CRACKING THE TOEFL READING SECTION: SKIMMING THE PASSAGE

Many students are often very perplexed as how to finish the TOEFL reading portion of the test on time.  On a TOEFL reading exam, you can expect anywhere from 3-5 reading sections.  Each reading section is broken down, as follows:

  • 1 page-long reading article on an academic topic (history, science, the arts, philosophy)
  • 13-14 corresponding questions
  • 20 minutes to read the passage and answer all questions

Reading on the TOEFL exam is not necessarily “normal reading.” In other words, students don’t have time to read the reading section in-depth, so a very essential skill is necessary: skimming.  Skimming is basically reading quickly for a general understanding of the passage, taking note of main ideas and overall organization.  How does one go about doing this?  Well, when you are skimming, keep the following in mind:

  • Read only the first two or three sentences of the first paragraph and the first and last sentences of each paragraph after that. Move quickly across the words as you read them – do not be tempted to read the passage word for word.
  • Take note of key words. As you skim each TOEFL reading article, you will probably notice words that are repeated or words that are synonymous with the main idea of the passage as a whole.  Taking note of key words, which are words that define the topic and supporting points of the passage, is crucial on the TOEFL.  More than likely, questions that follow will ask specifically about key words and if you have an idea of where they are in the passage, you will be able to answer the questions faster.
  • Don’t be afraid to take notes. Overall, taking brief notes on a reading passage can be very helpful because it will give you an idea of where to find specific bits of information in each passage.  Sometimes, it might even be useful to give each paragraph a word or phrase that best summarizes its main idea.  Keep in mind that all note-taking will have to be on a separate piece of paper because the TOEFL iBt is now given on a computer.

When you finish skimming each passage, which generally takes about 1-2 minutes, you should have an outline of the passage in your mind.  This outline will serve as a guide when answering the bulk of the TOEFL reading questions and hopefully, a tool to get you to finish each 20-minute reading section on time!

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