The reading section is the first part of the TOEFL test.  You’ll get either three or four academic articles (about 700 words each) and answer nine or ten questions about each one.  

This can be a very challenging section of the TOEFL test, as it simulates how university students must read and understand dense articles about challenging academic topics… and quickly understand their contents. Generally, the biggest challenge in this section is time management – you’ll get just 54 minutes (three articles) or 72 minutes (four articles) to read all of the articles and answer all of the questions.  Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your limited time.

Skim the Articles

Unfortunately, you don’t have time to thoroughly read all of the articles before you tackle the questions.  Instead, you should quickly skim each article for one or two minutes as soon as you see it.  To “skim” an article means to quickly glance at it while looking for the main ideas.  As you skim the articles, pay special attention to the first paragraph, and then to the first sentence of every other paragraph.  This will give you a general idea of what the article is about and the main supporting arguments used by the author.  Remember that once you start answering the questions, you will have a chance to examine the articles more closely – and that the first nine questions will be about one paragraph only.

Manage Your Time Properly

With 54 minutes and 30 questions to answer (or 72 minutes and 40 questions), mathematically you’ve got 1:48 for each question.  But that isn’t the absolute best way to spend your time. Some reading questions require more time than others.  For instance, vocabulary questions are fairly direct – most of the time you either know the answer or you don’t.  Don’t spend more than a minute thinking about those.  Pick an answer and move on.  On the other hand, some question types – like “sentence insertion” and “negative factual” questions – require you to examine an entire paragraph to find the answer.  Give yourself extra time for those. Learn more about question types over here.

Focus on the Right Paragraph

Remember that the answers to the first nine questions about each article can be found in a single paragraph.  Thankfully, the test indicates which paragraph that is.  As you attempt to answer each of those questions, look for clues only in the paragraph indicated.  Looking for clues outside of that paragraph is a complete waste of your time.  Remember, though, that the final question of each article is trickier – you will have to examine the whole article to answer it correctly.

Skip Questions…

Remember that you can move forward and backwards between questions in the TOEFL reading section.  You can even move between the articles.  Do this by clicking the arrow buttons at the top of the test software to move forward and backward one question at a time, or the “review” button to immediately jump to a specific question.  If you are unsure about a question, don’t waste too much time thinking about the answer.  Make a guess and move on to the next question.  You can get back to it later.  Use your note paper to record which questions you plan to return to.

…But Note Eliminations

Even if you do skip a question (see above), there will probably be one or two answer choices that you know are incorrect.  Quickly noting these choices so you don’t have to think about them when you get back to the question.  For instance, if you are sure that choice “a” from question 1 is incorrect, write “1A” with a line through it on your note paper.  Do the same for “1B” if you are confident that it isn’t correct either.  When you go back to that question you will know to focus on the other choices. 

Bonus Tip:  Answer Every Question

Okay, this one is obvious.  But it needs to be mentioned.  You should answer every question!  There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the TOEFL.  This means that a guess is better than nothing.  If you notice that you’ve got twenty seconds left on the clock and there are still a bunch of questions, you should start clicking the mouse with lighting speed!