Types of TOEFL Reading Questions, Part Two

(you might want to start by reading part one of this article)

Six: Reference Questions

Questions of this type ask you to identify what a given pronoun refers to.  A question will look something like this:  "What does the word "this" refer to?" The given pronoun will be highlighted on your screen.

I teach my students two basic strategies to solve this question:

  • If the pronoun is preceded by a comma, seek out the subject immediately preceding the comma.  It will be in the same sentence as the pronoun.
  • If the pronoun is preceded by a period, seek out the subject of the sentence immediately preceding the period.

This technique usually works.  As a back-up, try replacing the pronoun with your answer choice.

Here's a sample question:

The 20th century was indeed a period of breaking away from everything that ballet stood for. It was a time of unprecedented creative growth, for dancers and choreographers. It was also a time of shock, surprise and broadening of minds for the public, in terms of their definitions of what dance was. It was a revolution in the truest sense.

What does the first "it" refer to in the passage?

          A. ballet

          B. The 20th century

          C. definitions of dance

          D. the new dance style

The answer is choice B.  You can find this using the  method outlined above, as the pronoun is immediately preceded by a period.

Seven: Sentence Simplification Questions

Questions of this type give you a rather long sentence from the passage and ask you to choose a sentence that simplifies it.  The simplified sentence must contain all of the essential information of the original, and must not contradict it.  Here's an example:

By the 1980s dance had come full circle and modern dance (or, by this time, 'contemporary dance') was clearly still a highly technical and political vehicle for many practitioners. Existing alongside classical ballet, the two art-forms were by now living peacefully next door to one another with little of the rivalry and antipathy of previous eras. The present time sees us still in the very competitive artistic atmosphere where choreographers compete to produce the most shocking work, however, there are still glimpses of beauty to be had, and much incredible dancing in an age where dance technique has progressed further in expertise, strength and flexibility than ever before in history.

Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence?

          A.  Currently, dance is a very competitive artistic field and although choreographers attempt to produce the most shocking possible work much beauty can be found and the technical abilities of dancers have increased.

          B.  Dance is not as shocking as it was in the past, but it remains a competative race between choreographers who work with dancers who are more technically adept than ever before.

          C.  Current dance is a competition between choreographers to produce the most shocking possible work, although some beauty can still be found.

          D.  Current dancers are stronger and more flexible than ever before choreographers are striving to produce works that are more shocking than ever before.

The answer is choice A.  Choice B contradicts the reading by saying that "dance is not as shocking as it was in the past."  Choice C doesn't mention the improved abilities of the dancers, while choice D doesn't mention the fact that glimpses of beauty can still be found in today's styles of dance.

Eight: Sentence Insertion Questions

Questions of this type ask you to insert a given sentence into a paragraph from the passage.  You must choose from one of four possible spots for the sentence.  To solve the question look for words in the surrounding sentences that serve as connectors.  Look also for shared subjects.  For example, if the given sentence refers to "this theory" look for a sentence in the paragraph that references some theory.  If it refers to "this machine" look for a reference to a machine in the paragraph.  But solving the question isn't always so simple, as the given sentence might use synonyms.  If the paragraph refers to "this theory," the given sentence might refer to  "this idea," which means the same thing.  Here's a sample question:

Since the Ballets Russes began revolutionizing ballet in the early 20th century, there have been continued attempts to break the mold of classical ballet.* Currently the artistic scope of ballet technique is more all-encompassing than ever.*  This also has influenced ballet's accompanying music, stagings and multimedia. Modern choreographers have embraced techniques that classical choreographers would not have considered acceptable to the art form.* The boundaries that classify a work of classical ballet are constantly being stretched, muddied and blurred until perhaps all that remains today are traces of technique idioms such as 'turnout'.*

Look at the four stars (*) that indicate where the following sentence might fit.

"These efforts have changed the art of ballet in very significant ways."

Where would the sentence fit best?

          A.  The first star

          B.  The second star

          C.  The third star

          D.  The fourth star

The answer is choice A.  The key word to recognize is "attempts," which is a synonym of "efforts."


Nine: Table Questions

Questions of this type are interactive.  They are difficult because they require you to understand the entire reading passage rather than just a single paragraph.  You can spend some time working on them, however, because they are worth three or four times as much as the other reading questions.

To solve them, you must drag given sentences into an appropriate place in a table.

For example, if the reading passage compares nuclear power to oil power the table will have headings for "benefits of oil" and "benefits of nuclear power."  You will be given six statements of benefit and you must determine which type of power they are describing.  You will only find one of this question type in each reading passage.

Ten: Most Important Idea Questions

This type of question is also interactive.  Like table questions, these questions require an understanding of the entire reading passage.  And like table questions they are worth three or four points each.  You will only find one of this question type in each reading passage.

The question presents you with a main point from the passage, and collection of six sentences about it.  You will be asked to "select three sentences which best explain the main point of the passage."

They key to answering this type of question is to first eliminate choices that are simply not expressed in the passage.  Second, you must eliminate choices which express minor details from the reading passage.  You must pick only answer choices which express important, big ideas from the passage.  For help think back to when you learned about TOEFL independent essay writing. Distinguish between which answer choices are
"reasons" and which are "details."  Often (but not always) the correct answer choices will be the "main point" expressed at the beginning of each paragraph in the reading, while the incorrect choices will be details that come later in the paragraphs.