Kate Hardin

Fun TOEFL Reading Practice

The last few weeks have been pretty intense since I’ve been focusing on grammar and composition. To switch things up, try this TOEFL Reading exercise based on a less-serious-than-normal article from a series called “What If.” In each installment of this series, the author tries to answer a silly, complicated, or interesting question scientifically.

Please click this link to access the article. I will not include the whole article below, but rather only the parts that I directly reference in questions.  I hope you enjoy the article. Let me know what you think in the comments!

This activity should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

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So while there are other animals that use projectiles, we’re just about the only animal that can grab a random object and reliably nail a target. In fact, we’re so good at it that some researchers have suggested rock-throwing played a central role in the evolution of the modern human brain.[3][4]

1. Which of the following is closest to the meaning of the word “nail” as it is used in this section?

a. fasten

b. hit

c. a small piece of metal

d. a body part

2. According to the second paragraph, why do some researchers find it interesting that humans are good at throwing?

a. It explains the popularity of ball sports.

b. It shows that humans and chimpanzees have some traits in common.

c. It may reveal something about humans’ brains.

d. It is a common defense mechanism of modern humans.

Throwing is hard. In order to deliver a baseball to a batter, a pitcher has to release the ball at exactly the right point in the throw. A timing error of half a millisecond in either direction is enough to cause the ball to miss the strike zone.[5]

To put that in perspective, it takes about five milliseconds for the fastest nerve impulse to travel the length of the arm.[6] That means that when your arm is still rotating toward the correct position, the signal to release the ball is already at your wrist. In terms of timing, this is like a drummer dropping a drumstick from the 10th story and hitting a drum on the ground on the correct beat.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

3. Why does the author include the example of the drummer dropping a drumstick?

a. To show how remarkable humans’ ability to throw is

b. To offer a counter-example to his point

c. As a joke

d. To offer a real-world example of his point

I ran through the basic aerodynamic calculations for a baseball thrown at various speeds. I will give these in units of giraffes: [image]

The average person can probably throw a baseball at least three giraffes high: [image]

Someone with a reasonably good arm could manage five: [image]

A pitcher with an 80 mph fastball could manage ten giraffes: [image]

Aroldis Chapman, the holder of the world record for fastest recorded pitch (105 mph), could in theory launch a baseball 14 giraffes high: [image]

But what about projectiles other than a baseball? Obviously, with the aid of tools like slings, crossbows, or the curved xistera scoops in jai alai, we can launch projectiles much faster than that. But for this question, let’s assume we stick to bare-handed throwing.

A baseball is probably not the ideal projectile, but it’s hard to find speed data on other kinds of thrown objects. Fortunately, a British javelin thrower named Roald Bradstock held a random object throwing competition, in which he threw everything from dead fish to an actual kitchen sink. Bradstock’s experience gives us a lot of useful data (and a lot of other data, too). In particular, it suggests a potentially superior projectile: A golf ball.

Few professional athletes have been recorded throwing golf balls. Fortunately, Bradstock has, and he claims a record throw (to first contact with the ground) of 170 yards.[7] This involved a running start, but even so, it’s reason to think that a golf ball might work better than a baseball. It makes sense; the limiting factor in baseball pitches is the torque on the elbow, and the lighter golf ball might allow the pitching arm to move slightly faster.

The speed improvement from using a golf ball instead of a baseball would probably not be very large, but it seems plausible that a professional pitcher with some time to practice could throw a golf ball faster than a baseball.

If so, based on aerodynamic calculations, Aroldis Chapman could probably throw a golf ball about sixteen giraffes high: [image]

This is probably about the maximum possible altitude for a thrown object.

… unless you count the technique by which any five-year-old can beat all these records easily: [image]

4. What object is the person “with a reasonably good arm” throwing?

a. A baseball

b. A giraffe

c. A golf ball

d. The passage doesn’t say

5. Which of the following sentences best summarizes the main idea of this sentence? “the limiting factor in baseball pitches is the torque on the elbow, and the lighter golf ball might allow the pitching arm to move slightly faster.”

a. Throwing baseballs is easier than throwing golf balls.

b. Baseballs are very difficult to throw.

c. Baseballs are intended for throwing, whereas golf balls are not.

d. Golf balls are lighter than baseballs, so they can be thrown faster.

6. Fill in the table based on the article.







Answer Key:

1. b; 2. c; 3. a; 4. a; 5. d; 6. Top row: Average person, baseball. Middle row: Baseball, ten giraffes. Bottom row: sixteen giraffes.




  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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