I get this question a lot. Broadly speaking, here’s what I think you should do to prepare for the TOEFL reading section:
- Learn your current level
- Learn how the reading section is designed
- Get some accurate practice tests
- Improve your reading comprehension
- Get some strategies for solving questions
- Hire a good tutor
Details about how to do these things are below!
Learn Your Current Level
If you haven’t taken the test already, make sure you know your current level in the TOEFL reading section. The easiest way to do this is to take the free sample test from ETS. You can also take one of the tests in the Official Guide to the TOEFL. Once you have done this you will know how much you need to improve.
Learn How the Reading Section is Designed
Okay, this might be obvious, but you need to know how the TOEFL reading section is designed. If you understand how the test is designed, you will have fewer surprises on test day. Start by checking out the practice reading set from ETS. Read that set very carefully. Pay attention to the length of the passages and the number of questions included with each passage.
Pay special attention to the types of reading questions used by ETS. Briefly, the main types are:
- Factual Information
- Negative Factual Information
- Rhetorical Purpose
- Sentence Simplification
- Insert a Sentence
- Fill in a table
The best descriptions of these question types is found in the Official Guide to the TOEFL. Note that you don’t need to pay for the 5th edition, as every edition of the guide has pretty much the same descriptions. Read them carefully.
You can get the same descriptions and advice in the TOEFL Insider’s Guide course on edX. This is free, and is mostly video. I like it.
I recently analyzed the most recent practice materials. Read my blog post for an indication of how frequently each question type will appear on test day.
I should mention a few things before we go on:
- Since August 1, ETS has used fewer vocabulary questions than before. Expect just one or two per article. In the past, you would get three to five per article.
- “Fill in a table” and “reference” questions seem to be used much less than before. I used to think they were gone forever, but since posting the original version of this guide, I’ve gotten some reports that they have reappeared. Be prepared.
- You might get an unexpected question like “how does paragraph 1 relate to paragraph 2” or “what function does paragraph 2 serve in the organization of the passage as a whole.” These types are not mentioned in most popular study guides. Sorry.