Hi everyone,

This blog post is part of a “How to Answer” series brought to you by our TOEFL test developer [TG_John] from the TestGlider team.

Let’s learn how the TOEFL Reading vocabulary questions are made and how to choose the correct answer every time

1. Information about Vocabulary Questions

TOEFL Reading Vocabulary questions ask test takers to identify the meanings of words or phrases as they were used within the reading passage.

They are easy to spot because the word or phrase is highlighted in the passage to show the context it was used in, and the question is usually written in the same way: “The word/phrase in the passage is closest in meaning to … ”

The word or phrase that is selected for a question typically is necessary to understand an important concept or topic in the passage. The words that are chosen are academic vocabulary that university students should know.

Specialized vocabulary like scientific terms are not used for questions, and when they appear in a passage, they will often be defined within the passage or in a footnote.

2. TOEFL Reading Question Example

Here is an excerpt from a passage and its vocabulary question:

“Although it was well documented, the cause and progression of the disease were not understood until fairly recently. The discovery of insulin and its role in diabetes was a prolonged process.”

  1. The word “prolonged” in the passage is closest in meaning to

(A) incomplete

(B) delayed

(C) careful

(D) gradual

Answer Explanation

The correct answer is gradual. In the context of the sentence, prolonged means that something happens over a long period of time. A definition for gradual is “to happen slowly in small amounts.”

Incomplete means that something did not finish.

Delayed means that something was finished slower than expected because of interruptions.

Careful means that something was done with great attention to prevent danger, harm, or error.

Only gradual has a similar meaning to prolonged that can be used properly in the sentence.


3. Notes from the Test Developer

When writing vocabulary questions, all of the answer choices must be the same form of word, and in this case they are all adjectives.

Once I have chosen the word to use as the correct answer, I try to find distractors that are related to the correct answer in some way.

In this example, all of the answer choices describe the process in relation to time or manner. All of the answer choices could logically and grammatically complete the sentence, but gradual is the only choice that fits the context of the passage.

When choosing distractors, I like to choose at least one word that can be a synonym for the question word, but only in a different context. In this case that word is delayed. Prolonged can also mean that “something was finished slower than expected because of interruptions,” but that is not the way it is being used in the passage.


4. Advice to Test Takers

I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve a vocabulary question.

First, keep in mind that whether an answer choice works in the sentence is not important. All of the answer choices will fit in the sentence, but the wrong answers will change the meaning of the sentence in a way that does not fit the ideas expressed in the passage as a whole.

Second, if you are unsure which answer is correct, use the process of elimination. Some answer choices may be more obviously wrong than others and easier to rule out. So, look for any answer choices that could have an opposite meaning to the question word. They may be direct opposites, or they may be negative terms while the question word is a positive term.

Finally, you have limited time, and everyone has a different collection of words that they have learned, 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.

If you have any questions about the vocabulary question of the TOEFL, ask us a question below!

Good luck with your studies,

The TestGlider Team


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