TOEFL Reading Section

TOEFL Reading Section – A Brief Overview

The TOEFL exam is divided into four sections namely, Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking, which are slightly different for the two formats of the test. The two formats of the test are iBT and PBT. The Reading and the Listening sections of TOEFL are common to both formats but they vary slightly in terms of structure. Let us discuss the Reading section for both formats individually.


The Reading Comprehension section has 3-4 reading passages which are not too lengthy. The passages you will find in the Reading section are of a general academic nature, similar to text you would find in a university text book. You are required to answer 36-56 questions based on the passages, the answers to which you will find in the passages itself. Therefore, you are not expected to have any special academic knowledge to attempt this section.

The Reading questions have the most variety. The two types of questions that occur the most are related to vocabulary and being able to find out facts from any given written information. Vocabulary questions test your lexical skills. Other questions aim to check whether you can understand the main idea of the text and your ability to infer the meaning of something by relating it to the connecting text. Reference to context questions, questions asking you to categorise the information given (filling the table) and to write summaries of the text are also a part of this section.

The main aim of this section is to assess the candidate’s ability to understand written English in terms of content, vocabulary, coherence and being able to report the same. You can find sample questions for this section by following the link: and downloading the file onto your computer. The Reading section along with the Listening section is used to test new questions by ETS. Thus, if you get 4 passages, one passage would be an experimental passage in which ETS in testing new question types that they could use in future tests. This passage would not be scored. Experts advise candidates to attempt each passage equally well as you have no way of knowing which passage contains the experimental questions.


The Reading section of PBT is slightly different from that of the iBT format of the test. You have to complete the Reading section within 55 minutes. This section has 50 questions which are divided equally among 5 passages. That means 10 questions per passage. Each passage will have an approximate length of 250-300 words. Most of the questions are multiple choice with a few fill-in-the-blanks and short answer questions.

Again, the questions test your ability to read the text and understand the main idea and content of the text. The questions will also check whether you can gather factual information from a given piece of writing. You should be able to answer questions based on reference-to-context and inference skills. Vocabulary will form a major percentage of the total questions. These questions are multiple choice questions which ask you to infer the meaning of a word in the passage and select one answer from the options given which is closest to it. Here are some sample questions on vocabulary by ETS – In the end, you could be asked to write a summary of the passage you’ve read and give a conclusion to it. Follow this link to find sample questions:

Tips for Improving Reading Skills

The only way to improve reading skills is to actually sit down and read. Read as much as you can. Do read a good English newspaper as that will help you build a good vocabulary for the exam. Apart from that, indulge in reading novels, magazines, journals and other written publications. At first, if you are having a problem with vocabulary, make a habit of checking the dictionary to find out the meanings of words. Later on, try to infer the meanings of words you do not recognise and then cross-check with the dictionary.

This should give you an idea about the Reading test and you can also refer to the official website ( for more information.