TOEFL Reading Strategy

In addition to the academic skills, there are several reading strategies that will help you succeed on the TOEFL and after the TOEFL.

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 from 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. Remember, 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.

  • Look at the title and headings
  • Read the first sentence of every paragraph
  • Read the last sentence of the passage

Read Faster: 
To read faster, read for meaning. Try to understand sentences or even paragraphs, not individual words. To do this, you should read phrases instead of reading word by word. Practice using the vision that allows you to see on either side of the word you are focusing on with your eyes. This is called peripheral vision. When you drive a car, you are looking ahead of you but you are really taking in the traffic situation on both sides. You are using peripheral vision to move forward. This is also important in learning to read faster. Your mind can take in more than one word at the same time. Just think if you stopped your car every time you wanted to know what was going on in the lane! You would never get to your destination. To read faster, you have to read for ideas. If you don’t know the meaning of a word but you understand the sentence, move on. Don’t stop to look up the word in your dictionary. Don’t stop your car.

  • Use peripheral vision
  • Read for meaning

Use Contexts
Before you can use a context, you must understand what a context is. In English, a context is the combination of vocabulary and grammar that surrounds a word. Context can be a sentence or a paragraph or a passage. Context helps you make a general prediction about meaning. If you know the general mean- ing of a sentence, you also know the general meaning of the words in the sentence. Making predictions from contexts is very important when you are reading a foreign language. In this way, you can read and understand the meaning of a passage without stopping to look up every new word in a dictionary. On an examination like the TOEFL dictionaries are not permitted in the room. Of course, you have to know some of the words in order to have a context for the words that you don’t know. That means that you need to work on learning a basic vocabulary, and then you can make an educated guess about the meaning of new words by using the context.

  • Learn basic vocabulary
  • Learn new words in context

Make Inferences
Sometimes you will find a direct statement of fact in a reading passage. At other instances, you will not find a direct statement. Then you will need to use the facts as evidence to make an inference. An inference is a logical conclusion based on evidence. It can be about the passage itself or about the author’s viewpoint. For example, you may begin reading a passage about the Native Americans who lived on the plains. You continue reading and note that they used buffalo for food. Later, you read that they used buffalo for clothing and shelter. From these facts, you can draw the conclusion that the buffalo was very important in the culture of the plains people. The author did not state this fact directly, but the evidence allows you to make an inference.

  • Locate the evidence
  • Draw conclusions

Skim and Scan
To scan is to let your eyes travel quickly over a passage in order to find something specific that you are

looking for. By scanning, you can find the place in a reading passage where the answer to a question is found. First, read the question and look for a reference. A reference in the TOEFL will identify a paragraph where the answer to the question is found. For example, you may read, Paragraph 2 is marked with an arrow. You know that you need to scan for the arrow at the beginning of paragraph 2 in the passage. The paraphrased sentences and the vocabulary words on the TOEFL are shaded to help you find them.

If a question does not have a reference like an arrow or shading, then you should find the important content words in the question. Content words are usually nouns, verbs, or adjectives. They are called content words because the meaning of a sentence. Now scan the passage for the same content words or synonyms of the words in the questions. Finally, read those specific sentences carefully, and choose the answer that corresponds to the meaning of the sentences you have read.

  • Refer to arrows and shading
  • Locate the details
  • Check for exceptions

Make Connections
Reading is like having a conversation with the author. Your mind makes connections with the passage. Sometimes this will happen when you are reading and a word or phrase refers back to a previous point in the passage. On the TOEFL, one question requires you to insert a sentence at the most logical place in a passage. In this case, you are connecting a new sentence with the ideas in the passage. Active readers are always thinking about how the next sentence fits in with what they have already read.

  • Find references
  • Insert sentences

A summary includes only the main idea and the major points in a passage. Although a passage may contain many points, only the most important are included in a summary. In English many writers tend to use a formula with one main idea and three major points. It is customary to find between two and four major points in a short passage.
When you are reading content material in textbooks or on examinations, pause at the end of a section summarise. First, reread the title or the section heading. State the main idea. Then, summarise the major points from that section. You can summarise by speaking or writing. The last question on the TOEFL is often a summary of the entire passage.

State the main idea
  • List the major points