TOEFL Exam Pattern
The TOEFL iBT is a three-hour, computerized test with four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. You’ll use one main skill for each section (so on Reading you’ll read passages and on Listening you’ll listen to audio clips), with some questions or tasks requiring the use of multiple skills.
All sections are timed. You’ll always have 17 minutes on Speaking and 50 minutes on Writing.
However, the Reading and Listening sections vary in length due to unscored, experimental questions. Reading ranges from 54 to 72 minutes long, while Listening ranges from 41 to 57 minutes long. There will be no indication as to which questions are experimental and which ones aren’t, so don’t spend too much time worrying about this—just try your best on all questions!
TOEFL Exam Pattern: Reading Section
The first section you’ll have on the TOEFL iBT is the Reading section. As mentioned above, this section can vary in length but is typically 60 minutes long and contains 30 - 40 questions. Your main task is to read passages and answer questions about them.
You will be given three to four articles of about 700 words on academic texts ranging from chemistry, geology, biology, architecture, art, etc. There are 10 questions for each article. You have 18 minutes to complete each article.
Reading is first scored in raw points (i.e., the number of points you get per question) and then converted to a scaled score out of 30. A good Reading score varies depending on where you’re applying, but generally anything above 22 (the 50th percentile) can be considered good.
TOEFL Reading Question Types
The TOEFL Reading contains 10 different types of questions. Some appear more frequently than others and some take more time than others. Most Reading questions are standard multiple choice with four answer choices to choose from.
1. Vocabulary Questions
The first kind of reading question is the vocabulary question. You will find these questions with a frequency of 3-6 times per section. They simply ask you to find a synonym of a word present in the passage. For this type of question, you don’t need to read anything from the passage! You must pick the closest synonym of the word in the question between the answer choices. Do not read the passage at all.
2. Recognizing Referents
In the Reading section of the TOEFL iBT, you may be asked, to determine the referent for a particular pronoun or adjective (the noun to which a pronoun or adjective refers). You may be asked to find the referent for a variety of words, perhaps for a third person subject pronoun (he, she, it, they), a third person object pronoun (him, her, it, them), a relative pronoun (who, which, that), a third person possessive adjective (his, her, its, their), a third person possessive pronoun (his, hers, theirs), a demonstrative pronoun or adjective (this, that, these, those), or for a quantifier (one, some, a few, many). A referent generally precedes the pronoun or adjective in the passage; thus, to answer this type of question, you should study the context around the pronoun or adjective carefully and look for a referent that agrees with the noun or pronoun in front of the pronoun or adjective.
3. Details Questions
These are the most common questions in the reading section (4-8 per section). These questions will ask you to find some details in the passage. First, read the question and look for keywords such as specific names or dates. Then skim and scan the paragraph indicated in the question until you find those words. Now, just read the sentence before and the one after those keywords. The answer to the question is right there! Do not read anything else because the wrong answers are in the rest of the passage.
4. Negative Detail
These are the questions that ask you to find what is missing in the passage. They may be introduced with these sentences: “All of the following are mentioned in the paragraph # EXCEPT…” or “Which of the following is NOT mentioned in the paragraph #.” Here you have to be careful to pick up the UNMENTIONED answer. So, these are the only questions where you look at the answer choices first (in all the other kinds you will look at them only at the end when you have already found the answer in the passage). Look for keywords, this time, in the answer choices and skim and scan the passage to see if they are present in the text. Pick the one that is NOT MENTIONED in the passage as the correct answer.
5. Author Purpose
These are the kinds of questions that sound like this: “Why does the author mention…?” For this kind of question, you need to look for what is after “mention…” in the passage. When you find it in the passage, read the sentence before and after and ask yourself “WHY does the author say this?” Then pick the correct answer according to what you have just found.
In these questions, you will be asked to paraphrase part of the passage. Or in other words, to pick the answer that expresses all the ideas made in the highlighted sentence. The strategy is a little bit complex for this kind of question, but it’s not impossible. First, read the highlighted sentence and look for the subject, verb, and object. This is important because the correct answer is the ONLY ONE that will have the subject, verb, and object in the same order. But be careful that the correct answer may use synonyms of the subject, verb, or object of the sentence in the passage. But, it's important that the order will be the same.
7. Sentence Insertion
These kinds of questions are pretty easy to solve. Everything you need to follow for these questions is your logic. Indeed, in this question, you will be asked to insert a sentence in the passage. You will choose between 4 different places in the text. The strategy is simple: look for words in the sentence that may be connected with the prior or next sentence. Now, look up the passage and try to find a connection between the sentence and the other sentences. Remember that you may eliminate choices where there is no connection between them. For sure that is not the correct answer.
8. Inference Question
This is the hardest question for the reading part. Fortunately, you will find just 2-4 of them in the whole reading section. The bad news is that there is no strategy for this kind of question. But we have two suggestions: first, eliminate the choices that use exactly the same words present in the passage; second, skip this question and answer it at the end of the passage. Indeed, it takes about 5-7 minutes to answer this question correctly. This is the same amount of time to answer 2-3 other questions. Moreover, the inference question is worth 1 point just like the others. So, skip it to use your time to answer other questions correctly, and then, you will go back to answer this one.
9. Summary Information
In the Reading section of the TOEFL iBT, you may be asked to complete a summary chart in which the overall topic is given and you must determine the major supporting ideas. This kind of question has three correct answers and is worth 2 points. You will receive 2 points for 3 correct answers, 1 point for 2 correct answers, and 0 points for either 1 or 0 correct answers. To complete this type of question successfully, you must be able to recognize the rhetorical pattern of the information in the passage (i.e., compare and contrast, cause and effect, argument supported by reasons), including the major ideas and the critical supporting information.
10. Schematic Tables
You may be asked to complete a schematic table. A schematic table is a table that outlines the key information from a passage. This kind of question may have 5 or 7 correct answers. A question that has 5 correct answers is worth 3 points while a question that has 7 correct answers is worth 4 points. To complete this type of question successfully, you must be able to recognize overall organization of the information in the passage, including the major points and the critical supporting information.