The reading timer is king and it can hurt your score dramatically. It's the most overlooked component of TOEFL success.
Before, we get into this important key, let's make sure that you understand the very basics of the TOEFL reading section if you've never taken the TOEFL before. If you have taken it before, please skim until you reach the section on timing but don't skip to that section. The basics are important to review too.
TOEFL reading overview
When you sit down after you’re finished registering yourself at the TOEFL center and the examiner allows you to start the exam, you’re going to see the instructions for the reading section. They’re going to be read out loud to you. That’s going to give you some time to psychologically prepare yourself and become comfortable with what’s going to come next: the all-powerful reading section.
After the instructions are finished, your first reading will appear. It will consist of 700 words and it will take up the whole screen of your monitor, so you’re not going to see any questions. You will need to scroll down through the reading and then click next before you start to see the questions. The reason is to give you a chance to look at the reading. It doesn't mean that you should read the whole essay though. (We’ll learn more about this later.)
TOEFL reading structure
You'll receive either 3 or 4 readings on your TOEFL (remember this from lesson 1?). Each reading will contain approximately 700 words and require you to answer 14 questions within 20 minutes. You’ll see a timer on the upper-right hand corner of your screen. It’s there to help make sure that you don’t spend too much time on any one question.
The timer is going to count from 60 or 80 minutes down to 0 (depending on whether or not you get that extra experimental reading [reading number 4], which doesn't count on your TOEFL score).
Once the timer hits 0, your answers will be recorded and you will move on to the listening section never to return to the reading again. Consequently, to succeed, you must look at that timer and monitor your time as you answer the questions before time runs out.
TOEFL reading timing
Now for the good stuff. As you answer, you will always be able to jump to different questions that you've already completed. For example, let’s say you’re answering questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and then 5. Then, you think to yourself,
“Wait a second, I think I understand question 3 better. Let me go back and change the answer.”
You will be able to do that.
When you finish the last question (number 42 or 56 depending on whether you have 3 or 4 readings), you’re going to see a chart that shows you the questions that you answered and didn’t answer. You’ll be able to double-click on a question to jump directly to it in the reading. This will give you a chance to review questions you skipped or want to double check.
We're explaining this to let you know that you can bounce around once you finish the reading to double check your answers. But, of course, we’ll learn to be focused and exact as we answer so that we won’t need to do this.
When you finish the first reading, you’re going to move on to another reading and so on and so on until you complete your set: either 3 or 4 readings. Now that we understand timing basics, let's get into timing strategy.
First, you don’t want to read the whole passage before you start answering the questions; if you do, it will be a very inefficient and time-wasting way to read.
Instead, acquire a basic idea of the reading and prepare your mind for what you’re going to read about by first reading the title. Then, read the first sentence (which is the all-important topic sentence) of every paragraph. Do this to get a quick introduction to the reading before you read it in detail. You should complete this within 1 minute.
Below is a picture to get a visual idea of this; it's so important that we created an image to make it absolutely clear. The black boxes represent the title and paragraphs and the red lines represent what you will read.
Again, only spend 1 minute doing this. Any more than that and it will be too much time; spend all of the time that you can answering the questions since that’s where your score comes from. To finish within 1 minute, you might have to read only pieces of the first sentences (subject, verb, and object only) since they can be quite big.
After you read the first sentence, read question number 1, not the answers but the question. Establish an idea of what it’s asking about. Then, start reading the passage from the very beginning in search of the answer to that question using the strategies you'll learn about below. In this way, you will concentrate only on what’s important and what will earn you your highest TOEFL reading score possible.
Once you answer question number 1, go onto question number 2 in the same way. The TOEFL questions proceed in chronological order, so the answer to number 1 is in the beginning of the passage and the answer to number 12 is towards the end, which is nice.
As we discussed earlier, timing is important and it’s very easy for students to run out of time. Follow this guideline carefully and you will NEVER have that trouble again. That's right: you will NEVER have that trouble again.
80 min - 79 min : read the first sentences
79 min - 72:40 min : answer questions 1 - 5
72:40 min - 66:20 min : answer questions 6 - 10
66:20 min - 60 min : answer questions 11 - 14
If you don't have 4 readings but only 3, your timer will start here at 60 minutes.
60 min - 59 min : read the first sentences
59 min - 52:40 min : answer questions 1 - 5
52:40 min - 46:20 min : answer questions 6 - 10
46:20 min - 40 min : answer questions 11 - 14
40 min - 39 min : read the first sentences
39 min - 32:40 min : answer questions 1 - 5
32:40 min - 26:20 min : answer questions 6 - 10
26:20 min - 20:00 min : answer questions 11 - 14
20 min - 19 min : read the first sentences
19 min - 12:40 min : answer questions 15 - 19
12:40 min - 6:20 min : answer questions 20 - 24
6:20 min - 0 min : answer questions 25 - 28
You should be able to tell that through this timing guideline, you have more time to answer the final questions of the reading than the first questions. The final questions demand the most time and concentration, so don’t change this.
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