clear logical link between the two sentences, the correct answer can be recognized as being:

“To provide an example of a problem related to the laws of physics that a fine artist must overcome”

6. Sentence Simplification Questions

Not every set of reading questions contains sentence simplification questions, but you might come across them in your reading comprehension section. For this type of question, you must choose a sentence that has the same essential meaning as the highlighted sentence in the reading passage.

Here is a crucial point to remember: The answers should not (1) contradict the passage or (2) leave out important information. Choose the statement that best expresses the highlighted area of the passage.

How to recognize sentence simplification type questions

Sentence simplification questions always look the same. A single sentence in the passage is highlighted. You are then asked the following question, which is being quoted directly from the ETS website:

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

The answer will be incorrect if it contradicts something in the highlighted sentence or if it leaves out something important. When answering this question, you will need to filter out all and any inconsequential information. That way, your answer will be in agreement with the main point of the passage.

Here is an example of this question type:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: “. . . Although we now tend to refer to the various crafts according to the materials used to construct them—clay, glass, wood, fibber, and metal—it was once common to think of crafts in terms of function, which led to their being known as the “applied arts.” Approaching crafts from the point of view of function, we can divide them into simple categories: containers, shelters, and supports. There is no way around the fact that containers, shelters, and supports must be functional. The applied arts are thus bound by the laws of physics, which pertain to both the materials used in their making and the substances and things to be contained, supported, and sheltered. These laws are universal in their application, regardless of cultural beliefs, geography, or climate. If a pot has no bottom or has large openings in its sides, it could hardly be considered a container in any traditional sense. Since the laws of physics, not some arbitrary decision, have determined the general form of applied-art objects, they follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits. Buildings without roofs, for example, are unusual because they depart from the norm. However, not all functional objects are exactly alike; that is why we recognize a Shang Dynasty vase as being different from an Inca vase. What varies is not the basic form but the incidental details that do not obstruct the object’s primary function…” (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.47)

Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence? Incorrect answer choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

  • Functional applied-art objects cannot vary much from the basic patterns determined by the laws of physics.
  • The function of applied-art objects is determined by basic patterns in the laws of physics.
  • Since functional applied-art objects vary only within certain limits, arbitrary decisions cannot have determined their general form.
  • The general form of applied-art objects is limited by some arbitrary decision that is not determined by the laws of physics.

Answer: Functional applied-art objects cannot vary much from the basic patterns determined by the laws of physics.

To answer a sentence simplification question, choose the statement that best expresses the highlighted area of the passage and that does not change its meaning in any way or leave out important information.

In the example we have provided here, your first reaction might be to look at the complexity of the whole passage, and throw up your hands in frustration. Don’t do this! Remember that you need to remove a great portion of this information, and focus principally on the highlighted section, which is:

“Since the laws of physics, not some arbitrary decision, have determined the general form of applied-art objects, they follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits.”

You might still be thinking that even this sentence is difficult and complex, as you most likely know nothing about applied art objects and functional forms.

Don’t worry. Look at the sentence again, and you will see that there is an affirmation and negation going on here. Namely, it is being affirmed that it is “the laws of physics” that have determined the general form of applied art objects.

You do not even need to understand much about the topic at hand. Just go with the clues, which are this affirmation we just mentioned, and a negation that “some arbitrary decision” could be behind what determines “the general form of applied art objects.”

So now you know that these “applied art objects” must follow the laws of physics, which is why we would choose the following answer:

Functional applied-art objects cannot vary much from the basic patterns determined by the laws of physics.

7. Insert Text Questions

Insert text questions involve you taking a sentence that you will be provided on the test, and then figuring out where this sentence would best fit in the reading passage. You must understand the passage’s logical order, as well as the grammatical connections between the sentences. In the passage, you will see four black squares; you must insert the given sentence into the most appropriate square.

How to recognize insert text type questions

In the passage, you will see four black squares [], located at either the beginnings or ends of sentences. Sometimes all four squares appear in one paragraph, while other times, they are spread throughout the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another.

You will then be asked the following:

Look at the four squares [] that show where the following sentence could be added in the passage:

[Here, a sentence will be shown to you in bold.]

Where would the sentence best be added?

Click on a square to insert the sentence in the passage.

To answer an insert type question, after you have inserted the text, ensure that the passage has proper grammatical structure, and that you have established a logical connection.

Here are some extra tips for solving insert type questions:

  • Attempt to insert the sentence wherever you find squares.
  • Consider carefully the meaning and logic of what is being said, and whether the sentence truly fits in the place you are attempting to insert it.
  • Look carefully at the arrangement of the sentence you are attempting to insert. The key is to look closely at the connecting words. Of course, meaning and logic are important, but the connecting words will often let you know whether the sentence belongs there or not.
  • Frequently used connecting words include: Finally, In contrast, Conversely, On the other hand, Further, Besides, Also, Additionally, Moreover, Furthermore, Similarly, Alternatively, For example, Therefore, On the contrary, In other words, and As a result.

Here is an example of this question type

As you can see, in this case, the passage is only from one paragraph, although it is always possible you will be asked about a passage which will be spread out over two separate paragraphs.

This particular paragraph is about Resources and Industrialism in Canada:

PASSAGE EXCERPT: While the much-anticipated expansion of the western frontier was unfolding in accordance with the design of the National Policy, a new northern frontier was opening up to enhance the prospects of Canadian industrial development. [A] Long the preserve of the fur trade, the Canadian Shield and the western Cordilleras became a treasury of minerals, timber and hydroelectric power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As early as 1883, CPR [Canadian Pacific Rail­way] construction crews blasting through the rugged terrain of northern Ontario discovered copper and nickel deposits in the vicinity of Sudbury. [B] As refining processes, uses, and markets for the metal developed, Sudbury became the world’s largest nickel producer. The building of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway led to the discovery of rich silver deposits around Cobalt north of Lake Nipissing in 1903 and touched off a mining boom that spread northward to Kirkland Lake and the Porcupine district. [C] Although the economic importance of these mining operations was enduring, they did not capture the public imagination to the same extent as the Klondike gold rush of the late 1890s. [D] [Barron’s TOEFL iBT,13th Edition, pp.227-228]

Look at the four squares [] that show where the following sentence could be added in the passage:

Railway construction through the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia also led to significant discoveries of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.

Where would the sentence best be added?

Click on a square [] to insert the sentence in the passage.

This is what the question will look like on the exam. Now that you have been able to see what the question looks like, try to fit the sentence into the correct place in the passage.

Remember to look for correct logical order, correct grammar correspondence, and the correct use of connecting/transitional words.

When you take these factors into account, you will see that there is an excellent match between:

Railway construction through the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia also led to significant discoveries of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.

and

The building of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway led to the discovery of rich silver deposits around Cobalt north of Lake Nipissing in 1903 and touched off a mining boom that spread northward to Kirkland Lake and the Porcupine district.

You will note that the words “Railway construction” in the sentence you have been given and “The building of” from the passage make a perfect match, just as the “discoveries of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc” match ideally with “rich silver deposits.” There are no grammatical discrepancies between this sentence and those before and after it, nor are there any grammatical or transitional problems.

Hence, the best answer here would be [C].

The last two question types

The last two question types are “prose summary” and “fill in a table”. We will deal with these two question types differently because, while the previous questions focused on basic information, these last two types require more than knowledge of the reading passage, as you will now see.

These two question types involve:

  • reworking the organization and purpose of the passage
  • organizing the passage’s information into a mental framework
  • distinguishing major ideas from minor ideas and essential information from nonessential information
  • understanding rhetorical functions like argumentation (making a systematic case for something you want to logically convey), compare-contrast relationships (identifying similarities and differences between two things) and cause-effect relationships (where you identify a cause which leads to a certain effect), and the like

These questions require that you understand the passage as a whole, not just specific information within it. You will have only one of these two question types on your TOEFL exam, never both.

Let us start with the first one.

8. Prose Summary Questions

Prose summary type questions ask you to summarize the passage, then pick the choices that best express the passage’s most important ideas. This type of question tests your ability to understand and recognize the main ideas, while distinguishing them from the passage’s minor points. Doing so will require that you take a critical approach toward understanding the information in the passage.

How to recognize prose summary type questions

This is what the question might look like in the exam:

An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage.

To answer a summary type question, select the three choices that best express the passage’s key ideas. If you have prepared notes, you will already know the important points and be able to distinguish between the major points and minor details. To answer this question, you must know the important/major points.

Keep an eye out for answers that are only examples in the text. Look for keywords such as “For example…” and “For instance…”. If you see these types of keywords, you will know that the sentence is only an example, and cannot be anything except a minor point.

Are you ready?

Here is an example of this question type

APPLIED ARTS AND FINE ARTS

Although we now tend to refer to the various crafts according to the materials used to construct them—clay, glass, wood, fiber, and metal—it was once common to think of crafts in terms of function, which led to their being known as the “applied arts.” Approaching crafts from the point of view of function, we can divide them into simple categories: containers, shelters, and supports. There is no way around the fact that containers, shelters, and supports must be functional. The applied arts are thus bound by the laws of physics, which pertain to both the materials used in their making and the substances and things to be contained, supported, and sheltered. These laws are universal in their application, regardless of cultural beliefs, geography, or climate. If a pot has no bottom or has large openings in its sides, it could hardly be considered a container in any traditional sense. Since the laws of physics, not some arbitrary decision, have determined the general form of applied-art objects, they follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits. Buildings without roofs, for example, are unusual because they depart from the norm.

However, not all functional objects are exactly alike; that is why we recognize a Shang Dynasty vase as being different from an Inca vase. What varies is not the basic form but the incidental details that do not obstruct the object’s primary function.

Sensitivity to physical laws is thus an important consideration for the maker of applied-art objects. It is often taken for granted that this is also true for the maker of fine-art objects. This assumption misses a significant difference between the two disciplines. Fine-art objects are not constrained by the laws of physics in the same way that applied-art objects are. Because their primary purpose is not functional, they are only limited in terms of the materials used to make them. Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding of the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress. Paintings must have rigid stretchers so that the canvas will be taut, and the paint must not deteriorate, crack, or discolor. These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work.

For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues of horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg. In other words, the demands of the laws of physics, not the sculptor’s aesthetic intentions, placed the ball there. That this device was a necessary structural compromise is clear from the fact that the cannonball quickly disappeared when sculptors learned how to strengthen the internal structure of a statue with iron braces (iron being much stronger than bronze).

Even though the fine arts in the twentieth century often treat materials in new ways, the basic difference in attitude of artists in relation to their materials in the fine arts and the applied arts remains relatively constant.

It would therefore not be too great an exaggeration to say that practitioners of the fine arts work to overcome the limitations of their materials, whereas those engaged in the applied arts work in concert with their materials. (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.52)

An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below.

Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage.

Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage.

This question is worth 2 points. This passage discusses the fundamental differences that exist between applied-art objects and fine-art objects.

Answer Choices

  1. Applied-art objects fulfill functions, such as containing or sheltering, and objects with the same function have similar characteristics because they are constrained by their purpose.
  2. It is easy to recognize that Shang Dynasty vases are different from Inca vases.
  3. Fine-art objects are not functional, so they are limited only by the properties of the materials used.
  4. Renaissance sculptors learned to use iron braces to strengthen the internal structures of bronze statues.
  5. In the twentieth century, fine artists and applied artists became more similar to one another in their attitudes toward their materials.
  6. In all periods, fine artists tend to challenge the physical limitations of their materials while applied artists tend to cooperate with the physical properties of their materials.

On the exam (and when practicing for the exam), you should make notes for the passage. In these notes, we should have already included the main/major points of the passage. Remember that in the prose summary question, we need to show that we can critically distinguish between the passage’s major and minor points.

Now we can begin:

We can see when looking at this example that if you look at answer number 1, concepts such as applied art objects fulfilling functions, and objects of the same function having similar characteristics being constrained by their purpose are all main/major points. Consequently, answer number 1 should be included in your selection of the 3 best answers.

As for answer number 2, Shang Dynasty and Inca vases are mentioned only as incidental details to demonstrate that not all functional objects are exactly alike. Hence, as minor points, answer number 2 should not be included in your selection of the 3 best answers.

Answer number 3 should also be included in your selection of the 3 best answers, as the concept of fine-art objects not being functional, and consequently being limited only by the materials used, is a main point.

Answer number 4, on the other hand, should not be included in your selection of the 3 best answers because the subject of Renaissance sculptors is only mentioned as an example (see: “For example, in the early Italian Renaissance…”. Keep in mind that the duty you are assigned with in the prose summary question is to be able to distinguish between main/major and minor points, and an example such as this should not be classified as a main point in the passage, even if it takes up a substantial amount of space in the paragraph. Therefore, do not be tricked by the amount of words or sentences. Rather, look at the function of the sentence within the passage.

As for answer number 5, you will need to look very closely at what is being said. Answer number 5 sates: “In the twentieth century, fine artists and applied artists became more similar to one another in their attitudes toward their materials.”

Now look at what the text actually says: “Even though the fine arts in the twentieth century often treat materials in new ways, the basic difference in attitude of artists in relation to their materials in the fine arts and the applied arts remains relatively constant.”

Although the passages appear to be saying something similar upon first glance, if you look carefully, you will see that they are actually saying something quite different. Answer number 5 is saying that in the twentieth century, fine artists and applied artists became more similar to one another in their attitudes toward their materials, whereas the text is telling you that their basic difference in attitude remained relatively constant. There is nothing there about their attitudes becoming more similar. Consequently, you should not include answer number 5 in your selection of the 3 best answers.

Answer number 6 should definitely be included in your selection of the 3 best answers because the concluding paragraph (and main point of the whole passage) clearly states that overall, fine artists “tend to challenge the physical limitations of their materials while applied artists tend to cooperate with the physical properties of their materials.”

In conclusion, your answers for the prose summary question should be:

Answer:

  1. )
  2. )
  3. )

9. Fill in a Table Questions

For the fill in a table question type, you will be given a partially completed table. You must fill in the table with important information and ideas you came across while reading the passage. This type of question tests your ability to distinguish between essential information and non-essential information.

  • You must also conceptualize and organize major ideas and other important information from the passage and place them in the appropriate categories. Therefore, you must be able to understand rhetorical functions like argumentation (making a systematic case for something you want to logically convey), compare-contrast relationships (identifying similarities and differences between two things) and cause-effect relationships (where you identify a cause which leads to a certain effect).

The questions will likely be abstract concepts based on the passage’s phrases or information. These will likely not match exact phrases or sentences in the passage. In other words, you are going to have to use a very critical approach in understanding what the author is really trying to say.

Here is an example of what the fill in table question will look like:

APPLIED ARTS AND FINE ARTS

Although we now tend to refer to the various crafts according to the materials used to construct them—clay, glass, wood, fiber, and metal—it was once common to think of crafts in terms of function, which led to their being known as the “applied arts.” Approaching crafts from the point of view of function, we can divide them into simple categories: containers, shelters, and supports. There is no way around the fact that containers, shelters, and supports must be functional. The applied arts are thus bound by the laws of physics, which pertain to both the materials used in their making and the substances and things to be contained, supported, and sheltered. These laws are universal in their application, regardless of cultural beliefs, geography, or climate. If a pot has no bottom or has large openings in its sides, it could hardly be considered a container in any traditional sense. Since the laws of physics, not some arbitrary decision, have determined the general form of applied-art objects, they follow basic patterns, so much so that functional forms can vary only within certain limits. Buildings without roofs, for example, are unusual because they depart from the norm.

However, not all functional objects are exactly alike; that is why we recognize a Shang Dynasty vase as being different from an Inca vase. What varies is not the basic form but the incidental details that do not obstruct the object’s primary function.

Sensitivity to physical laws is thus an important consideration for the maker of applied-art objects. It is often taken for granted that this is also true for the maker of fine-art objects. This assumption misses a significant difference between the two disciplines. Fine-art objects are not constrained by the laws of physics in the same way that applied-art objects are. Because their primary purpose is not functional, they are only limited in terms of the materials used to make them.

Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding of the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress. Paintings must have rigid stretchers so that the canvas will be taut, and the paint must not deteriorate, crack, or discolor. These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work. For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues of horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg. In other words, the demands of the laws of physics, not the sculptor’s aesthetic intentions, placed the ball there. That this device was a necessary structural compromise is clear from the fact that the cannonball quickly disappeared when sculptors learned how to strengthen the internal structure of a statue with iron braces (iron being much stronger than bronze).

Even though the fine arts in the twentieth century often treat materials in new ways, the basic difference in attitude of artists in relation to their materials in the fine arts and the applied arts remains relatively constant.

It would therefore not be too great an exaggeration to say that practitioners of the fine arts work to overcome the limitations of their materials, whereas those engaged in the applied arts work in concert with their materials. (The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test 3rd Edition, p.52)

Directions: Complete the table below to summarize information about the two types of art discussed in the passage. Match the appropriate statements to the types of art with which they are associated. This question is worth 3 points.

Types of Art Statements
The Applied Arts Select 3
The Fine Arts Select 2

Statements

  1. An object’s purpose is primarily aesthetic.
  2. Objects serve a functional purpose.
  3. The incidental details of objects do not vary.
  4. Artists work to overcome the limitations of their materials.
  5. The basic form of objects varies little across cultures.
  6. Artists work in concert with their materials.
  7. An object’s place of origin is difficult to determine.

You will see the following message:

Drag your answer choices to the spaces where they belong. (This question type fills the computer screen. To see the passage, click on View Text.)

Answers:

The Applied Arts

2. Objects serve a functional purpose.
5. The basic form of objects varies little across cultures.
6. Artists work in concert with their materials.

The Fine Arts

1. An object’s purpose is primarily aesthetic.
4. Artists work to overcome the limitations of their materials.

When approaching this fill in table question, you need to make sure you pay close attention to the categories of things they are asking you to consider. They are: (1) The Applied Arts, and (2) The Fine Arts.

Once you have understood what you are supposed to be looking for, you need to take each of those seven sentences, and narrow them down to 3 choices for the applied arts, and 2 choices for fine arts. That means that 2 sentences will need to be excluded through a process of deduction.

Remember that your job is firstly to be able to organize the appropriate sentences into these two categories, and secondly, to distinguish between essential information and non-essential information.

Once you have followed that process, you will see that answers 2, 5 and 6 belong in the applied arts category, and that answers 1 and 4 belong in the fine arts category. You will also see that the third and seventh sentences should not be included in your answers.

Why would we not include sentences 3 and 7 in our answers? Because the text said: “What varies is not the basic form but the incidental details that do not obstruct the object’s primary function,” which means that the incidental details do actually vary. Sentence number 3 says, on the other hand, that the incidental details of objects “do not vary,” which is flat out wrong.

As for sentence number 7, the statement that “an object’s place of origin is difficult to determine” is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Once you have excluded these two sentences, it becomes much easier to start matching the other sentences to their correct categories.

Section 4: Putting all this together

In the last part of this section, we will combine the main points of the previous parts.

You will learn additional techniques for answering all question types throughout the reading section.

The following is a breakdown of how you should start the reading section of the exam. Make sure to practice these techniques many times before taking the exam, in order to ensure that you perfect this process and know it like the back of your hand.

Skim the reading passage
  1. Start the exam by clicking “next” after the instructions page. The first section that appears is the reading section. After you click “next”, the reading passage will appear.
  2. As soon as it appears, read the passage title carefully. Take a second to understand and acknowledge the meaning of the title. This will help you understand the subject matter.
  3. Recognize the format of the passage to get a feel for the passage’s organization (e.g., classification, compare/contrast passages).
  4. Read the first sentence of each paragraph, as the first sentence will most likely contain the reading passage’s main ideas.

Efficient note taking skills
  1. Ask the examiner to give you a piece of paper so that you can start taking notes. Note on the piece of paper all the main ideas you obtained from the passages (most likely from the first sentence of each paragraph).
  2. Most importantly, organize your notes into sections. Divide the parts of your notes according to the number of paragraphs, as mentioned previously.

This is what your notes should look like:

Do not misunderstand this advice and think that, when taking notes, you must use your best handwriting.

You do not have much time, so you should use short forms or abbreviations in order to write quickly.

  1. When writing your notes, do not plagiarize. As mentioned in part 3 of this e-course, plagiarism is when you copy someone else’s text word for word. That is against the TOEFL rules. You must process the information from the reading passage and then write it in your own words. Work on this skill repeatedly in your preparations.
  2. When you have finished your notes, click “next.” Now you will proceed to the questions.
The answering process
  1. Read the question and take 10 seconds to identify the question type. Recall the strategies you should use for that specific question type. (To do that you must learn about the 10 TOEFL question types and the answering strategies we mentioned in the reading section.)
    Do not worry if you cannot quickly identify an answer. This process takes time and practice. After a lot of practice on sample TOEFL exams, you will be able to master this in a matter of seconds.
  2. Even if you have excellent notes, the process of choosing the right answer from among the given choices can be confusing. Therefore, we have summarized the most effective techniques for answering multiple choice questions.

The Elimination Technique

      • First eliminate all answers that are different from the ideas the passage discusses. If an answer does not make sense, eliminate it immediately.
      • Second, identify the tricky answers (those that do not seem clear). Verify that the meaning of those answers matches your notes and the reading passage. If it does not, eliminate those answers, too.

The Keyword Technique

Every question will have a set of keywords (or just one keyword) that convey the main idea.

      1. If the keyword in the question is a noun, record it in your notes and scan the passage for that word.
      2. Remember that a noun is the name of a place, person, or thing. Therefore, the noun that appears in the question will be the same in the passage. So, if the question mentions the noun “book club,” go back to the passage to where it mentions “book club.”
      3. Scan the passage for the same keyword you saw in the question.
      4. Once you have found it, read the sentences before and after it.
      5. Verify that one of the answer choices matches the idea in the passage.
  1. If the keyword is a verb, the technique you would use with a noun might not work.
  2. The TOEFL creators like to use synonyms. Therefore, you will need to highlight the keyword and scan the text for its synonym.
  3. To do that, you must have sufficient knowledge of the English language. You will need to carefully follow all the general language acquisition techniques we have recommended throughout this course.
  4. Once you have found the synonym, read the sentences before and after it.
  5. Verify that one of the answers matches the idea in the passage.

The Matching Technique

Study the remaining answer choices carefully to determine whether they match the reading passage in terms of:

  • Stance
  • Attitude
  • Opinion
  • Tone

This is a good way to determine whether your choice is correct, as correct answers always match the stance/attitude/opinion that the passage mentions.

Finally, the Agreement Technique

The agreement technique is essentially a final verification process that ensures you have correctly followed the three techniques mentioned previously. Ask yourself:

  • Have I followed the elimination technique correctly?
  • Have I identified the keyword and followed the technique’s procedure?
  • Have I followed the matching technique?

Final Advice:

When you are solving sample TOEFL exams, keep a printed version of this checklist with you at all times (in class or at home). You need to do this to ensure that you truly become accustomed to these techniques before sitting the exam.

Eventually, you will become so familiar with the steps that you will automatically follow them.

Extra tip: Learn how to connect anything and everything

Learning to connect things helps you become a more critical thinker. It broadens your thinking skills and boosts your memory. This tip is valuable, because, throughout the reading section, you will need to remember little bits of information and you will not have much time to do so.

Improve this skill by reading books or articles about similar topics, or that are from the same category. Then practice mentally connecting the ideas. For example, if you read a book about the different types of cancer, connect it to what you read in an online article about ways to prevent cancer. Also remember that the TOEFL exam tests your ability to weave the reading and listening topics with your work on the writing section, so you will need to work on this skill a lot.