One of the questions that might have you a little troubled during your TOEFL iBT preparation is the prose summary question in the reading section. This question pops up at the end of the reading section and requires the ability to summarise the passage you have just read in a few points.

We’re going to dissect this a bit over the course of this blog. We will then proceed to discuss a few possible strategies to help make this question a little easier to address.

What is the Big Deal?

You might be wondering why we would require dedicating an entire blog section to one mere question. This is basically because the way this question is placed and designed can be a bit of a curveball for some. This is how:


Most of the other questions in your TOEFL iBT reading section come up in sequence and will also indicate which paragraph of your passage you are likely to find your answer in. Not the case here. With the prose summary question, you need to fish your answer out of the entire passage.

Breaks Pace

The fact that the prose summary question shows up at the end and breaks your sequential flow means it breaks your pace a little. You have to stop and read your passage from the top again in most cases.


Time Boundaries

Last but not least, all this is happening while you are on a time crunch. This is due to the fact that this question is at the end of the section when you have already used up most of your allotted time!

As you can see, there are a number of little factors that set this question apart from others in your TOEFL iBT. That being said, understanding the question well will make it a breeze to solve on the day of your actual test!

How does it work?

The prose summary question basically requires you to choose a given number (usually three) of valid points from a selection of points, which relate to the provided passage.

All provided passages come with a main theme or subject. The points provided as options will include those that are directly related to the subject, and others that are not so related. You need to pick the most pertinent points as your answer.

What skills are being tested?

There are two key skills being tested here with regards to your English language proficiency. These are:


Your ability to understand what you are reading as well as what it is about, in other words your ability to draw the correct meaning.


This is your ability to decipher the more relevant and pertinent options from the ones that are not so important, in other words; the ability to differentiate relevant from irrelevant. 


How to go about it?

So, the million-dollar question here is, how do you go about attacking your prose summary question.


The passage you receive will be a few paragraphs long. This will pertain to a certain topic. One example of a pertinent topic could be the causes of global warming. Global warming is of course a contentious topic, but let us ignore that for a moment, and look at this as a subject that could appear on your exam.

If you were, for example, to find this topic on the exam, the paragraph would likely elaborate about global warming, what it is about, as well as its possible causes; besides the sun being the major driver of heat. Along with very relevant information provided, there might be some not-so-relevant details in the paragraph too.

Breaking it down

You will be provided a set of points from which to choose the most relevant. Examples in this case could be:

  1. Carbon Dioxide and Monoxide emissions have absolutely no detrimental effect on the environment.
  2. People are suffering from strange new illnesses because of pollution.
  3. Deforestation is a major cause of global warming.
  4. Extensive burning of fossil fuels causes air pollution through dangerous emissions which in turn damage the ozone.
  5. Greenpeace is a group that fought for the environment.
  6. Not enough is being done in the way of living in a more environmentally friendly way.

You will also be given a starting point which suggests what theme you should look for. This could be something like:

  • Global warming is still a big problem in the world and there are a number of factors that add to it.

You will need to pick the next three relevant points keeping this theme in mind. 

Choice Types

Along with the relevant points, you will come across points which are intended to confuse you. These may include:

correct on the blackboard

Factually Incorrect

The first curveball option type is a point that is factually incorrect. This might not always be obvious. That being said, if you are careful enough while reading your paragraph, you will find inconsistencies in the point given and the actual information provided in the paragraph. Since the information is incorrect, you know this is not your answer!

An example of a factually incorrect point in this case would be:

Carbon Dioxide and Monoxide emissions have absolutely no detrimental effect on the environment.

You will probably find a point that counters this or says the opposite in the paragraph proving that it is wrong.

Factually True but Subtly Irrelevant

Another option type will be factually consistent with your text, it might also seem to be relevant to the topic; however, be careful. The likelihood is you might find something even more pertinent.

An example here keeping the same subject in mind could be:

People are suffering from illnesses because of pollution.

This is true and is likely stated in the passage, too, but remember, the main theme is causes of global warming. Not effects! There will likely be choices more in line with the theme available.

Factually True but Blatantly Irrelevant

Finally, there are points that are again, factually on point and consistent with the text, but blatantly irrelevant to the summary. Though these points will come from the passage, they will have little or no importance by way of summarising the main themes in the text.

An example here is:

Greenpeace is a group that fought for the environment.

Though this is true, it clearly is not a cause of global warming.

Relevant Points

The relevant points will be in a clear line with the main theme of your paragraph. They will be the ones that fit best out of the six. That being said, your level of English language proficiency is what will really help make this process a piece of cake!


Though this blog might have served to simplify things and give you a strategy to work with, English language proficiency is still key.

The only way to really ensure a high score is to keep practicing. Solve online tests, access some of the free resources available and keep at it!

Apply the methods you learn here when solving your TOEFL iBT practice tests and time yourself so you get the right training. With adequate practice and clever strategies, this test should be no hassle!

If you’re still worried, check out our rundown of the best online TOEFL preparation courses!

uMasterExam endeavors to support students appearing for their TOEFL iBT by allowing them access to numerous essential preparation resources.

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