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A Strategy for TOEFL Reading Prose Summary Questions

toefl reading prose summary questions

Recently, a Magoosh student came to me with a common complaint. He was having trouble with TOEFL Reading Prose Summary questions.

This kind of question appears at the end of a TOEFL Reading question set. Prose summary questions can be tricky because they break the “order” of the other questions that come before them. The majority of TOEFL Reading questions cover the passage in sequential order, with questions about paragraph 1 first, followed by questions about the second paragraph, then questions about the third paragraph, and so on.

Then suddenly, at the end of the question set, you’re faced with a prose summary question. This question forces you to go all the way back to the beginning of the passage, working your way forward to the end of the passage all over again. And you have to do this “restart” at the end of the set when time is running low. This leaves a lot of students saying “Help! How do I do this? And how do I do it quickly enough?”

Use the Sequence of the Earlier TOEFL Reading Questions to Improve on Prose Summary

Before you get to those ending questions in the TOEFL Reading Section, pay close attention to the sequence of the earlier questions. As I told you, before the end portion of a TOEFL Reading question set, all of the questions are in sequential order. Each of these multiple choice questions takes you through the paragraphs of the passage in their original order.

Because of this sequence, the questions that follow a TOEFL Reading passage give you a chance to carefully look at each paragraph in detail before you get to the final summary question. You can use this to improve your performance on the Prose Summary question at the end.

As you look at each paragraph in detail and in order, don’t just look for the answers to the questions. Also look for the main ideas of each paragraph. And make note of any broader ideas that connect multiple paragraphs.

Stopping to make these “main idea” mental notes should take very little extra time, especially as you get more practiced in the skill. If it helps, try writing down a few notes on what you think the passage’s main ideas are, as you answer the questions in order.  I do mean just a few notes though. Note-taking can really slow you down in reading. So if you do take notes to improve your skills with prose summary questions, try to restrict your notes to a dozen words at most, fewer if possible.

Paying attention to the main ideas in this way works for a lot of students. Give this technique a try. You just might see your skills on TOEFL Reading Prose Summary questions improve a lot!

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