First time starting your TOEFL Reading practice? You’re not alone.
The TOEFL Reading is the one section many people try to improve by themselves — since answers are provided for you, it feels like you can give yourself feedback and go from there.
But once you get an answer wrong and you can’t figure out WHY, it could easily become the section you find yourself struggling with the most.
Getting the right feedback, however, can help you boost your score beyond what you thought you could get. Here are 5 tips you can exercise for a higher score on the TOEFL Reading section.
- Look First
- Find the Main Point
- Recognize Question Types
- Build Your Synonym Vocabulary
- Eliminate Word Choice Traps
1. Look First
Reading the entire TOEFL passage will only leave you with questions like these:
- Why am I not reading TOEFL passages fast enough?
- Why am I running out of time on my TOEFL test?
- Is the TOEFL supposed to be this hard?
Even though the Reading section is the longest section with 54+ minutes on the clock,
you only have 1.8 minutes per question, on the dot!
That’s definitely NOT enough time to read through the entire context, read the answer choices, analyze each choice, and make a decision.
⏰ To make the process faster, make sure to look at the question first.
- Some Reading Question types on the TOEFL point you to specific paragraphs to avoid this exact mistake.
- The TOEFL is designed for you to go through each question fast — you’re not supposed to spend your time reading the entire Reading section passage.
- Bonus Tip: Out of 122 Fact Questions the TestGlider team observed, only 18% did not start with “According to paragraph #…” There was only 1 that didn’t mention a paragraph at all!
So don’t take your chances with the entire passage. Look at the question first, then focus on the paragraph that the question asks you about.
Saving even 10 seconds on every question can save you a whole 5 minutes at the end!
This first practice exercise will help you start strong on your TOEFL Reading section. Now, let’s get to strengthening your reading passage skills.
2. Main Point vs. Detail
To ace the TOEFL Reading section, here’s exercise #2: Divide and conquer.
And that doesn’t mean just divide the section in half. According to The Official TOEFL Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test Sixth Edition, there are 3 suggested approaches to solving the Reading section
- Reading to find information
- Basic comprehension
- Reading to learn
For the majority of the Reading section, you will need to achieve approach number 1 or 2, so let’s talk about those two.
On the one hand, reading to find information means looking for keywords, particular details, and important points throughout a specific part of the passage. You’re looking for specific information, not a summary of the whole passage.
On the other hand, basic comprehension means understanding what the main point of the passage is. You’ll have to identify the main topic, then be able to tell the minor details apart from the major points.
Since many TOEFL Reading Questions ask you to either look for specific information OR identify the main point of the entire passage, it’s important to be able to identify which is which.
Although details are fairly easy to pick out from the passage, you have to get the main point to get all the questions right.
Even if you don’t need to score a perfect 30, missing the main point could cause you to get up to 7 questions wrong because of a single misunderstood passage!
Here’s an example: The passage is talking about birds. It mentions different types of birds, but you’re not sure why a statement about the process of birds migrating from season to season is important to the overall passage.
Is it talking about migration?
Is it talking about the habits of migratory animals?
Is it talking about a natural phenomenon that’s happened in recent years?
You would have no idea unless you understand the main point of the whole passage.
Even something as general as bird migration can be used as a supporting detail for an even bigger main point.
Don’t let the technical and scientific terms confuse you!
To help you find the main point of a TOEFL Reading passage, let’s crunch some numbers for this exercise:
- All types of TOEFL Reading passages generally bring up the main point within the first 1-3 sentences.
- It could be in the beginning of the passage, OR the main point could be in the beginning of the first paragraph.
- A paragraph will be around 3-4 sentences long, and you could have up to 7 paragraphs in a single reading passage!
Using this information, the chance of finding the main point in a TOEFL reading passage is the highest in the following places:
- Introduction sentence
- First paragraph
All 4 places should mention, or be related to, the major point.
Don’t get bogged down in all the supporting details of the passage. Learn to skim for all the key points and identify the main point.
Let me know if you’d like to take a closer look at the above 4 places from a reading passage in the comments below.
Practice telling your main points apart from the details!
Keep your eyes on the prize, and let’s move on to the next exercise.
3. Recognize TOEFL Reading Question Types
A fast way to get a higher TOEFL Reading score is to know your question types.
Good news — there are only 10.
Recognizing what the question asks is half the battle. Each question has different expectations of your reading skills!
It sounds like a lot, but being able to navigate from type to type will make HUGE improvements to your TOEFL Reading score.
Don’t trust me? Guess which Reading question type these questions belong to:
“In paragraph #, why does the author distinguish between A and B?”
“Why does the author mention C in the passage?”
“What is the author’s purpose in mentioning the information in paragraph #?”
Hint: These belong to the same question type!
The answer is Rhetorical Purpose. The Rhetorical Purpose question often addresses multiple topics.
Most notably, the Rhetorical Purpose question type asks you about the author’s purpose AND paragraph connections.
If this is already making you feel dizzy with too much information, slow your pace and try walking through the other 9 types of TOEFL Reading section questions first to keep up.
While it’s easy to shrug Rhetorical Purpose questions off and improve on another question type, moving on without understanding TOEFL question types is the 100% guaranteed way to score low on your TOEFL test day. ⬇
Even if you’re a fluent English speaker, a test-taker who knows all the question types will move at a faster pace — simply because they understand exactly what the question is asking for.
For example, take the first sample question from the Rhetorical Purpose questions above: “In paragraph #, why does the author distinguish between A and B?”
While a rookie reads every answer option and tries to compare them to one another, a test-taker who knows the question type will go back to the paragraph to look for supporting points and choose an answer option that mentions those points directly.
By looking for choices that take information directly from the passage, you will save a lot of time finding the right answer.
Study your question types, and you’ll be flying through the entire Reading section with plenty of time to spare at the end!
That’s halfway through the Reading section practice exercises! Let’s keep going with 2 more score-improving exercises.
4. Build Your TOEFL Reading Synonym Vocabulary
The fourth exercise is all about building your synonym-spotting skills.
Even English experts will tell you that synonyms are tricky.
TOEFL reading questions are designed to test your knowledge of exact synonyms throughout the entire section.
While some words are simply similar to one another, certain synonyms are the exact match to the given context.
Let’s practice with one word for now: “Give”
This can have positive synonyms, such as “Gift,” “Present,” or even the fancy “Bequeath.”
On the other hand, the same word can have negative synonyms such as, “Give up,” “Hand over,” or “Relinquish.”
Depending on the passage, you might need to have multiple synonyms up your sleeve to keep your Reading section score up!
Don’t let sneaky synonyms get in the way. Practice building your synonym vocabulary every day.
While some popular dictionaries provide fun Word-of-the-Day practices online,
Our team at TestGlider researches common words that show up throughout TOEFL passages to make sure test-takers don’t waste precious time figuring out what’s useful and what’s not on test day.
A simple activity to build your synonym skills is “3 Descriptions”
Look around you. Pick an object you see or feel. Then, describe it.
It can be a color, scent, or shape.
Try to find one positive and negative word to describe the same thing.
For example, I see a flower, and the flower has a lovely scent.
- Positive synonym: Alluring fragrance
- Negative synonym: Strong odor
Although all 6 words are related, they bring a whole different context to the flower.
And that’s 6 words you related together for the day!
Practicing positive and negative synonyms with a “3 Descriptions” exercise can help you build your vocabulary to navigate context clues (surrounding words that let you know a term’s meaning and context) throughout the TOEFL Reading section.
Wasn’t that easy? That makes for 4 exercises down, only 1 more to go.
5. Eliminate Word Choice Traps
Now, for the final practice exercise — let’s eliminate word choice traps.
This exercise requires all 4 previous exercises for this to work effectively.
I’m sure many of you already know how to do the process of elimination during a test. In a multiple-choice question, it’s a lot easier to choose the correct answer if the obviously incorrect choices are removed.
Go ahead and cross the answer out, and you’ll be left with a higher chance of picking the right answer, even if you’re wavering between a couple of answers.
Thankfully for TOEFL test-takers: There’s a better way to eliminate Reading section answers.
Word choice traps are similar words, synonyms, and even antonyms that are written in an answer choice to trick the reader into thinking that it matches the passage.
For example, the word “asteroid” in the passage could be replaced with the word “meteor” in the answer choices.
According to their definitions, they are two very different words!
You cannot swap out one for the other, and no matter how similar the phrasing looks, there’s a high chance it’s a word choice trap in disguise.
A correct answer will describe an asteroid, or its elements as described in the passage.
Remember that if the information is not directly given in the passage, the answer is most likely wrong.
TOEFL is a test for your English language skills, not your knowledge of asteroids and meteors.
“But how can I tell the difference between two similar words?” you might ask.
That’s a fair point because it’s frustrating to have all these similar words and choose the right one under 1.8 minutes.
The final decision will come down to whether the wording in the option answers the question or not!
Even if you find the most similar synonym to the passage, it will still be a wrong answer if it fails to answer the question.
A good example of a word trap that fails to answer the question often shows up in the “Sentence Simplification” question type:
Although all of these answer choices seem similar, there is only 1 correct answer based on the information given in the passage.
Some of these choices include information not given in the highlighted sentence of the passage, while some cut out entire details that are mentioned in the highlighted sentence.
A word choice trap will try to copy words from the passage, but change a few words to imply a whole new meaning to the sentence, making it wrong. You’ll want to slow down and save your time for word choice traps since you’ll have to read each answer carefully.
Go ahead and eliminate the obvious choices that twist the main point, misstate details, and include/overlook information from the sentence.Once you shave down your answer choice options from 4 down to 2, you’ll know that you’re using your time efficiently.
Eliminate the word choice traps, and you’ll have more time to catch the finer details that boost your score.
The TOEFL Reading section will set the pace for the rest of the 3-hour exam.
Although it’s the longest section, the slew of multiple-choice answer choices can feel overwhelming to conquer from the get-go.
Just remember these 5 exercises:
- Look at the Question First
- Distinguish the Main Point from Details
- Recognize the Question Type
- Build Your Synonym Vocabulary
- Eliminate Word Choice Traps
Divide and conquer! ⚔
When the whole passage feels overwhelming, simply break it down into manageable pieces and work through these 5 exercises.
You’ll be flying through the entire TOEFL Reading section in no time.
I hope you enjoyed reading through the Reading Tips for a higher score on the TOEFL, and leave a comment below on which tip helps you the most through your study journey!
And as always,
Good luck with your studies!
Your TestGlider Team