TOEFL Reading techniques
There are a few common reading techniques that TOEFL you might already be applying to this section of the test. If you are a thorough reader, you probably spend most of the 20 minutes you are given, reading every single word, and trying to understand every detail of every sentence. Unfortunately, that usually leaves little time to answer any questions. This ineffective technique could be the result of treating the TOEFL Reading section like your ‘closed book’ university exam, where you don’t have access to the study materials during the test. Fortunately, the Reading section on TOEFL iBT is more like an ‘open book’ exam – your reading material remains on screen for 20 minutes.
On the other hand, you might have been told that you shouldn’t waste time reading, at all. If you choose to listen to that advice, you probably just scroll to the end of the passage and start answering the questions immediately. Granted, this technique might work for some questions (the ones that do not require the understanding of the entire passage). However, you will probably find that you don’t even know where to look for the information needed to answer those more complex questions.
The third reading technique is the one that has proven to be most efficient. It combines the reading for gist (also known as ‘skimming’) with the more detailed reading of some of the paragraphs (also known as ‘scanning’). This technique involves a very quick reading (maximum 5 minutes) of the entire Introduction (the first paragraph), the Conclusion (the last paragraph) and the first sentence of each paragraph in between. The first sentence of these so called ‘Support paragraphs’, is known as the ‘Topic sentence’. The reason this method works is the common structure that most passages have – the Introduction gives you the Subject/Topic and the Main Idea of the passage (in other words, tells you what it’s about); the Topic sentences introduce the key (most important) points; the Conclusion usually summarizes the whole passage.
TOEFL Reading – general strategies
Once you have these pieces of the puzzle, you will be able to start tackling the questions with a lot more confidence. Remember that you can skip questions in the Reading section. You can also go back and change your answers (of course, within the 20 minutes you are given for the passage). Here is where an old test taking trick still applies – answer the quick and easy questions (like vocabulary, detail and reference ones) first, as they appear; skip the challenging ones (like inference, purpose, cohesion, summary ones) for now; once all the straightforward answers are in place, go back to the more difficult questions. By the time you have answered the easy questions, you will have a better understanding of the entire passage, which should help you answer those complex questions towards the end of the passage.
So, next time you practise the TOEFL Reading section, try to remember and apply some of these reading techniques and strategies.