Listen to this post: Infer Rhetorical Purpose
You are taking the TOEFL iBT and the following question arises: “Why does the author include the information that dinosaurs had flourished for tens of millions of years and suddenly disappeared” (ETS TOEFL Sampler). Or, you read, “Why does the author use the word “however” in the fourth paragraph?” These types of rhetorical questions in which you are required to infer rhetorical purpose dumbfound some TOEFL iBT test-takers. “How the heck do I know,” these test-takers claim, “why the author is doing anything?” But you can know and you must know if you want to answer these questions accurately.
To answer this question, you should identify the thesis and the topic sentences of the reading passage so that you understand how the passage is organized. It is also important to understand if the passage fits into a specific organizational pattern such as compare and contrast, cause-effect, narration, or steps in a process.
So, what do you do? First, consider where this information in mentioned.
1st line of second paragraph: consider how the information is related to the thesis of the first paragraph. For instance, does it provide a supporting point for the thesis?
1st line of any remaining paragraphs: consider how the information fits into the topic of the previous paragraph and into the passage as a whole. For example, does it add to or contradict the topic of the previous paragraph?
Last line of any remaining paragraphs: consider how the information is related to the topic of that paragraph. Or, perhaps, the author might be transitioning to a new idea in the next paragraph.
Finally, before taking the TOEFL iBT, practice pre-reading and reading rhetorical strategies. Go to these blog posts for more information:
- Reading, Rhetoric, and the TOEFL iBT: Analyzing Style
Reading, Rhetoric, and the TOEFL iBT: Analyzing Structure
December 24, 2008: Get the Most Out of Your TOEFL iBT Reading: A Helpful Pre-reading Activity
For more information, go here: