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Meet the TOEFL Reading Section

The reading section is designed to test how well you understand and interpret college-level academic writing similar to that found in introductory textbooks. The reading section of the TOEFL will probably be more difficult than most other tests you’ve taken, because not only is the language very advanced, but the texts are also about very specific topics that will probably be new for you.

There will be three or four passages in the reading section. This brings the total amount of time in the reading section to 60 or 80 minutes (20 minutes per passage). Although there are many, many possible subjects that the passages may come from, you don’t need to know anything before the test about these topics in order to answer the questions. All the information you need will be written in the passage.

You will be able to read each passage before answering the questions that relate to it. After you’ve read the passage, clicking “next” will open the first question in a window next to the passage. Many of the questions are specific to a particular paragraph; if this is the case, the relevant paragraph will be marked with an arrow. Even when a question only relates to one paragraph, you’ll be able to view the entire passage if you want.

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Most of the questions in the reading section have exactly one correct answer. The most important exception to this is the table questions, which will give you five or more answer choices, of which you must pick all of the correct answers and organize them properly within the table. We’ll deal with table questions in greater detail soon. Other questions with two or three answers are very rare, and they are clearly marked. There are special instructions that say “CHOOSE TWO answers” for those questions.

Finally, be aware that some of the reading passages may use technical vocabulary that you aren’t expected to know. These words will be underlined, and clicking on one of these words will show the definition for that word. But you will never be asked about the definition of one of those words in the questions. The words that the TOEFL asks about are all used in general English or explained in the passage.

If you want to learn about the TOEFL reading section in video format, you can watch the video below. 🙂

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5 Responses to Meet the TOEFL Reading Section

  1. Lama August 31, 2014 at 11:26 am #


    I have couple of questions:

    1- In Magoosh Format of the TOEFL video, it mentions that there will be 3-5 passages, and here it is mentioned 3-4. Which is true?

    2- Does the difficulty level varies between passages?

    3- What is the time to answer each question. And does it change from one passage questions to another?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      Happy to clarify!

      1 – Normally, there are 3 or 4 passages. In the past, ETS has given 5 passages, but they haven’t done that in the past couple of years. It’s possible they will start doing it again, but it’s unlikely (I mention in the lesson video that 5 is possible, but you almost definitely won’t see it). You can expect 3 or 4.

      2 – It can vary a little bit, but not because ETS is trying to vary the difficulties. Often, when test takers feel there is a difference in difficulty, it’s because of their knowledge or interests. All passages are considered equal for scoring purposes.

      3 – Different questions will take you different amounts of time, but the range is about 30 to 90 seconds per question. The timer starts at the beginning of the reading section and includes all of the reading and questions. If you have three passages, you will have 60 minutes total. It will not be divided up into the passages and questions. So you could, for example, spend 30 minutes on the first passage and its questions, then 15 minutes on the second and 15 minutes on the third (I don’t recommend that!). That is why pacing is very important for the reading section.

  2. Shona September 11, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi! Can you tell me whether they announce at the very beginning of the Reading Section how many texts there will be in total and how long the candidates have or do you just have to keep answering until no more texts appear?

    • David Recine September 20, 2015 at 8:47 am #

      Hi Shona.

      Great question! Your hunch is correct— At the beginning of the Reading section, they announce how much time there will be in total, and how much time you have to complete them.They even tell you how much time you should spend on each individual passage!



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