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The Topics You’ll See in TOEFL Reading Passages

The reading passages on the TOEFL can come from almost any subject that first-year university students could take a course in. Here’s a list of some of the possible subjects:

Social Sciences





Professional and Pre-Professional Disciplines


Public Relations


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Hard Sciences











Art History


Literature (the study of literature, not literature itself—there won’t be any Shakespeare on the test)



The Takeaway

Remember that although the topics are varied, the passages are chosen to be understood by somebody who has no experience with the subject. Most of the passages will deal with broad concepts that are fundamental to understanding the subject. You won’t need to learn or demonstrate any skills on the test—that is, if you had a passage from a physics text book, you wouldn’t be expected to learn the material and solve a physics problem. Instead, you would be asked about the big ideas, and, often, details or examples that help to explain those big ideas.

You will, however, probably still find it easier to answer questions about a topic you’re already familiar with. You will have to reread less, which will save you time, and you may be able to fill in information that you missed with your prior knowledge. So while you don’t need to run outside right now and buy a book about every topic that could be used on the TOEFL, do make an effort to vary your reading material. That way, you’ll have at least some familiarity with some of the reading material on test day, and your study sessions will be more interesting, too!


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8 Responses to The Topics You’ll See in TOEFL Reading Passages

  1. ali January 30, 2017 at 6:36 am #

    Hi kate,
    Thank you for your really awesome guide.
    But I would be grateful if you help me with this question that Is it good for TOEFL students to study vocabularies and terms of topics you have mentioned above?

    • David Recine
      David Recine January 31, 2017 at 2:27 am #

      I can get this one, Kate! 🙂

      Studying the vocabulary of common TOEFL Reading topics certainly can’t hurt. In fact, this blog has a few posts specifically on TOEFL vocabulary related to science, especially animal science.

      However, studying the specialized vocabulary of academic subjects isn’t all that important. No matter how much specialized vocabulary you study, you’ll still probably see some unfamiliar words on test day. It’s more important to study the general kinds of vocabulary that could appear in any passage. (You can see this kind of general vocab in the Magoosh TOEFL Vocabulary PDF and in our free TOEFL flashcards.) And it’s just as important to develop good reading skills, so that you can understand new vocabulary words by context. (See my post on vocabulary comprehension skills for the TOEFL.)

      In sort, studying topical academic TOEFL vocabulary can’t hurt. But you should only study highly specialized words if you have time. Make general vocablary and general reading skill your top priority.

  2. ali February 1, 2017 at 3:39 am #

    Thank you so much, David.
    That was really helpful.

  3. Rabe3 April 25, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

    Very good website

    i have exam after 2 hrs
    and i make my all revision from it l

    Magoosh Team

  4. Mike November 30, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    Is this a definite list of reading texts? Where has this been extracted from?

  5. Wasim Nawaj June 4, 2019 at 7:58 am #

    Can you suggest any website or anything from where we can read articles from those mentioned topic separately?

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