What's Tested on the TOEFL iBT Reading

What's Tested on the TOEFL iBT Reading Section

Reading is the first section of the TOEFL iBT. The TOEFL Reading Section tests your ability to understand reading passages like those in college textbooks. During the exam, you will read two passages. After each passage, you will answer 10 questions. You will have 35 minutes to read both passages and answer the questions. Read on to learn more about what to expect on the TOEFL Reading Section.

[ READ NEXT: What’s Tested on the TOEFL iBT Listening Section ]

Overview of the TOEFL iBT Reading Section

In this section, reading passages appear on the right side of the divided computer screen, and questions appear on the left side. Because the passages are long, it is necessary to scroll up and down to read an entire passage. You can scroll up and down by using the arrows and tab next to the passage. This function is similar to the scroll option that comes with Microsoft Word.

When the Reading Section begins, you will be presented with the instructions before the first question. You should have already studied the functionality of the Reading Section, so to save time you should skip the instructions by clicking the NEXT button. This button brings up the first reading passage. The first question for a passage appears along with the passage.

Some reading passages may include a word or phrase underlined in blue. Click on the word or phrase to see a definition or an explanation. Click on NEXT to go to the next question or BACK to return to a previous question to change answers. A clock on the screen will show how much time you have remaining.

How does the Review function work in the TOEFL iBT Reading Section?

The TOEFL Reading section includes a Review function. Clicking the Review button at the top of the screen takes you to a Review screen where you can see all the questions in the section and their status—answered, not answered, not yet seen. A Help button in all sections takes you to a list of topics for which helpful explanations are available.

TOEFL iBT: Types of Reading Questions

Listed below are the 10 types of reading questions you will encounter on the TOEFL.

VocabularyA vocabulary question asks you to choose a synonym for a word highlighted in the passage.
InferenceAn inference question asks you to draw a logical conclusion based on information in the passage. Think of the information as evidence for an idea not directly expressed in the passage.
ReferenceA reference question asks you to identify a word or phrase in the passage that refers to the word or phrase in the question. The word in the passage is usually a pronoun that refers to one of the nouns in the question choices. Reference questions are rare.
PurposeA purpose question asks you to look for the reason that a word, phrase, or sentence is included in the reading passage. Why did the author mention it?
ParaphraseA paraphrase question asks you to choose the best restatement of an important sentence in the reading passage. The sentence will be highlighted in the passage.
ExceptionAn exception question asks you to choose a statement that includes information not in the passage.
InsertAn insert question asks you to locate a place in the passage to insert a sentence. Choose from four options marked with a square.
DetailA detail question asks you to answer a question about a specific point in the passage. The question usually directs you to the location in the paragraph where the answer is found.
ClassificationA classification question asks you to match phrases with the categories they refer to. You click and drag the phrase under the category.
SummaryA summary question asks you to complete a summary of the reading passage by choosing three statements from a list of six statements.

How are the TOEFL iBT reading questions formatted?

All TOEFL Reading Section questions are four-option multiple-choice, with the exception of Drag ‘n Drop table completion and Drag ‘n Drop summary. As the names suggest, you must drag answer choices with your mouse and drop them into the appropriate location in a chart. These two question types are also different from the others because they are each worth more than one point; each question can be worth 2 or 4 points. A note appears with these questions telling you their point value. On the actual TOEFL, the multiple-choice answers are not labeled with letters, (A), (B), (C), (D), as you may have seen on other exams. Beside each choice is an empty circle; you select an answer by clicking on the circle of your choice with your mouse. Once selected, the oval will turn black.

TOEFL iBT Reading Strategies

Review our expert reading strategies to help you succeed on the TOEFL iBT Reading Section.

  • Practice Reading on Screen

    Reading on a computer screen is different than reading on a printed page. Generally, less text is visible, and you must scroll to see the entirety of the passage instead of turning pages. Also, there may be icons or buttons that when clicked display other information. To become comfortable reading on a computer screen, you should take every opportunity to practice before taking the exam.

  • Review Academic Topics

    The reading passages on the TOEFL are similar to those that you find in textbooks from general courses taught in colleges and universities during the first two years. If you can borrow English language textbooks before the exam, read passages from natural sciences, social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Passages in encyclopedias are usually at a reading level slightly below that of textbooks, but they offer an inexpensive way to obtain a lot of reading material for different subject areas. If you have access to the Internet, free encyclopedias are available online.

  • Preview the Passage

    Research shows that it is easier to understand what you are reading if you begin with a general idea of what the passage is about. Previewing helps you form a general idea of the topic. To preview, first read the title, the headings and subheadings, and any words in bold print or italics. You should do this as quickly as possible. You are reading not for specific information but for an impression of the topic. Next, read the first sentence of each paragraph and the last sentence of the passage. Again, this should take seconds, not minutes, to complete. This time you are looking for the main idea. Remember, to move to the first question of a passage, you must scroll to the bottom of the page.