1. Information about TOEFL Reading Fill in a Table/Category Chart Questions
TOEFL Reading Fill in a Table/Category Chart questions ask the test taker to organize information from the passage. These questions are only included occasionally and take the place of a Summary question.
When a set contains a Table question, there will only be 9 total questions. There will be an empty table with two or three categories and a list of 7 or 9 answer choices. The test taker needs to match the answer choices to the correct categories, but two will not be used. Each correct answer will only be used once. These questions may be written as follows:
Directions: Complete the table below by indicating which of the answer choices describe X and which answer choices describe Y. This question is worth 3 points.
TOEFL Reading Fill in a Table Question Example
Here is a passage and its Table/Category Chart question:
A black hole is a volume of spacetime where a huge quantity of matter has collapsed into itself, generating immense gravitational force so strong that nothing can escape from its pull. Even electromagnetic radiation like visible light is pulled into a black hole, which is where its name arises. Any object that passes too close to a black hole will be torn apart and devoured by it. The center of a black hole is called a singularity, and the outer edge is called the event horizon. The distance between the two is called the Schwarzschild radius. The event horizon is the boundary in spacetime through which light or other matter can only go inwards. As a black hole consumes matter, that material creates an accretion disk around the black hole, which glows brightly due to friction and can be observed, particularly when the object being destroyed is a star.
Most black holes are spawned after a large star reaches the end of its fuel supply and explodes in a supernova. If the star’s total mass was three times the mass of our Sun or larger, the remaining core of the star collapses under its own gravity. Smaller stars shrink down to become neutron stars, but larger ones continue to shrink until they reach an infinitely small point called a singularity. Once they reach this state, they will absorb any and all matter in their vicinity, allowing them to grow more massive. Black holes are categorized according to their mass as supermassive, intermediate, stellar, and miniature. Stellar black holes are believed to be the most common, and they are 10 to 24 times as massive as the Sun. Supermassive black holes can have masses that are millions or billions of times larger than that of the Sun. Intermediate and miniature black holes are still purely theoretical, but they are plausible.
The idea of a black hole is actually centuries old. In 1784, English astronomer John Michell proposed that there could be an object so massive that not even light could escape from it, making it what he called a “dark star.” By his calculations, such an object might have the density of our Sun, but it would have a diameter 500 times larger. Although his figures were wrong, he correctly predicted that such bodies would only be detectable by their effect on visible objects that passed close to them. The concept of black holes received a great boost in 1915 when Albert Einstein developed his theory of general relativity. In the theory, he predicted that a sufficiently dense and compact mass could deform spacetime and create a black hole. A few months afterward, Karl Schwarzschild found a solution to some of Einstein’s field equations that mathematically proved black holes could exist, and he described some of their properties, like the Schwarzschild radius that bears his name.
Scientists continued to gather information about black holes, but they could not confirm their existence until Cygnus X-1 was discovered in 1964. Astronomers were using radio telescopes to observe the constellation Cygnus (the Swan) when they detected high-energy x-rays and gamma rays. This radiation was being emitted as a black hole consumed gas from a blue supergiant star that was closely orbiting. As the gas spiraled down into the black hole, it formed a super hot accretion disk around it that was releasing bursts of electromagnetic radiation. Since then, many more black holes have been detected in various ways. Since a black hole’s gravity will pull on nearby objects, scientists can look for stars that make erratic movements when they pass by a black hole. Stars can also orbit black holes, so when a star appears to be orbiting nothing, it may be orbiting one.
Scientists are now convinced that the Milky Way galaxy alone contains thousands of stellar black holes, and that supermassive black holes can be found at the center of most galaxies including our own, which contains one such black hole called Sagittarius A*. Despite extensive research on black holes, the first image of one was obtained in 2019. The Event Horizon Telescope, a network of radio telescopes around the world, was aimed at the core of galaxy Messier 87. The image that they eventually produced shows the silhouette of the black hole against a bright cloud of matter that it is consuming.
Q. Directions: Complete the table below by indicating which of the answer choices describe events that occurred in the period Before 1950 and which answer choices describe events that occurred during the 1950 to Present period. This question is worth 3 points.
1950 to Present
(A) A mathematician proved that black holes are probably real.
(B) A supermassive black hole was observed at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
(C) A physicist hypothesized that a dense enough mass could distort spacetime.
(D) A group of radio telescopes created an image of a black hole
(E) An astronomer developed the idea of a star so large it gives off no light.
(F) Supernovae were seen through reflecting telescopes.
(G) Radiation revealed the location of a black hole
1950 to Present
Choice (A) belongs in the “Before 1950” column because it is mentioned in the passage as occurring in 1915.
Choice (B) does not belong in the table because it contradicts the third passage.
Choice (C) belongs in the “Before 1950” column because it is also mentioned in the passage as occurring in 1915.
Choice (D) belongs in the “1950 to Present” column because it is mentioned in the passage as occurring in 2019.
Choice (E) belongs in the “Before 1950” column because it is mentioned in the passage as occurring in 1784.
Choice (F) does not belong in the table because the passage never says anything about seeing supernovae.
Choice (G) belongs in the “1950 to Present” column because it is mentioned in the passage as occurring in 1964.
3. Notes from the Test Developer
Very few RC passages have a Table question. These questions ask test takers to think critically about the main ideas in the passage and organize details according to how they relate to those ideas. All of the answer choices have to include some of the information contained within the passage, but the distractors make incorrect statements about that information or they describe things that were not actually mentioned in the passage.
In over a decade of writing TOEFL test material, I have only written a handful of these questions—and most of those were for explanations of question types in textbooks, not practice tests. They are not particularly difficult to write or to answer, but they only work in passages that contain certain kinds of information. The above example dealt with dates, but others may compare two or three concepts, categories of things, etc.
4. Advice to Test Takers
I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve a Table question. First, keep in mind that you are being asked to organize information that appeared in the passage. Any answer choices that contain information that did not appear in the passage are automatically incorrect.
Second, all of the answer choices may contain correct details from the passage, but the distractors may present that information incorrectly or include new information. You should read the passage and each answer choice carefully to see whether they if they exist in the passage or if they change or add details.
Finally, you have limited time, and all of the distractors will contain some correct information, so you may be unable to decide between two answer choices. In that case, guess. Remember that you do not get points deducted for wrong answers in TOEFL. This is true for all questions so if you don’t know the answer or if you don’t have time to actually solve the question, guess.