Lucas Fink

TOEFL Tuesday: Reading EMERGENCY Advice

There are a few common emergency situations on the TOEFL, but there’s one in particular that happens during the reading section: not having enough time. If you run out of time, you lose points not because you don’t understand, but because you simply don’t answer questions. And that’s a terrible feeling!

But managing time during TOEFL reading is difficult. You will get 60 or 80 minutes to read and answer the questions on three or four texts. And because the clock isn’t broken up, it’s possible to accidentally spend 50 minutes on the first two texts, then have only 10 minutes for a final text and its questions.

In a situation like that, what do you do? You can’t read the whole text then answer all the questions. If you try that, you will have only a few minutes to answer questions—not enough to answer them all—but it’s only the questions that get you points.

So instead, you will skip directly to the questions. Start getting points fast!

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Step 1: Answer Vocabulary Questions

Vocabulary questions are easy to recognize, and there are many of them. There will be at least three vocabulary questions within the set of questions about the final text—sometimes as many as five, and they all look like this: “The word “xxxxxx” in the passage is closest in meaning to…”

Before you answer any other questions, answer those vocabulary questions, because they’re not really about the text. If you know the meaning of the word, you can generally answer the question without reading the passage. In other words, they are only about your vocabulary knowledge, and they are worth as many points as all the other questions! This is the fastest way to gather points.


Step 2: Answer while reading

After you have answered all the vocabulary questions, go back to the first non-vocabulary question. Don’t read text first; just go straight to the first unanswered question. Read the question, and note the key words. Then it’s time to start reading, but again, you’re not going to read the full text. Simply read until you find the answer to question one (or question two if question one was a vocabulary question).

Continue like this, going back and forth between question and text until time runs out. After you read the paragraph that’s related to a question, go back and answer the question, rather than continuing to read.  Your goal is to answer as many questions as possible, so stay focused on the questions!


  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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