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:

Subject

Number of Passages

History

16

Zoology

7

Physical Geography

5

Biology

4

Geology

3

Psychology

3

Ecology

2

Architecture

1

Astronomy

1

Sociology

1

Education

1

Anthropology

1

Art

1

Paleontology

1

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.

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