I took a deep dive into the publicly available TOEFL reading sets to measure which academic subjects appear most frequently. My study included the tests in:
- The Official Guide to the TOEFL
- The Official iBT Tests Vol. 1
- The Official iBT Tests Vol. 2
- The free practice test on ETS.org
- The TOEFL PDF sets on ETS.org
- The Propell Workshop Teacher’s Book
These contain 47 passages in total.
I think this is everything that is easily accessible. I didn’t include the TPO sets in my study because we aren’t really supposed to have access to those. If there are any other sources I should consult please let me know, and I will add them to the list.
I examined each reading passage and classified it by subject. I focused on the broadest possible subject headings. So, for example, I used “history” as a category but not “political history.” This wasn’t always an easy task as some of the passages cover overlapping subject areas.
Following this chart, I’ll include a few notes about more specific subject areas.
Anyways, here’s what I found:
Number of Passages
As you can see, history is by far the most common subject area in the reading section. Zoology is also pretty common.
There are a few other things that are worth mentioning here. They are:
- The passages about history often focus on the history of early humans and early civilizations.
- Political history is also somewhat common.
- One of the passages marked as “geology” was actually about the history of geology.
- Likewise, the passage about astronomy was about the history of astronomy. Read some history!
Perhaps this information will serve as a guide you as look for materials to develop your academic reading skills before the test.