In the TOEFL reading section you’ll read either three or four  articles (about 700 words each) and answer ten questions about each one.  In rare cases you might get nine questions about one of the articles.

This can be a very challenging section of the TOEFL test, as the articles are taken from actual textbooks used in introductory university courses. For many people, the biggest challenge in this section is time management – with just 54 minutes (three articles) or 72 minutes (four articles) to read all of the articles and answer all of the questions it can be really difficult to get everything done. 

Here are a few tricks that might help.

Skim the Articles

Most people don’t have time to carefully read all of the articles.  Instead, just skim each article for one or two minutes as soon as you see it.  As you skim the articles, pay special attention to the first paragraph, and to the first sentence of the rest.  This will give you a general idea of what the article is about and the main supporting arguments used by the author.  When you start answering questions take a closer look, as needed.

Manage Your Time Properly

With 54 minutes and 30 questions to answer (or 72 minutes and 40 questions),  you’ve got about 1:48 for each question.  But remember that some reading questions require more time than others.  For instance, vocabulary questions are fairly direct.  Most of the time you either know the answer to a vocabulary question or you don’t (and the article rarely contains valuable clues).  Don’t spend more than a minute thinking about those.

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 and recommended timing over here.

Focus on the Right Paragraph

Remember that the answers to the first nine questions for each article can be found in just a single paragraph, which is indicated in the question prompt.  Look for clues only in that paragraph.  Looking for clues outside of that paragraph is a waste of 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 always move forward and backwards between questions in the 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 specific question, don’t waste too much time thinking about it.  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 Incorrect Answer Choices

Even if you are forced to make a guess (see above), there will probably be one or two answer choices that you know are incorrect.  Quickly note these choices so you don’t consider them if you return later 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 know that it isn’t correct either.  When you go back to that question you will know to consider only the remaining choices. 

Bonus Tip:  Answer Every Question

Remember to answer every question!  Unlike other tests, there is no penalty for incorrect answers on the TOEFL.  This means that making a guess is better than leaving a question blank.  If there are just thirty seconds left on the clock and you’ve got a bunch of questions left, you should quickly click through to make guesses for all of them.