Reading Comprehension Skills
Strong reading comprehension skills are essential for success on the TOEFL exam and throughout your college career. In this chapter, you will learn exactly what the reading comprehension section of the TOEFL exam is like. You will also review and practice basic reading comprehension skills so you can better understand what you read and do well on the exam.

student, you will spend a great deal of time reading. And because you will attend an American university, the textbooks, articles, lecture notes, and websites you read for class will be in English. Obviously, you will need to understand what you read to do well in your classes. That’s why Section 3 of the TOEFL exam is devoted to reading comprehension skills; admissions officers want to be sure you will be able to understand all of your reading assignments.

TOEFL Exam Reading Comprehension: What to Expect
In many ways, the TOEFL exam reading comprehension section is much like reading comprehension sections on other standardized tests. You will be asked to read a short passage (usually no more than five to seven paragraphs). Then you will be asked to answer several multiple-choice questions about that passage. Reading passages on the TOEFL exam are typically factual and often academic in nature. The passages are, in fact, quite similar to the kind of texts you will read in the college classroom. For example, you might



read about the history of the French Revolution, the conventions of Greek tragedies, the cellular structure of plants, or the trickle-down theory of economics. TOEFL exam reading passages are usually one to five paragraphs long, though a few may run as long as seven or eight.

Computer-Based Test vs. Paper-Based Test
THERE are a few differences between the new computer-based TOEFL and the old paper-based exam. Most of those differences have to do with formatting (such as the number of questions), not the content. The type and difficulty of the passages and questions remain the same. The chart below compares the reading comprehension sections on the two tests: Computer-Based TOEFL exam 70–90 minutes. 44–55 questions. 3–6 reading passages. 6–10 questions per passage. Questions may include pictures that refer to the passage. Questions may have two correct answers.
Source: Barron’s Passkey to the TOEFL, 4th ed., 2001.

Supplemental Paper-Based TOEFL exam 55 minutes. 50 questions. 5 reading passages. Average of 10 questions per passage. Questions do not include pictures. Questions have only one correct answer.

Kinds of Reading Comprehension Passages and Questions on the TOEFL Exam

With very few exceptions, most reading comprehension questions on the TOEFL exam will fall into one of nine categories:
■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

main idea vocabulary specific fact or detail exceptions location of information inferences references paraphrased sentences (computer-based test only) sentence insertion (computer-based test only)

Main Idea

These questions ask you to identify the main idea of the passage (or sometimes part of a passage, such as a specific paragraph).



Sample Questions: ■ The main idea of this passage is best expressed in which sentence? ■ Which of the following would be the best title for this passage? ■ What is this passage mainly about? ■ What is the author’s main purpose in this passage?

There are two types of vocabulary questions. One kind asks you to determine the meaning of a word as it is used in the passage. The other, which appears on the computer-based tests, asks you to identify a synonym for the vocabulary word. Sample Questions: ■ The word indelible in paragraph 3 most likely means: ■ The word protest in paragraph 5 is closest in meaning to: ■ The word remarkable in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by: ■ Look at the word charming in the passage. [highlighted word will be pointed out in the passage] Click on another word in the bold text that is closest in meaning to charming .
Specific Fact or Detail

This kind of question asks you to identify a specific fact or detail mentioned in the passage. Sample Questions: ■ What causes a lunar eclipse? ■ When did the last lunar eclipse occur? ■ What did many pagan cultures believe caused a lunar eclipse?

These questions ask you to identify which item was not specifically mentioned in the passage. Sample Questions: ■ Which characteristic does NOT describe an endothermic reaction? ■ Which of the following was NOT identified as a cause of the stock market crash? ■ A person with bipolar disorder would NOT exhibit which symptom?
Location of Information

This kind of question asks you to identify the exact place in the passage where specific information is provided. Sample Questions: ■ Where in the passage does the author define the term endothermic? ■ Click on the sentence in paragraph 2 in which the author mentions the symptoms of bipolar disorder. ■ Click on the paragraph that discusses the treatments for bipolar disorder.