One of the hardest parts of the TOEFL?
Many students struggle to answer every single question in the TOEFL Reading.
And it should come as no surprise, the TOEFL Reading is tough.
Let’s look at some of the bullet points. The TOEFL Reading:
- Includes 30 questions
- Contains 2100 words (3 passages x 700 words)
- Provides 54 minutes to complete everything
TOEFL takers wonder how they can possibly read the texts and answer the questions in such a limited amount of time.
After years of trial and error, we have come up with a fool-proof system designed to help students just like you answer every single question in the TOEFL Reading with time to spare.
By the end of this short article, you will know exactly what you have to do to ensure that you never miss a single question on the TOEFL Reading.
Prefer a PDF guide?
You can download Your Guide to Time Management for the TOEFLReading Section – PDF right here.
Rule #1: Take notes and circle
When you take the TOEFL, you get a pencil and a piece of scrap paper.
Your task in the TOEFL reading section is more about eliminating choices than answering questions, though most students don’t look at it this way. You need to track the choices that you eliminate. And you can do this by taking notes.
Take a look at the example below:
These notes aren’t so bad, right?
All you have to do is write down the question numbers and the choices you eliminate.
You do NOT have to write any notes about the actual content of the reading text.
Here’s how it works.
When you answer the questions in the TOEFL Reading, eliminate choices you believe are incorrect. Once you eliminate, write it down on the scrap paper. This is an easy way to narrow your focus on the remaining choices.
For example, according to my notes, in question one, I have eliminated a and c, so I crossed them out.
You do not have to do this for every question. You can see that for question three I haven’t eliminated anything, and that is because the question was easy. Feel free to do the same on questions that require less focus and strategy. Don’t waste time writing notes about questions when you know the answer.
The most important component of this note-taking system is the circled questions.
Question numbers two and eight are circled because I’m not confident with my answer. You see, on test day, you have a limited amount of time to answer all of the questions. There will be some questions that will take you more time to answer. Instead of wasting time thinking about how to answer, just circle the question number in your notes, select the best choice, and move on.
Do NOT skip the question.
Skipping questions will put pressure on you to allocate enough time, in the end, to go back and answer the ones you missed. Answer the question and circle it in your notes so you can pinpoint the exact questions you need to think more about after you have finished answering everything.
We will talk more about monitoring your time soon, so you know when to answer and move on, but for now, plan to have a couple of minutes at the end of the 54 minutes to go back to a couple of questions and doublecheck your answers.
Rule #2: Watch the clock
When you work through the TOEFL Reading section, you will notice that some questions take longer than others. For example, vocabulary questions are rather simple and straightforward, so they should take you no more than 60 seconds to complete. Negative detail questions, on the other hand, could take up to 120 seconds to answer. Below is a breakdown of the maximum amount of time you can spend on a given question based on its type.
- Vocabulary – 60 seconds
- Detail – 90 seconds
- Negative Detail – 120 seconds
- Paraphrasing – 120 seconds
- Sentence Insertion – 120 seconds
- Inference – 90 seconds
- Author’s Purpose – 90 seconds
- Pronoun Reference – 60 seconds
- Summary – 120 seconds
- Organization – 120 seconds
Even though this time breakdown is good to keep in mind, you do NOT have to look at the clock and count down the seconds for each question. That will only waste time and distract you from focusing on the content of the question and the passage. Instead, you should think of the time in terms of 18-minute chunks.
Unless you get an extended reading section, you will have three passages, 30 questions and 54 minutes to answer. You want to answer 10 questions (one passage) every 18 minutes.
Here’s a chart outlining where you should be in five-minute-intervals.
TOEFL Reading Section Time Breakdown
|5 minutes||3 questions|
|10 minutes||6 questions|
|15 minutes||9 questions|
|20 minutes||12 questions|
|25 minutes||14 questions|
|30 minutes||17 questions|
|35 minutes||20 questions|
|40 minutes||23 questions|
|45 minutes||26 questions|
|50 minutes||29 questions|
Ideally, you want to try to leave yourself a few minutes
Focusing on having a rough idea of the number of questions you want to answer every 5 or 10 minutes. Remember, some questions take longer to answer than others, like TOEFL Reading summary questions. Be sure to have a plan for answering each question type.
Rule #3: Never skip a question
This was touched upon in rule #1, but it is so important that I have made it a rule of its own.
Never skip a question.
Our brains like stories. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end.
The questions in the TOEFL reading section go in sequential order, just like a story. When you skip a question, you interrupt the story. It makes the questions that come after the one you skip more difficult to answer. So, instead of skipping questions, you guesstimate.
Yes, guesstimate is a real word. You can ask Mr. Webster. Basically, you have an idea of what the answer might be, but you are not 100% certain. A guess is a blind chance, a guesstimation is made after some thought.
After you guesstimate, circle the question in your notes (like questions two and eight depicted under rule #1), and move on. Keep in mind that your goal is to answer all of the questions. If you skip a question, you can only lose points.
Rule #4: Review Your Answers
Allocate a few minutes at the end of the reading section to go back and check over your answers one more time. There are four buttons in the top right corner of the test screen; click “Review” to see all the questions listed.
The review page will indicate the questions you answered and the ones you skipped. Check out an example of what the review page will look like.
On the review button page, you will find all of the questions listed out. If you did skip a question, it will be mentioned on this screen. In the last few minutes, go back to the questions circled on your scrap paper and doublecheck your answers.
Since you took notes and circled questions you wanted to review, it will be easy to jump around to specific questions from the review page.
Now you know exactly what you need to do to organize your thoughts and conserve your time in the TOEFL Reading section. Here are the bullet points:
- Use your scrap paper to take notes
- Circle questions you need to review
- Answer 10 questions every 18 minutes
- Leave a few minutes at the end to review
- Guesstimate and review later
Now that you know how to take notes for the TOEFL Reading, it’s time to practice.
Practicing will help solidify this new information into your memory so you can actually apply it on test day.
So go ahead and download our free and complete Practice test.
Or, if you feel like you want to learn more cool TOEFL Reading tips and tricks like this, check out our Ten Awsome Tips for the Reading Section of the TOEFLTest.
I know this TOEFL stuff can get a bit frustrating sometimes. So don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know if you have any questions or concerns: [email protected]
Did I miss anything? Or do you have a comment?
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