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TOEFL Reading Question Type – Categorization

The categorization questions are somewhat similar to the prose summary questions. Both of them test your ability to identify important ideas of a passage, and both involve putting those ideas into a table. But while prose summary questions only require you to choose the main ideas, categorization questions will have you choose which of several sub-headings each idea belongs under, and the statements in categorization questions might be a little less important than the statements in summary questions, which are really only the most important ideas from the passage.

A table in a categorization question will have two or three columns and two or three rows. There will be five correct answers for you to choose and categorize. Each table is worth three points total, and you will get partial credit if you get three or four correct answers.

Each table will deal with a certain kind of relationship such as cause and effect, problem and solution, or comparison. Correct answers will be clearly related to the category in the passage. The extra, unused answers will be about different topics from the passage, will change the relationships between things, or will be on the same topic but not stated in the passage. Basically, answering categorization questions is very similar to answering detail questions, but you must look for several correct answers on two or three different topics.

Check out this example to see what I mean. (Please note that the question below is easier than one that you’d see on a real TOEFL and the passage is shorter, but the main purpose of this—to understand the format of the question and the skills needed to answer it—is accurate.)



A. People usually dress up for these concerts.

B. The audience is required to sing with the music.

C. People wear casual clothes or dress less formally than they usually do at these concerts.

D. It’s essential to know the music that will be performed before attending a concert.

E. It is important to see all of the performers clearly.

F. The audience may sway, sing, or dance with the music.

G. This performance is led by a conductor.

The sentences that belong under the first category are C (rock concertgoers often “dress ‘down’”) and F. The sentences that belong under the second category are A, D, and G. The incorrect answers are B (neither pop/rock nor classical concerts require audiences to do anything, although it is acceptable to sing at a rock concert) and E (the passage does not state that either genre prioritizes seeing the performers).



7 Responses to TOEFL Reading Question Type – Categorization

  1. Altamash March 15, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    I wanna ask a grammar question okay
    what’s the difference between,”WITH” and “ALONG WITH”.
    such as
    1) He is staying with his family.
    2) He is staying along with his family.
    I mean which one is correct in written english

    • Kate Hardin
      Kate Hardin March 15, 2014 at 6:02 am #

      Hi there– great question! First of all, in every situation in which you can use “along with,” “with” is also correct. We can use “along with” when the two nouns in the sentence are doing the same thing.

      “He went on a trip along with his family.” means the same thing as “He and his family went on a trip.”
      “Add the milk along with the sugar.” means the same thing as “Add both the milk and the sugar.”

      We CANNOT say “along with” when “with” refers to a relationship that isn’t exactly equal–for instance, when you say “with” to tell what you did something with. For example, take the phrase “He likes to eat with his hands.” This sentence means the same thing as “He likes to eat USING his hands.” If you say, “He likes to eat along with his hands,” it sounds like he and his hands both like to eat together.

      Does that answer your question? Thanks for writing!

      • Altamash March 15, 2014 at 7:44 am #

        Alright,I got this thanks very much
        thanks for replying

  2. prak October 1, 2014 at 4:23 am #

    Hi, wanted to know why is choice G correct for classical music. Nowhere in the passage does it mention that ALL classical concerts have a conductor. It just says “if you attend a concert of symphony orchestra…”. There is no generalization for classical music having conductors.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 6, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

      You’re right that the passage doesn’t make a point of saying that all classical performances are led by a conductor, but neither does the answer choice. Notice that the word “all” isn’t in the answer choice. It is a generalization, but that is not the focus. The sentence doesn’t state that it is a rule. Meanwhile, the text says “If you attend…a symphony orchestra, follow the gestures that the conductor makes…” That sentence implies that at an orchestra, there will be a conductor. Even if it is sometimes not true, the text implies that it is normally the case, and says nothing about cases when it’s not true.

      It sounds like you might be analyzing the question too much, looking for small technicalities. The TOEFL doesn’t work like that. There is no word in the answer choice that is in disagreement with the text, so it is correct. If the answer choice said “all performances,” then yes, it would change the focus and message of the sentence, and then it would be incorrect, but that is not a likely TOEFL trap. A wrong answer on the TOEFL will be more clearly wrong than that.

  3. Carolina October 9, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    I’ve presented the TOEFL 2 times this year, and none of those tests, this type of question came in. I start to think that this doesn’t apply anymore, or what? or still appearing on TOEFL and is just a coincidence?.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

      Thank you for sharing this! It’s possible that these questions are becoming rarer, but they’ve always been quite rare. In the book of five official practice tests, for example, there are only 2 of these question out of 15 passages. That is, 3 tests in the book don’t include a categorization question at all. So I’d say it’s probably just coincidence—it’s fairly normal that these don’t appear on the test.

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