Common difficulties TOEFL candidates encounter with the TOEFL Reading section

The Reading section is the first section of the TOEFL, it tests your ability to understand college-level academic reading skills.

The Reading section can be a bit intimidating considering the fact that it has a number of passages that will require candidates to read all and answer questions just within 54 to 72 minutes.

There are some common difficulties candidates encounter with in this section and as expected, these difficulties end up lowering their scores Knowing about these difficulties and learning how to tackle them before your set an exam date will help you ace the Reading section of the TOEFL exam.

Difficulty with time management

Many test takers find it challenging to complete the reading section within the given time limit.

Reading section format recap:

The Reading section has 3-4 passages; each passage is about 600-700 words. You will be asking 10 questions for each passage, with a given time of 52-72 minutes to finish the entire section.

You only have about 18 minutes for each passage, to read and to finish all 10 questions. While for some people the test time is sufficient to finish the whole section plus double checking each answers, for most others, this time is barely enough.

The best way to deal with time management is by doing lots of reading practices before the test day. You don’t just read a passage to answer questions but you also do that with strategic timing. The ability to finish a section within duration of limited time is a skill that you can learn.

In fact, it is advisable that you finish reading and answering the questions before the time allocated to the sections elapses. Since you can go back to your answers as long as your Reading test period has not timed out, you can use the extra time you have to go back and go through your answers.

When it comes to time management, there are different strategies that could work for different people; you only have to find out what works best for you. For instance, you can try skimming through the questions before you start reading the passage so that as you are reading the passage, you will be seeking answers to the questions at the same time. If you think this will work for you, it is important that you practice it multiple times before your test proper or you can as well devise another strategy that will help you manage your time better.

Difficulty understanding technical passages

The Reading difficulty level for the TOEFL test can be compared to that of an introductory undergraduate college textbook. The contexts in the passages are not only limited to North America but also other regions and countries such as Australia, United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Passages in the Reading section typically cover a wide range of topics from different fields such as Arts, Sciences, Social Sciences, History, Technology, Government etc. Understanding a passage may be difficult for you especially if the topic is one that you are not familiar with. However, you don’t necessarily have to understand it all.

The most important thing is to learn the different types of questions under the TOEFL Reading section and then learn the strategies for answering them. There are up to 10 different types of questions under the TOEFL Reading section such as the vocabulary questions, inference, reference, summary, negative factual questions, purpose, sentence insertion, complete the table questions etc. You have to learn a detailed way of tackling each of these question types during your practice period.

Coming across strange vocabulary

Considering the fact that the passages in the TOEFL Reading section cover a wide range of topics which cuts across different fields of study and regions of the world, it is common that candidates will come across unfamiliar words during the test.

What do you do when such happens? The test does provide definition for some words that are especially rare. You will find such words underlined, click on them to get the word definition. You can also go through the sentence to get a clue of the meaning of the word. Sometimes, you can derive the meaning of a particular word by reading the whole paragraph. Reading through the paragraph could provide a context which would give meaning to an unfamiliar word.

Getting stuck or caught up in a particular detail

One of the mistakes you would make will be to get stuck trying to find the meaning of a particular word. While it is important that you understand the meaning of a word don’t get stuck trying to do so, that you lose sight of the central idea of the passage.

There are cases whereby candidates get caught up in small details or facts from the passage that are sometimes irrelevant. The result of this is that they waste more time on that small portion of the passage. You should read to grasp the main idea of the passage and the summary of the paragraphs and then move on.

Missing some relevant keywords

Missing keywords is one reason why it is important that you don’t just rush through your passage. While it is advisable that you don’t sleep on it to save yourself time, you should also not be in too much haste.

Some people make this mistake such that they miss some keywords even when answering the questions. For instance, it is common for some candidates to overlook relevant words such as ‘Except’ or ‘Not’ when answering the negative factual questions. The result of this is that they end up answering the questions as if they were positive factual questions.

You should also read carefully so that you don’t overlook the transition words which are important for answering the “purpose’ questions.

Not being able to identify the main idea

While some candidates overlook certain relevant keywords, others totally miss the main idea of the passage and this can cause lots of problems when it comes to answering the questions.

TOEFL Reading questions no matter how tricky, are often based on the central idea and once you get it wrong with the central idea, you will get most of the answers wrong.

You are most likely to find the main ideas of an essay embedded either in the beginning or in the ending part of the essay. This means you should concentrate when reading the first and the last paragraphs as you are more likely to find the main ideas of the passage in either or both paragraphs. You should however know that this will not always be the case as there are few cases where you will find the central idea appear in the middle of the passage.

You can as well eliminate the unnecessary information and the minor details and in this way, you will be left with only the main ideas.

You can use skimming and scanning technique only if you have trained your brain to pick up the main idea of the passage using that technique, otherwise, you should read through diligently while taking note of the time.

Skipping the review button

When writing the TOEFL test, you have four important buttons displayed at the right top corner of your screen. These are the ‘Review’, ‘Help’, ‘Back’ and ‘Next’ buttons. Most times, test candidates underrate the importance of the Review button or simply don’t know the use of the button thus, they skip it. This can result to a problem for a candidate.

Clicking on the Review button lists out the questions you have from the Reading section and goes further to show you those that you have answered and those that you haven’t answered. This will help you keep records of questions you skipped intentionally or by mistake and gives you an opportunity to answer them.

Also, using the same button, you can jump to any question you want to answer without having to click back and forth using the ‘Back’ and ‘Next’ buttons. It saves you more time however, you should be careful in using this button. Jumping from one question to another could cause disorganization. It is more advisable that you answer the questions in a sequential order before you make use of the Review button to revisit unanswered questions.

Summary: The key to dealing with these difficulties common with the TOEFL Reading section

Many TOEFL candidates find the Reading section quite challenging and intimidating however, you don’t have to be intimidated by this section. To ace this section, it is important that you know what to expect and get yourself prepared ahead of time.

Practice for the test by reading academic texts. It will be helpful to make conscious efforts to strengthen your vocabulary. Taking notes is not restricted to the Listening section alone, you can take notes or make use of your scrap paper in the Reading section as well. Avoid wasting time trying to figure out the answer to one question, you can move on to the next and come back to that one later. You can also make use of contextual clues to decipher words you do not know their meaning.

What’s New about the TOEFL iBT Test?

As TOEFL test-takers may notice, an announcement was made on the ETS official website addressing some major changes on the TOEFL test starting August 1st of 2019 In the announcement, ETS only mentioned the format changes but is that all they changed in the new TOEFL iBT test? Here’s what you will need to know before you actually take the test.

Reading Section

The total of reading passages in the reading section has now been shortened from 14 questions to 10 questions, which means you will get three or four passages to read. Although this might sound like a great news, you might still get the same amount of passages as the old TOEFL test because there will still be an “experimental” passage. “Experimental” passages are what ETS used to try out their new question banks and see if these questions function the same as the other passages in the test. These “experimental” passages will not be counted toward your final grade. However, you will need to be focused because you will not know which one of them will be the “experimental” passage.

Even though the length of the section has been shortened, the context maintains the same. If you have taken the TOEFL test multiple times before or done several TPOs before, you might notice that the topics in the reading section repeat itself. From this, we can easily conclude that it is important to master these repetitive topics because the possibility of seeing these topics are higher than usual. Frequent topics like Jurassic Period, Mass Extinction, Organisms and Evolution, Renaissance Period and Industrialization can be found easily in previous TOEFL tests. Therefore, it never hurts to practice TOEFL test by doing the TPOs over and over again.

Listening Section

One major change that worth to be mentioned is that the British accent has been used more than before. Moreover, the British accent is now thicker than what we’ve heard in the old TOEFL iBT test. For many of you might think that accent change is not a big deal. However, for test-takers who rely strongly on a specific accent, you must be extra careful from now on. A way to keep yourself in the British accent environment will be listening to broadcastings like UK radio channels or watch BBC where British accents are being used in their content. Fortunately, topics in the listening section are also the same as usual. Revisit the TPOs and get an idea of what kind of questions you will be facing. Practice constantly even when there are no listeners to help you judge your answer.

The format of the listening section has also been shortened. It was originally 34 questions with 4 lectures. Now it is 28 questions with 3 lectures only. Thus, the listening section used to take 90 minutes but now it changes into 50 minutes only. The basic format of the listening section 1 dialogue with 2 lectures following with another dialogue with 1 lecture. This change makes the process easier for test-takers. Unfortunately, if you are unlucky, you will still be facing an “experimental” listening comprehension question and that means there will be an extra lecture needing to be listened and extra 17 questions to be answered.

Speaking Section

The speaking section is the one section that has the most changes. In the old TOEFL test, there are 6 different parts in this section: Personal Preference, Choice, Fit and Explain, General/Specific, Problem/Solution and Summary. However, in the new TOEFL test, ETS eliminated 2 of them. Consequently, there are only 4 parts of speaking questions now. You might be wondering which parts they deleted. ETS decided to cross out the Personal Preference part and the Problem/Solution part. Nevertheless, the degree of difficulty becomes higher in the Choice part.

For example, in the old TOEFL test, questions in the Choice part might be something like:

Some people like to dress up on a daily basis. Others prefer only to dress up on special occasions. Which do you prefer?

Now, the questions might be like:

What is the most important invention of the last 100 years?

The questions in the new TOEFL test are deeper in its sense. It is nothing like the old TOEFL questions where the questions are more relative to our daily life. The new questions require test-takers to be more professional in their reasoning skills. Test-takers need to think fast within limited time and provide constructive ideas to support their statements.

In the Summary part of the speaking section, it is harder to answer than before because the format of the question has now been changed. In the past tests, the question in this section is very clear on what to ask and test-takers can simply read off the phrases used in the question to start with their answer. However, ETS noticed this pattern and decided to make the question vague, thus test-takers will not be able to read off and will have to come up with their own opening of their answer. For example,

Old TOEFL test question:

Using points and examples from the lecture. Explain the difference between the innovation of the mobile phone and the innovation of the radio.

New TOEFL test question:

Using points and examples from the lecture. Explain the two different types of items.

You can see now in the new TOEFL test, ETS takes out the keywords in the question so that the test-takers will need to rely on their own notes completely. If they misheard anything, the question won’t be there to provide any extra information anymore.

Other changes

The interface of the test has a minor change too. First of all, the spacing of the questions is now closer than before. That means it will be harder to scan through the question, especially for fast-readers. With a closer spacing, the possibility of misunderstanding the context will be higher. Therefore, test-takers need to be more mindful when reading. The second change of the interface is about the timer. The timer used to be a long horizontal blue line. However, it is not the case anymore. In the new TOEFL test, the timer is now a stop-watch that counts down like an alarm clock.

TOEFL Speaking Q1 Lesson

By StudyQB Teachers

New TOEFL Speaking Task 1 Question:
Should countries give financial incentives to car companies that make vehicles that use alternative fuels (other than oil and gas)? Explain your answer.

Accent: Received Pronunciation English (BBC English)

New TOEFL Speaking Task 1 Question:
Some countries allow homeschooling. What’s your opinion about this?

Accent: Neutral American accent