TOEFL Reading Strategies

Several TOEFL reading strategies will help you to use your existing English to get the highest possible score on the reading section of the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL reading strategies
TOEFL reading strategies

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Are you ready to take the TOEFL iBT?

Unfortunately, many students take the TOEFL iBT before they are ready.  If you can read 300 words per minute with 60%-80% comprehension, you are ready to take the test.  If you do not know what you current reading speed is, go to

Go to the 300 words per minute practice test.

Spend one minute reading the passage.

Without looking at the passage, take the five question multiple choice quiz.

If you score 3/5 or higher on the quiz, then you are ready to take the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Crap! I am not ready to take the TOEFL iBT. What do I do?

If you scored below 3/5 on the 300 words per minute practice test, then you need to do what 1000’s of other students have done: Prepare, prepare, and prepare.  Do not worry. I have several TOEFL learning paths that will give you the practice to get your reading speed up to where it needs to be.  Follow the link to a variety of course plans from which you can choose:

When choosing a course plan, keep in mind the following:

Choose your course based on your current TOEFL score or practice test score. You should also choose your course based on your target TOEFL score you need. Email me at if you are not sure which course is best for you.

You need to take a full-length TOEFL four hour practice test if you haven’t a TOEFL score right now. Do NOT choose your course until you take a full-length TOEFL iBT practice test:

Study your lessons for the recommended period of time. Do not try to shorten your language study. All good things come with patience.

You are choosing a self-study TOEFL course, so make sure you have the motivation to study your lessons every day.  Make sure that you send me your scheduled pronunciation, speaking, and writing practice according to your course outline. I will not remind you!

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Read through each passage.

Despite what you have heard, I recommend that you read the entire passage before answering any of the questions. If you are reading at 300 words per minute, it will take you about 2.5 minutes, which will give you plenty of time to answer the questions that follow.

  • Look at the first line of each paragraph to get an overall idea of the purpose or main idea of the passage.  Jot down on paper 2-3 key words about each paragraph so that you can create a mind map of the passage. Having these notes will prevent you for having to re-read the passage repeatedly.
  • Pay attention to the details that support the main idea.  Understanding both the main idea and supporting points will help you to understand the structure.  Do not focus too much on the minor details.  You can spend more time worrying about them if they appear in some of your reading questions.

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Use contextual clues to help you understand the meaning of unfamiliar words.

I don’t care who you are or how many vocabulary words you think you know.  One thing is certain when you begin the reading section of the TOEFL iBT: You will always see unfamiliar words.  This is even true with native speakers.  A variety of contextual clues can help you guess at the meaning of unknown words. The link I am providing here will explain to you four important vocabulary tips to help you perform better in the reading section of the TOEFL iBT:

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Read the passage even if you think you are already familiar with the topic.

If you get lucky, you may come across a TOEFL reading passage containing a topic with which are already familiar. However, you should still read the passage since it will contain new information that you most likely have not read before.

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Read each question carefully.

During the TOEFL you will encounter several different question types:

  • Main idea question: What is the best title….? or What is the main idea….?
  • Detail question: According to paragraph 4,  what…….?
  • Unstated detail question: Which of the following is NOT mentioned or NOT true?
  • Implied detail question: It can be inferred from the passage that……..
  • Vocabulary question:  The word “______” in the passage  is closest  to
  • Insert a sentence question: Look at  the four squares that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage: ” ______________.” Where does the sentence fit? Choose the letter of the square that shows where the sentence should be added.
  • Rhetorical question:  Why does the author mentioned the word “______?”
  • Summary question: An introductory sentence of a brief summary of the passage is included below. Complete this summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they are either not mentioned or represent minor ideas.
  • Paraphrasing question: Which of the sentences best expresses the most important information in the highlighted sentence of the passage? Incorrect answer choices change the meaning significantly or leave out necessary information.
  • Schematic table or chart question: Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices and match the ____________to which they relate. Two of the answer choices will not be used.

Make sure you read each question carefully.  Pay special attention to any specific instructions. Before taking the TOEFL iBT,  make sure you understand each question type and the strategies for answering them.  To measure your progress, take a few TOEFL-level practice tests.  After checking your answers, take some time to analyze your incorrect answers.

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Stay focused on one passage at a time

During the reading section, you will be able go back to previous passages that you have already read. However, you should stay focused on one passage and on one set of questions.  Jumping around from one passage to another will cause you to lose your concentration. However, once you get to the last passage and finish answering that last set of questions, you can then go back to review any especially difficult questions.

TOEFL Reading Strategies: Pace yourself

On the one hand, if you get too nervous, you may try to move through each set of questions too quickly.  On the other hand, you may take too long answering the questions. This will cause you to fall behind on the other passages and sets of question that you must answer. Therefore, you must find a delicate balance.

Depending on how many passages you get on your test, you will have between 60-100 minutes. Check the clock on the screen when you start the test. That way you will know exactly how much time you have to finish the test.  Here are some suggestions to help you manage your time:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the reading directions BEFORE you take the TOEFL exam. That way you do not waste time trying to figure out what to do or how to do it at the beginning of the reading section.  As a result, click “Dismiss directions” so that you can immediately focus on the test questions.
  • Pay attention to how many questions are on the computer screen and how much time you have for answering them.
  • Make sure you are familiar scrolling down a computer screen when reading passages. Once you start to answer the questions, click “View text” if you need to see the passage again.
  • Make sure you know how to use “Next,” “Back,” and “Review” icons when you are moving back and forth among the reading questions.
  • Some of the questions are quite easy for you to answer, whereas others are very difficult. Consequently, make sure you answer ALL questions. Try to eliminate incorrect answers, and choose the best answer. If you are unsure, guess and move on. After you have answered all the questions in the entire reading section, if you have time, you can go back to the more difficult questions.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,

1 thought on “TOEFL Reading Strategies”

  1. Pingback: TOEFL Reading Paraphrase Question - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

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