As with other reading comprehension tests, the TOEFL expects you to utilize the information you have in a passage in answering several questions. Hence, being able to understand what you read in English is key, but more important is the ability to know the reading strategy to apply to different question types.  WHY? Not all the question types expect you the read the text in the same way. For some questions, you may have to consume the entire paragraph at a time while others would require you to focus on a tiny portion alone.

A quick sneak peek—You do not have to read the passage in-depth before dealing with the questions directly. These are the obvious reasons:

  •  The questions are chronologically aligned with the passage.
  • You are often directed by arrows, pointing you to the precise paragraph from which to get your answer to each question.

So, why waste that much time reading everything when you only have about 20 minutes to answer 13-14 questions?

Now,  Let’s dive into all the question types as well as the well-itemized approach for all of them.



This question is presented in any of the following ways:

  • "According to the passage what is true about XYZ"
  • "Based on the passage the author says what is responsible for XYZ"?

Note that the XYZ as mentioned here is just a placeholder for the keywords the question often comes with.

  • Use the keywords to locate answers in the text.
  • Once you see the detail around the keywords, read and paraphrase it to help you understand since the correct answer may not use the exact keywords.
  • Choose an answer that accurately captures the details you just read.

Be careful about answers that talk about other portions of the text


Answers that oppose the details you just read around the keywords.  This explains why you should remember to play POE (Process of Elimination), removing wrong options so you can focus more particularly on the close options.     

There is another kind of SPECIFIC DETAIL that comes with a NOT/EXCEPT.

For this sort, you are to justify each of the options you are given by Scanning the specified paragraph for the keywords on each question. 

Options that are correctly rephrased in the text are wrong.

The correct answer cannot be justified in the passage.


You are expected to get another word that is similar in meaning to the highlighted word.

"Which choice is closest in meaning to XYX as used in the passage?"

"Which choice is most similar in meaning to the highlighted word?"

  • Ensure to read the word in context, which means that you must read the information before and after that word.
  • Predict the replacement of that word by yourself: This helps you put the word in context better. Remember that every word in English has a first meaning and a second meaning. Sometimes, the given word is used in its first meaning; other times, this is not the case, so you must read in context to figure out whether the word has taken up a new meaning to suit the story it appears in.
  • Choose the option that matches your prediction.                                                                                   

"Why did the author mention XYZ?"

"What is the purpose of XYZ in the passage?"

At this point, you are required to determine why any sentence, phrase, or word is used in the location it was used. Sometimes, this word or phrase is mentioned to support a previous point/illustrate a previous point, to make a point itself, or even to oppose or contradict a point.

  • Therefore, you must capture what is mentioned before and after the given word or phrase. This helps you figure out the author's purpose for adding that word or phrase.
  • Predict this reason yourself after grasping the story around that sentence/word/phrase
  • Evaluate your options in search of what matches your prediction.                                                                                                                                                                       

However, when the question asks you for

THE PURPOSE OF A PARAGRAPH, you are expected to capture all that is talked about in that paragraph.

Your answer must summarize the dominant information of the paragraph and not what is said in one small portion alone. This looks very much like a main idea question, except that this time, you are to only focus on the main idea of a paragraph.


"Which of the following best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence? Wrong choices change the meaning or leave out important details in the sentence."

I consider this question the easiest. You are only meant to rephrase the highlighted information, putting it in another way without losing its core meaning.

  • So, once you spot the sentence, interpret it in your head and rephrase it in a few ways on your own.
  • Choose the option that captures the sentence without leaving out any important point or adding any detail that is not stated in the highlighted sentence. 

Be wary of answers that turn the statement on its head, directly opposing what the highlighted sentence says. These can be tricky because they always seem to use the essential keywords in the sentence. But, check that they contradict the "idea" expressed. 

Be wary, also, of answers that add a detail or point not indicated in the sentence at all.                                                                                       


"What does the author suggest about XYZ?"

"What does the author imply by saying XYZ"

“What can you infer about the author's claim about XYZ”

Perhaps the good thing about TOEFL inference questions is that they are often specific by giving you keywords so that you should only read what you have around the keywords to figure out that idea the author did not explicitly state.

To do this well,

  • Try not to go outside the scope of the portion you have been directed to and
  • Try not to be extreme with your inference. Sometimes your knowledge of specific details can suffice as the correct answers to inference questions are often as close to explicitly stated information as possible.

In short, a correct inference is that idea to which the author makes tacit reference without stating point-blank.                                                                                                                             


Here you have lettered squares at different points in a particular paragraph. The question then expects you to insert a given sentence, which comes with the question, into any of the squares such that it is at the most logical position in the paragraph.

In other words, when you read along with the sentence before and after the inserted idea, there is a coherent and logical connection.

To deal with this,

  • First, read and understand the given sentence.
  • Find out unclear pronouns or nouns--things that need clarity.
  • Note the transition word used in the sentence to be inserted.
  • Plug the sentence into all the squares, remembering that the unclear pronoun must be clarified by a sentence immediately before the inserted sentence and the transition must connect easily to a previous or subsequent sentence.
  • Choose the square that matches the sentence.                                                                                                  

On this question, an introductory summary is first given and you should provide other summaries that capture the dominant points made in the passage.

Your summary must also connect logically with the introductory summary you are already provided with.

You often have about 6 options to choose from, but the question would provide spaces for just 3. It means other options are wrong

  • because they only capture minor ideas in the text or
  • because they contradict the text or
  • because they cannot be properly aligned with the introductory summary the question already gives you.

So, ensure to match up each option you evaluate to the introductory summary you have before dragging it into any of the three blanks.

I hope this has helped you see that you can manage your time and provide correct answers when you focus on and apply respective strategies to particular question types.

Check out a subsequent post where I take you through some questions using all the tips I have itemized here.

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