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.