How to Read TOEFL Reading Comprehension Questions

We will now discuss two approaches to ace reading passages on the TOEFL.

  • 1. Focus on the main idea
  • 2. Find Key information

Those two approaches, used in conjunction, will prepare you to read and understand passages on the TOEFL in the limited time you are given. The time limit, about 1.5 minutes per question, is one of the greatest obstacles for a TOEFL taker. Therefore, the primary goal is to complete the two tasks above as quickly as possible. That is why the key to a high TOEFL score is skimming.

Focus on the Main Idea

Think of the main idea as the combination of two things: On the one hand it is the main point that the passage is communicating, and on the other, the purpose of the passage or its type - to explain, to argue, or to report.

Scan the question and answers

Once you scroll down to the bottom of the passage, you will be able to view the first question. You can also page forward and back to see other questions. We recommend you to quickly scan through the first few questions and answers to develop a general sense of the focus of the questions and reinforce your understanding of the main idea of the passage.

Find Key Information

Finding key information requires you to understand the structure of a passage. Let's start with the conclusion.

The conclusion of a passage or an essay usually repeats everything that was said in the beginning and the middle - it leaves out all the unimportant stuff. Reading the conclusion first won't tell you exactly what the passage says, but it will give you a pretty good idea.

The passages on the TOEFL are typically shortened versions of longer passages. The conclusion may refer to points or contain information that seems irrelevant based on the rest of the passage. A good conclusion will end with a final thought that can apply to the whole passage.

When reading the concluding paragraph, observe these two rules:

  1. Start from the beginning and read until you get to the topic sentence. Usually this will happen right away, but there may be additional details that you don't need.
  1. Read the last sentence because it will tell you the final thought that can be applied to the whole passage

The introduction of the passage presents you with the topic and in most cases the purpose of the passage. Just like the conclusion, you need to be aware of what to pay close attention to.

The directions for reading the introduction paragraph are somewhat similar:

  1. Read until you get to the main point; it should occur within the first two sentences.
  1. Read the last sentence carefully while skimming the middle.

Identify Keyword Signals and Locate Specifics

The body of the passage typically contains the most detail and therefore the least amount of key information. You don't want to completely skim or even skip the body though, because here is where a lot of points are made and a lot of information is given although these may not be the main ideas of the passage. Many questions on the TOEFL will ask about a certain group of points but not the main idea.

Here are some rules for reading the body paragraphs:

  1. Always read the first sentence carefully! The topic sentence should alert you to exactly what will follow.
  1. Skim the rest of the paragraph, looking for "signals" that will alert you to key information

To find key information within the paragraphs in general, you should pay special attention to keyword signals.

Keyword Signals

You need to pay attention to certain words or phrases that will alert you to where key information is in the passage. Sometimes the author may change direction or begin to emphasize a different point. Some of these key words are the following:


For Example


Those words all support a particular notion or introduce a main point. Next are some words that introduce a point that is contrary to the point made before the word occurs:




On the other hand

Keeping an eye out for those words, both positive and negative, will alert you to points the author is trying to make, and to information the author is trying to present.

As far as finding the main point of the passage, there are a number of techniques that can be used:

1. Read the beginning of every paragraph closely, and skim the rest of the paragraph. When you skim, you should look for certain signals that new information is coming. The signals will be discussed in the next section.

2. Focus on the last sentence of the conclusion paragraph. The author will usually repeat the main idea there.

3. The first sentence of each paragraph plus the end of the conclusion will form a skeleton of the main idea of the passage. See if you can boil it down to one statement.