TOEFL iBT: Tips For Acing TOEFL iBT Reading

TOEFL iBT Reading is easy.

You can and should only believe this, however, when you have fulfilled each of these 4 conditions:

  1. You understand the structure of the exam and how much time to spend on each question
  2. You understand the variety of questions that may come up
  3. You know what to do and look out for when answering questions
  4. You've had some practice

Reading Section Structure & Timing

  1. The reading section includes 3 or 4 reading passages, each approximately 700 words long.
  2. Each passage comes with 12-14 questions
  3. You will have a total of 60-80 minutes to answer all questions
  4. You should spend a maximum time of 20 minutes per passage though you will get a 60-80 minute time block
  5. You can still go back to review your answers if you have enough time at the end

Reading Question Types

There are 10 question types in all and they are described below:

 TOEFL iBT Question Types

TOEFL iBT Question Types

Hot Tips For The Reading Section

  • Read to understand each paragraph – take notes to help you internalize or draw a mind map showing the key points.
  • Do not be intimidated by the technical nature of the questions. Your business is to find the answer from the passage and not to get mired in the technicalities of it. All the answers are contained within the passage - you just need to find it. Think of the question as a puzzle with clues lying in each paragraph.
  • Understanding each paragraph will help you answer subsequent questions that test your overall understanding of the passage. Don’t just “look for the answer”.
  • Don’t waste time skim reading the initial passage – It’s too much information all at once. Besides, how much of it will you remember when you see the actual question that is to be answered?
  • Keep in mind that while your objective is to understand the paragraph of each question, you still need to read with purpose. Reading with purpose means knowing what you are looking for in the first place before you start reading.
  • If you have read through but the answer still eludes you or you are not quite certain, choose your best option but mark down that question so that you may review your answer later (if you have time at the end)
  • Some questions are clearly vocabulary questions from the reading passage and are actually the most straightforward to answer, if you are familiar with the words. Find the word that fits “exactly” by looking for a synonym in your answer options. Context may confuse you but you need to read for meaning in the end. The word you choose has to make sense and fit in with the overall meaning of the passage. Reread the sentence by substituting the word with the option chosen. Does it still make sense?
  • Understand the key words (terms) that are used throughout the passage so that you don’t get confused. Consider drawing a keyword table. For example, if the passage speaks of different species of fish, understand each specie so that you can distinguish the properties of one fish specie from another.
  • Don’t get caught up in the details, especially if these details are not related to the answers you seek.
  • Read attentively - Don't be in a hurry to discard answer options because they "seem" incorrect. Understand what each option means in detail before discarding it
  • Read the question and understand what it means before looking for the answers
  • Aim for 1 minute per question, while noting down the questions that are not so straightforward; you can always come back and attend to these.
  • Points are awarded for selecting the right answers not for understanding what the entire passage is about.
  • Remember that keeping to time is a choice.
  • My desired strategy Per Passage will be as follows:
    • Read the title - First 1 minute
    • Read the first sentence of each paragraph - First 1 minute
    • Read the question » Select answers from passage by finding keywords  and skimming each paragraph QUICKLY and WITH PRECISION till easy questions are ALL done (mark unclear areas).

    • Take a guess at the "Reading To Learn" Questions - then go back and read from scratch to confirm in this order: the 1) Reading To Learn" answers, 2) Marked unclear areas and 3) other areas.

    • You should have a slam dunk!

    • In the end, the reading strategy that worked for me is as follows:

      • Read the title and the first sentence of each paragraph

      • Dived straight to the questions and used the keywords in the questions to find the answers

      • Noted down questions I was not sure of for later review

      • As soon I was done, went back to review areas I was not sure of


I can't stress this enough. Practice will help you define the methods that work for you, increase your confidence on the day and most importantly, help you learn how to keep track of time. 

Hoping this helps someone out there.