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toefl test

TOEFL iBT Reading Section

Published On: 24 Nov 2012 | Last Updated On: 24 Nov 2012

Academic Reading Skills

The reading section measures your ability to understand university-level academic texts and passages. In many academic settings around the world, students are expected to read and understand information from textbooks and other academic materials written in English. The following are three purposes for academic reading:

Reading to find information

  • Effectively scanning text for key facts and important information
  • Increasing reading fluency and rate

Basic comprehension

  • Understanding the general topic or main idea,  major points, important facts and details, vocabulary in context, and pronoun references
  • Making inferences about what is implied in a passage

Reading to learn

  • Recognizing the organization and purpose of a passage
  • Understanding relationships between ideas
  • Organizing information into a category chart or a summary in order to recall major points and important details
  • Inferring hoe ideas throughout the passage connect


Reading section format

Length of each passage

Number of passages and questions


Approximately 700 words

3 – 5 passages

60 – 100 min



12 – 14 questions per passage


Reading passages

The TOEFL iBT uses reading passages from university-level textbooks that introduce a discipline or topic. The excerpts are changed as little as possible so the TOEFL iBT can measure how well students can read academic material.

The passages cover a variety of different subjects. You should not be concerned if you are unfamiliar with a topic. The passage contains all the information needed to answer the questions.

All passage are Classified into three basic categories:

  • exposition
  • argumentation
  • historical

Often, passages present information about the topic from more than one perspective or point of view. This is something you should note as you read. Usually, you are asked one question that allows you to demonstrate that you understood the general organization of the passage. Common organization types that you should be able to recognize are:

  • Classification
  • Compare/contrast
  • Cause/effect
  • Problem/solution

You must read through or scroll to the end of each passage before receiving questions on that passage. Once the questions appear, the passage appears on the right side of the computer screen. The questions are on the left.

You do not need any special background knowledge to answer the questions in the Reading section correctly, but the definition of difficult words or phrases in the passage may be provided. If you click on the word, a definition appears in the lower left part of the screen.

The 60 to 100 minutes allotted for this section include time for reading the passage and answering the questions.

Reading Question Formats

  There are three question formats in the Reading section:

  • questions with four choices and a single answer in traditional multiple choice format
  • questions with four choices and a single answer that ask test takers to “insert a sentence” where it fits best in a passage
  • “Reading to learn” question with more than four choices and more than one possible correct answer.


Reading to learn questions

These questions test your ability to recognize how the passage is organized and understand the relationships among facts and ideas in different parts of the passage.

You are asked to sort information and place the text options provided into a category chart or summary. The summary questions are worth up to 2 points each. The chart questions are worth up to 3 points if there are five options presented and up to 4 points if there are seven options presented. Partial credit is given in this question format.

Paraphrase questions

Questions in this category are in multiple-choice format. They test your ability to select the answer choice that most accurately paraphrases a sentence from the passage.

Glossary feature

You can click on some special purpose words and phrases in the reading passages to view a definition or explanation of the term.

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