6 TOEFL Reading Time Management Tips for Test Day
The reading section is the first part of the TOEFL test. You’ll read either three or four academic articles (about 700 words each) and answer ten questions about each one.
This can be a difficult section of the test for international students. It’s a reminder that the TOEFL isn’t just an English test—it’s a test of academic English. In addition to having a solid understanding of the basics of English usage, students should know how to read and understand dense articles about challenging academic topics—just like they will at university or college.
For many students, the biggest challenge of this section is time management. You’ll get just 54 minutes (three articles) or 72 minutes (four articles) to read all of the articles and answer all of the questions. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your limited time.
6 TOEFL Reading Time Management Tips
- Skim the Articles
Unfortunately, you don’t have time to thoroughly read all of the articles before you tackle the questions. Instead, you should quickly skim each article for one or two minutes as soon as you see it. To “skim” an article means to quickly glance at it while looking for the main ideas. As you skim the readings, pay special attention to the first paragraph, and the first sentence of each body paragraph. This will give you a general idea of what the article is about and the main supporting arguments used by the author. Once you start answering the questions, you will have a chance to examine the articles more closely.
- Jump Around!
Some students aren’t aware that they can move forward and backward between questions—before time runs out, of course. You can even move between the articles. Just look for the arrow buttons at the top of the test software to move forward and backward one question at a time, or select the “review” button to immediately jump to a specific question. If you are unsure about a question, don’t waste too much time thinking about the answer. You can go back to the question later, so make a guess and move on to the next question. Remember to use your notepaper to record which questions you plan to return to.
- Quickly Note “Eliminations”
Even if you aren’t sure of the correct answer to a question, there will probably be one or two answer choices that you know are incorrect. Make things easier for yourself by quickly noting these choices. For instance, if you are sure that choice “A” from the first question is incorrect, write “1A” with a line through it on your notepaper. Do the same for “1B” if you are confident that it isn’t correct either. When you go back to that question, you will know to totally ignore those choices.
- Manage Your Time Properly
With 54 minutes and 30 questions to answer, the math says you’ve got 1:48 for each question. But that isn’t the absolute best way to spend your time. Remember that some reading questions require more time than others. For instance, vocabulary questions are fairly direct—most of the time you either know the answer or you don’t. Don’t spend more than a minute thinking about those. Pick an answer and move on. On the other hand, some question types—like “sentence insertion” and “negative factual” questions—require you to examine an entire paragraph to find the answer. Give yourself extra time for those.
- Narrow Your Focus
Remember that the answers to the first nine questions about each article can be found in a single paragraph. Thankfully, the test indicates which paragraph that is. As you attempt to answer each of those questions, look for cluesonly in the paragraph indicated. Looking for clues outside of that paragraph will be a complete waste of your time. You can use the time you save for the final reading question about each article, whichdoes require you to look at the whole passage for clues.
- Answer Every Question!
Okay, this one is obvious, but it needs to be mentioned. You should answer every question! There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the TOEFL. This means that a guess is better than nothing. If you notice that you’ve got 30 seconds remaining on the clock and there are still a bunch of questions left, you should start clicking the mouse with lighting speed.
These are just a few strategies to help you make the best use of your time on test day. Try putting them to use by working through some of the practice tests sold by ETS. Remember that every student is different. As you work through your practice tests, try your own time management strategies to discover what works best for you.