Know TOEFL Reading Question Types Inside Out

Have you ever run out of time on the TOEFL reading section?

If you know the question types inside out, you can master the technique of how to identify each question to answer quickly, and you’ll beat the test.

Time Management and Focus

You’ll need to manage a new approach to organize your minutes more effectively during this section of the exam. Better management of your time will give you the opportunity to answer more questions correctly, thus leading to a higher section score.

Reading skill is tested on three sections of the TOEFL, so if you improve your English reading speed and comprehension with daily practice such as reading timed online academic articles, skimming, scanning, note-taking and paraphrasing, you’ll improve your overall TOEFL score.

The time is 60-100 minutes in the entire reading section with 36-70 questions of three academic passages of 600-800 words each. You’ll need to manage time of 20 minutes per passage. All topics focus on college subjects, so in your daily study time, practice academic texts of equal word count length in a similar time-frame. All questions are one point, except the last question in each passage set worth more than one point. Do not spend too much time on any one question. Use equal time to identify the answer, since they are all the same amount of points; and if needed, use process of elimination to narrow down the correct choice.

Of the four academic sections tested on TOEFL—reading, listening, speaking, writing–reading is the first skill tested. Since it’s the initial section, it may still be noisy at the test center with incoming test takers. So, you’ll need to focus attentively to not be distracted by surrounding noise. If you find yourself getting distracted by surround sound, put those headphones on to help block out the test center environment so you can zoom in on the reading content.

Accuracy in Skimming for Gist and Speed in Scanning for Details

Skimming the passage is useful to find the main idea in the first paragraph and pinpoint the meaning and to look for the key points (in key words) in the first sentences of body paragraphs. Once you have skimmed for the gist of the passage, begin to tackle the questions. Another technique, scanning, is also helpful. By scanning the question (key words) and referring back to the exact location in the passage, you can note specific details in order of what will be questioned. Your plan of attack can be to answer question by question in order, as questions will refer to the same order as the location of answers in the passage.


The Importance of Recognizing Question Types

Have you ever felt stumped on a reading question and lost time? Do you know how to recognize and answer all different types of passage questions?

What’s more, knowing the types of questions you will encounter and identifying each type of question on the reading section will help you answer correctly and speed you through each passage in a timely manner.

Try to wrap your head around the different types of reading questions in your preparation study, thus inching you closer to the highest section score on exam day.


Reading Question Types:


Sentence meaning

Sentence insertion

Stated or unstated details  – Factual and negative factual information

Inferences and rhetorical purpose

OrganizationProse summary and fill in a table

Pronoun reference

You’ll be asked what a highlighted word refers to. If it is a pronoun, you need to identify the word the pronoun is replacing i.e. know what each pronoun refers to in the passage. Most often, the words are subject or objective pronoun, demonstrative pronouns or possessive adjectives (it, they, them, these, those, this, that, its, their.)

Question Types Strength and Weakness:

How can you improve your speed and accuracy in answering questions?

Question types that are your strength, you’ll answer more quickly, and question types that are your weakness, you’ll take a longer time to respond to.

Thus, identify your strength in questions type above (which ones you answer correctly in past exams or practice) and your weakness (which ones are challenging that take longer to answer or that you got wrong on past practice or exams.)

Your Strength question types: _____________________________________________

Reflect on how you’ll identify these faster and answer faster:


Your Weakness question types: ____________________________________________

Consider how to improve on these with a new/different approach in practice and on the real test.


Tackle each weakness question type by addressing how to change your approach to answer correctly. For instance, do not use the same approach as you did before if you got those wrong. Consider what you could be doing better to improve speed and accuracy.  Once you figure out how to answer correctly, approach the weak question types by process of elimination, and take notes of those question numbers and your choice response(s), as you can go back to those later if you have a bit of time. If you use process of elimination, you’ll eliminate choices for a higher percentage rate. In study time, practice more of those types of questions to get ready with your new approach.

If you aim to answer 100% correct on your strength question types on practice questions, you’ll save time by going quickly through your strength question types with added confidence.

For more tips on how to approach answering each type of reading question type, stay tuned for strategy and details in upcoming posts. If you learned insight about reading question types in this post, give this post a thumbs up.

4 TOEFL and 27 GMAT Idioms

How might idioms surface on the TOEFL and GMAT? Let’s look.

On TOEFL, in the listening section, you may hear idioms. Or, you could use idiomatic expressions on the speaking and writing sections–only if you can use them naturally and correctly. Using no idiom is better than using the wrong idiom. Get to know four idioms that have come up.

  1. “I’m broke.”  Be broke = not having money (used when one can’t afford to pay)
  2. “I’m in the black.” In the black = profitable (financially break-even)
  3. “The school was in the red.” In the red = unprofitable; operating at a loss
  4. “She’s in over her head.” In over one’s head = is deeply involved (has issues)

On GMAT, you’ll be tested on idioms in a different manner.

GMAT places idioms in the verbal section in sentence correction questions. Those types of questions give a sentence that has an underlined part and makes you choose between replacements for the part that’s underlined.

On questions with idioms, usually there’s an idiom that’s used incorrectly in the sentence and a grammar rule that’s broken. Look for the correct answer that has proper grammar and correct idiom.

Three principal errors:

  1. An incorrect preposition with an idiom
  2. Improper comparison
  3. Correlative conjunctions (Correlatives are a pair of short words or phrases though separated in a sentence such as either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also, rather/or.)

1. Idioms with prepositions:

Many of the idioms on GMAT have the wrong preposition (i.e. of, from, to, at, for, with) in the phrase. Pay close attention to both the use of the idiom and the grammar for errors.

Process of choosing the correct answer:

First, use process of elimination to catch grammar errors; after that, narrow down the multiple choices in the answers and look at the idiom errors to choose what makes sense.

2. Incorrect comparison:

Review comparison rules (more) how to compare things to each other, and be sure to look out for superlatives (the most) when 3+ items are compared. Often, incorrect phrases are listed in the comparison. Look for clues in a response such as a word like “more” to identify the error or proper usage.

The most common patterns that you’ll notice are the following:

  • compared to X, Y, (Compared to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty is bigger.)
  • X more than Y (You study more intensively than she does) or a comparative adverb phrase (You study more productively than her,) Joe follows (verb + direct object) basketball +more closely than Matt does.
  • X is different from Y, (X/Y most often are replaced with nouns)
  • in contrast to X, Y (In contrast to Obama, Trump is a Tweeter.)

3. Analyze Correlatives:

  • Either x or y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}
  • Neither x nor y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}


  • Both x and y               (yes x/yes y)       {for GMAT, often in parallel verb phrases, infinitives (both to come and to go), participial phrase, gerund (both coming and going)}             [not for linking independent clauses]
  • Not x but y (no x/yes y)
  • Not only x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional) [Mozart was not only a renowned pianist, but also a phenomenal composer.]
  • Not just x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional)
  • Not so much x as y (yes x less so/y yes more in degree of comparison)      {for GMAT, used for nouns, infinitives, gerunds, prepositional phrases}   [format: subject + do not so much + prepositional phrase x as prepositional phrase y]     [Obama is remembered not so much for his campaign, “Change,” as for his terms as President.]                   idiom: be remembered for

  • Between x and y {x and y are nouns or gerunds [-ing] on GMAT}               [The names Great Britain and the United Kingdom are often used interchangeably, however, there is a difference between GB and the UK.]              GMAT idioms: difference between, distinction between or distinguish between x and y.  [Atheists do not distinguish between being skeptical about God and disbelieving.


  • Just as x, so y {to connect two independent clauses}    [Just as Shakespeare was the greatest British poet, so Edgar Allan Poe was the best American poet.]


  • For every x, y (nouns) {idiom used in economic, math, political contexts}            [For every $100. spent locally on business, $60 will stay in the community. For every vote Newsom wins in Northern California, he’ll lose two votes in Southern California.]

27 Common GMAT Idioms

Study these not only for the meaning of the examples but also for the correct usage in context.

1. A debate over A debate over the ingredients in the dish went on and on.
2. Account for The grocer accounted for 270 items on the shelves.
3. Accuse of The assailant was accused of murder.
4. Acquaint with (someone or something) He is acquainted with Robert Frost and poetry.
5. A means to (something i.e. an end) The money-saving App is only a means to an end, financial freedom.
6. A responsibility to (someone) The new mother has a responsibility to nurse the baby every few hours.
7. A result of (something) The champion’s win is a result of his dedication to practice.
8. Ability to The quadriplegic has no ability to walk.
9. Act as The headmaster hired a substitute to act as teacher when the instructor was out with a virus.
10. Act like Teens act like there’s no tomorrow.
11. Afflicted with (something) He was afflicted with a pinched nerve in his spine.
12. Agree on (something) Let’s agree on resolving the issue.
13. Agree to (something) We agreed to the fund-raising campaign.
14. Agree with (someone) The mother agreed with her son on politics.
15. Aid in Athletic coaches aid in being a role model for sportsmanship.
16. Aim at something Be sure to aim at the bullseye to reach your target.
17. Aim to do something Aim to reach your objective before the end of the year.
18. Allow for The bus can’t allow for restroom breaks.
19. Amount to Elon Musk amounted to becoming a significant leader.
20. Appear to The star appeared to be too skinny in the movie role.
21. Are in danger of The glaciers are in danger of melting.
22. Argue with The police argued with the pedestrian over jaywalking.
23. As/as I am as productive as she is.
24. Ask for The team leader asked for support on the legwork.
25. Associate with We associate cranberries with Thanksgiving.
26. Attend to (someone) The grandson attended to his grandmother in the hospital.
27. Attribute x to y We can attribute heart disease in part to obesity.

To improve your grasp of TOEFL and GMAT idioms, look up more examples of the idioms in this post. For TOEFL, find ten idioms you can use well and memorize them. You could work one naturally into one of your speaking tasks (or independent writing task.)

Keep reading every day since the best way to learn idioms either for TOEFL or GMAT is to understand them in context.