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The 10 question types used in the TOEFL reading test

In total, there are 10 different types of question used in the TOEFL test. The good news is that 7 of these questions types are in multiple choice format, which automatically gives you a good chance of getting the correct answer!

Here’s a rundown of the 10 types of question used in the TOEFL reading test:

Question type 1: defining vocabulary (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you will be asked for the meaning of a word in the context of the passage. For example:

Although many of the world’s historical languages can now be understood (Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example), the markings found in the cave in Sur La Maine were less clear. The writing appeared simple, but its meaning was esoteric and only a few scholars have been able to actually understand and translate it.


Question: The word esoteric in the passage is closest in meaning to

A. basic
B. mysterious
C. unexplainable
D. lost

So what’s the answer?
The answer is B – the writing was hard to understand and mysterious to many.

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always four possible choices
  • the definition is generally given in a single word, not a sentence
  • you may know the word already, but have to select the option that describes it in the given context

Question type 2: understanding the purpose (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you have to explain WHY a certain point has been made in a paragraph and what the writer was try to explain or say. For example:

These days, time is everything. We worry about being late, we rush to get things done or to be somewhere and our daily schedules are often planned down to the minute. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the humble clock. The internationally accepted division of time into regular, predictable units has become an essential aspect of almost all modern societies yet the history of time keeping is almost as old as civilisation itself. Nearly 3000 years ago, societies were using the stars in order to keep track of time to indicate agricultural cycles. Then came the sundial, an Egyptian invention in which the shadow cast by the sun was used to measure the time not of the seasons but of the day.

 

Question: Why does the writer refer to the stars?

A. To show that some societies were able to use the stars to help with growing and harvesting crops.

B. To show how people 3000 years ago where able to tell the time of day.

C. To argue that keeping track of time is a relatively modern concern.

D. To explain how older societies were able to predict future events.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is A – they used the stars for agricultural purposes.

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • Most of these questions will include the word ‘Why’, but not all
  • Sometimes you need to complete the sentence with the correct answer (e.g. ‘The writer referred to societies using the stars to…’ and then you finish the statement).
  • You are always looking for the reason why the writer included that sentence or point in the passage.

 

Question type 3: understanding reference (multiple choice format)

For many people, this is one of the easier question types. To correctly answer this question type, you have to decide what is being referred to. For example:


The first manufactured clock, believed to have come from Persia, was a system which recreated the movements of the stars. All the celestial bodies which had been used to tell the time of year were plotted onto an intricate system in which models of the planets rotated around each other. Not being dependent on either sunlight or a clear night, this was one of the earliest ways to divide a complete day. Although ingenious for its time, this method suffered from incorrect astrological assumptions of the period, in which it was believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe.

What does the reference word ‘this’ refer to?

A. The planets

B. Persia

C. An intricate system

D. Celestial bodies

So what’s the answer?
The answer is C – the clock was built on an intricate system of model planets rotating around each other.

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • Most of these questions will means identifying what a pronoun refers to
  • All of the options will be words from the passage and will be hear the pronoun you are identifying

 

Question type 4: matching essential information (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you will be asked to match the essential information given in a section of the passage. For example:

Comparing performance to price, it is understandable that quartz clocks still dominate the market. Yet they are no longer the most accurate. Scientists had long realised that each chemical element in the universe absorbs and emits electromagnetic radiation at its own specific frequencies. The electromagnetic resonance of radiation is stable, thus forming the basis for a reliable system of time measurement, all the more so because no moving parts are needed to record these resonances. Yet the cost of these atomic clocks mean that such timekeeping precision is a long way from becoming common.

Question: Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

A. Electromagnetic resonances are reliable.
B. The stability of electronic magnetic resonances needs to be recorded by external equipment.
C. Electromagnetic resonance is a good measure of time because it does not change or require any external measurement.
D. Moving parts are not stable or reliable whereas electromagnetic resonance is.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is C – the highlighted text focuses on TWO aspects (stability and no moving parts needed) that make electromagnetic resonance good for time keeping, and both need to be included in the matching description.

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always four possible choices
  • the matching sentence MUST include all relevant points
  • you will be given at least one option that is true, but does not cover ALL of the points in the highlighted text
  • Incorrect options will present a point incorrectly, change the meaning of the highlighted sentence or will miss out an important detail

 

Question type 5: identifying a specific detail (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you will be asked to find a specific detail in the passage. For example:

Then, for nearly one thousand years, there was little in the way of progress in time keeping until the European invention of spring-powered clocks in the late fourteenth century. Unreliable and inaccurate, the early models of these clocks were useful in that they gave direction to new advances. In 1656 Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, made the first pendulum clock, which had an error of less than one minute a day, the first time such accuracy had been achieved. Later refinements to the cogs, gears and linkages reduced his clock’s error to less than 10 seconds a day. Some years later, Huygens abandoned the pendulum for a balance wheel and spring assembly which allowed for a whole new generation of time piece – the wristwatch. Still found in some of today’s wristwatches, this improvement allowed portable seventeenth-century watches to keep time to 10 minutes a day.

Question: According to the information given in paragraph 4, what was no longer used in order to create the wristwatch?

A. A balance wheel
B. Cogs
C. A pendulum
D. A spring assembly

So what’s the answer?
The answer is C – there is no reference to whether the balance wheel, cogs or spring assembly were removed – the only part that was changed was that the pendulum ‘was abandoned’.

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always four possible choices
  • the question will identify a specific paragraph or section in which to locate your answer
  • the answer will generally only be reference ONCE in the passage

 

Question type 6: identifying negative or incorrect information  (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you will be asked to identify something that is NOT given in the passage, or is presented incorrectly. For example:

While clock making and musical chime clocks became increasingly popular, it was the invention of the cuckoo clock, designed and made by Franz Anton Ketterer, which really caught people’s imagination. The design was not particularly complex. The clock was mounted on a headboard, normally a very elaborate carving reflecting the tastes of the artist. Many of the original cuckoo clocks are still kept today because of the artwork on the headboard. Using the traditional circular pendulum design, the clock could run accurately for up to a week, using a weight to keep the pendulum in motion. Again, the weight was often carved with a design making the whole clock an art form as well as a timepiece. The most innovative feature of these cuckoo clocks, as the name implies, is that a small carved cuckoo came out of the clock to chime the hour. Particularly ingenious was the placement of bellows inside the clock, which were designed to recreate the sound made by the bird, although later models included a lever on the bottom of the clock which could be used to stop this hourly chime.

Question: Which of the following is NOT true of cuckoo clocks?

A. Many of these clocks are still kept today because of the artistic style of the headboard.
B. The clock mechanism was a new design especially made for use in cuckoo clocks.
C. Cuckoo clocks could keep the correct time for up to 7 days
D. Parts were added to the clock to simulate bird noises.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is B – the passage states that cuckoo clock used ‘the traditional circular pendulum design’, so there was NOT a new mechanism specifically for these types of clock. 

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always four possible choices
  • this question type has the word NOT or EXCEPT in the instructions in CAPITAL letters, so it’s easier to identify
  • These question types can take longer to complete because you need to check all the possible incorrect answers carefully

 

Question type 7: identifying inference (multiple choice format)

For this question type, you will be asked to identify something that is not expressly given in the text, but is implied. For example:

Many teachers believe that we should be teaching less, but teaching it better, and it is here that they think a solution can be found. Yet the process of rewriting a curriculum to incorporate only that which is essential but can be well learned would take far longer than most educational authorities have, and would be considered by many parents to be a ‘regressive’ step.

Question: What can be inferred from paragraph 1?

A. School curricula are being rewritten.
B. Rewriting what is taught in the classroom is supported by parents.
C. Educational authorities do not want to spend the money on new curriculum writing.
D. Rewriting the curriculum would allow teachers to teach better.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is D – the paragraph starts with a potential ‘solution’ and what teachers think, followed by ‘Yet the process of rewriting a curriculum…’ which indicates that this would be the step forward. 

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always four possible choices
  • Understanding inferred information can be complicated, but often the information you need is close

 

Question type 8: insert a sentence

For this question type, you will be asked to insert a sentence into a paragraph. For example:

Teachers themselves have also voiced concerns about the amount of information they are required to impress upon their students. ■1 There is a feeling in many educational establishments that students are no longer being educated, but taught how to pass tests. ■ 2 If there is too much information to simply be memorised and not enough time to truly assimilate it, what happens to students who fail to meet the grade? ■3 By current standards, they are failures, yet they may have great potential in areas not covered by the test and there are many students who, despite clear intellectual ability, simply do not perform well in tests. ■4 Again, the problem is one of focus, as education authorities are looking at the outcome of schooling rather than the content presented in the class.

Question: Look at the four squares ■ that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage.

In a world where academic success is too often measured by examination results, this is a serious concern.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is box 2

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • this question type is only used ONCE at most in each passage

Question type 9: Complete the table

For this question type, you will be asked to add points to a table with two or three columns

choose three out of 6 correct answers. You need to identify the three sentences that best summarise the main points presented in the paragraph.

Teachers themselves have also voiced concerns about the amount of information they are required to impress upon their students. ■1 There is a feeling in many educational establishments that students are no longer being educated, but taught how to pass tests. ■ 2 If there is too much information to simply be memorised and not enough time to truly assimilate it, what happens to students who fail to meet the grade? ■3 By current standards, they are failures, yet they may have great potential in areas not covered by the test and there are many students who, despite clear intellectual ability, simply do not perform well in tests. ■4 Again, the problem is one of focus, as education authorities are looking at the outcome of schooling rather than the content presented in the class.

Question: Look at the four squares ■ that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage.

In a world where academic success is too often measured by examination results, this is a serious concern.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is box 2

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • this question type is only used ONCE at most in each passage

Question type 10: Complete the table

For this question type, you will be asked to add points to a table with two or three columns. For example:

Refinements to this original pendulum concept meant that by 1721 the pendulum clock remained accurate to within one second per day by compensating for changes in the pendulum’s length due to temperature variations. Over the next century, further refinements reduced this to a hundredth of a second a day, and further developed due to the accuracy in the mechanics. However, by the 1920s, a new era of clock making began which is still popular today – the quartz clock. When under pressure, quartz generates an electric field of relatively constant frequency, and it was discovered that this electric signal was sufficient to power a clock. Quartz crystal clocks were better because they had fewer moving parts to disturb their regular frequency. Even so, they still rely on a mechanical vibration and this depends on the size of the crystal, and as no two crystals can be exactly alike, there is a degree of difference in every quartz watch.

Before 1920Since 1920

A. Were accurate to within a one hundredth of a second every 24 hours

B. Had few moving parts

C. Relies on vibration

D. There can be differences between clocks

E. Was modified for temperature variations

F. Became more accurate with better mechanics

So what’s the answer?
Before 1920 – A, E, F  /. After 1920 – B, C, D

 

Useful notes about this question type:

  • there are always 5 or 7 points that need to be put in the table
  • There are a maximum of 3 points with 5 points or 4 points with 7 points
  • You need to get 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7 points correctly to get at least 1 point, 4 out of 5 or 5 out of 7 for 2 points, 5 out of 5 or 6 out of 7 for 3 points, and 7 out of 7 for 4 points.
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