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TOEFL Reading Question Type – Inference

For inference questions, you’ll need to use the stated information in the text to draw a conclusion about unstated information.

There are a couple of common themes among inference questions. For example, they often deal with a “cause and effect” situation by stating the effect of a change. The question will then ask you to identify the cause of that effect.

Similarly, you encounter a partial comparison in the text, which you will then have to complete in the question. Look out for phrases like “now” and “for the first time”, as well as general comparison words like “than” and “relative to.” If you see one of these in the reading, it may be a hint that you’ll have to answer an inference question about it later.

When answering inference questions, be careful not to infer too much. If you assume information that’s not in the passage, you will be wrong. Even though the correct answer will not be stated in the passage, be sure that you can find concrete evidence to support it.

Let’s look at an example (source). For this exercise, context is important. I recommend that you click the link above and read the whole passage; if you don’t want to, here’s a short summary: In this passage, scientists try to figure out why dinosaurs and other animals suddenly went extinct. They believe that the amount of the element Iridium in certain samples of border rock, or rock found just beneath the earth’s surface, may help them answer this question.


10. The paragraph implies that a special explanation of the Iridium in the boundary clay is needed because

(A) the Iridium in microscopic meteorites reaching Earth during the Cretaceous period would have been incorporated into Earth’s core

(B) the Iridium in the boundary clay was deposited much more than a million years ago

(C) the concentration of Iridium in the boundary clay is higher than in microscopic meteorites

(D) the amount of Iridium in the boundary clay is too great to have come from microscopic meteorites during the time the boundary clay was deposited

Answer choice (A) is tempting because it seems related to the second sentence of the paragraph. But earlier in the complete text, (not in the paragraph above) the passage tells us that the Cretaceous period was the time when dinosaurs lived. Meanwhile, a sentence in the paragraph above says that iridium was included in the Earth’s core during the formation of the Earth, when it was “cooling and consolidating.” This was long before the Cretaceous, so we can’t assume that iridium also moved to the core during the Cretaceous.

(B) is incorrect because we’re talking about how long it took for the clay to be deposited (about 1 million years), not how long ago it was deposited. That’s discussed in another paragraph, so you may have had trouble with this one if you didn’t read the whole passage.

(C) doesn’t make any sense. If the iridium in the planet’s rock was deposited by meteorites, then the meteorites must have a higher concentration of iridium than the planet.

(D) “However, other reliable evidence suggests that the deposition of the boundary clay could not have taken one million years.” It would have taken at least a million years to create as high a concentration of iridium as there is, yet scientists are pretty sure that the process took less than that. This is the correct answer, since it is definitely stated in the passage.

The inference is very, very small. Don’t assume too much! The best way to learn exactly how much you can assume is to practice, practice, practice! 🙂


8 Responses to TOEFL Reading Question Type – Inference

  1. sonia November 13, 2014 at 11:11 am #


    Could you please recommend what is the best strategy for TOEFL reading section. Is it good to read the whole passage OR we should directly jump to questions. If there is any post describing the strategy, it would be great if you can share the link.


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 14, 2014 at 11:30 am #

      That’s a good question! Both strategies can be effective—which you choose depends on your skill level and comfort. If you are advanced enough, I recommend going straight to the questions. You can read more about it here:

  2. Divyendra April 11, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    Hi Kate & Team, I am facing difficulty to get hold of the allowed leeway of making logical inferences in TOEFL. Having attempted GRE(Magoosh student :)), I am aware that in GRE you can only infer from the information what is stated. For example, if the passage tells that there is less calcium in water than in milk, then we can infer that milk has higher calcium than water. However, the case in TOEFL seems to be different. I am having hard time getting attuned to the latitude of a logical jump in TOEFL I am prepping using the Cambridge book. If we observe a practice question they have given: (Legally Available using Google Books)
    Q.Owners of famous and valuable paintings have recently been commissioning talented artists to paint copies of these art treasures to exhibit in their homes. What is the most likely reason an owner of a valuable painting might want to exhibit a copy instead of the original?
    A)To trick the experts
    B)To foil would-be-thieves
    C)To encourage talented artists
    D)To enjoy buying fake paintings
    The answer is ‘B’. It is an logical ‘guess’, but not an inference I believe. What is your advice on if these type of guesses would be tested and required by the TOEFL exam.
    Your advised would be highly considered. Thanks.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 18, 2016 at 12:22 pm #


      We love hearing from Magooshers like you. Our students always ask the greatest questions! 🙂

      My main advice on these types of logical guesses is not to worry about them on the TOEFL. The question you show above is not a very TOEFL-like question at all. Logical guesses at the “most likely reason” for an event or a behavior simply don’t appear on the real exam.

      Your first thought on this was right, actually– the TOEFL, like GRE, only asks for inferences from directly stated information. And unlike the GRE, TOEFL inference questions are Only associated with longer prompts– full length Reading passages, or full-length audio tracks of lectures and conversations. (That’s another reason the question above is not TOEFL-like.)

      To get a good look at what real TOEFL inference questions are like, check out the various free and affordably priced official prep materials from ETS. You may also want to consider getting a subscription to Magoosh TOEFL, if you haven’t already. We put a lot of careful research into our practice matrrials, so that all questions– including inference questions– are very TOEFL-like.

  3. ruchi June 12, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

    Dear sir

    Im not able to answer the inference questions.

    Kindly help me by providing the tipes or stratergies

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 18, 2016 at 3:22 am #

      Hi Ruchi,

      Inference questions can be hard! In this type of question, the answer is not directly stated anywhere in the reading passage and you have to fully understand the entire text to be able to answer correctly. This is because it requires you to draw conclusions based on information that is given in the passage overall. These are certainly tricky for most students, and not just you, so you’re in good company! 🙂

      Can you perhaps articulate more about why they are hard? Is it a matter of reading comprehension or perhaps something more to do with the skill of inference itself? If you can analyze more deeply what it is about these questions that is hard, then I am in a much better position to give you some good advice. 🙂

  4. Chaitrali June 23, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

    How much time should you take approximately to solve an inference question?I am asking this because they consume a lot of time.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 25, 2016 at 5:10 am #

      Hi Chaitrali 🙂

      In general, you want to avoid spending too much time on a single question. Per passage, you want to have the following pacing in mind:

      * 10 minutes to read each passage
      * 8 minutes to answer the questions
      * 2 minutes to review.

      That said, you should try to spend no more than a minute on an individual question, including inference questions.

      Hope this helps!

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