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TOEFL Vocabulary for the Reading Section

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June 16, 2017 0 comments

If you’re like most TOEFL takers, you worry that you don’t know enough vocabulary to get the score you need on the TOEFL.

There is a huge gap between the amount of vocabulary you know and the amount a native English speaker knows.

According to Averil Coxhead, “If you compare estimates of how many words a native English speaker knows by the age of 18 (approximately 20,000 words) and how many a learner who has had two or three hours of schooling in English over several years (roughly 2000 or 3000 words…), this gap is enormous (Coxhead, Academic Word List PDF).”

But don’t worry…

Just because you know less vocabulary than the average native speaker, doesn’t mean you have to study endless lists of vocabulary words.

And you certainly don’t have to study vocabulary before you prepare for the TOEFL. I believe you can do both, and in this series of articles, I’m going to show you how.

This will be the first of a three-part series on TOEFL vocabulary. Each article will be an in-depth exploration into what vocabulary is presented on the TOEFL and how to prepare for that vocabulary.


Part One – TOEFL Vocabulary for the Reading Section – The Ultimate Guide 

June 22nd

Part Two – TOEFL Vocabulary for the Speaking Section – The Ultimate Guide

July 5th

Part Three – The Best TOEFL Vocabulary List

After years of reading, researching and creating TOEFL materials, I promise that you will find no better TOEFL vocabulary resource than this series.

Each TOEFL vocabulary article will be packed with useful information. Take your time reading over the material and come back whenever you need to refresh your memory.

In this first article, I will almost exclusively discuss TOEFL vocabulary for the reading section. Luckily for you, all of the most important information from this post is laid out in an easy to follow cheat sheet available for download right here.

In this section, I will show you the exact step-by-step process I teach to students to help them answer vocabulary questions on the TOEFL exam.

The best part?

You can use this strategy even if you don’t know the meaning of a given word.

My students pay thousands of dollars to get this exclusive advice and you’re getting it all for free.


Because I want to help (and promote my new book, haha).

Many TOEFL books, websites, and resources offer little advice in terms of vocabulary questions.

Some claim that you simply have to know the vocabulary and, if you don’t, there’s nothing you can do.

Kaplan, one of the most respected institutions for test prep, had this to say in their most recent TOEFL guide,

“This question type (vocabulary) tests your vocabulary, not your ability to analyze the passage. Therefore, the passage contains few clues to guide your answer” (Kaplan, 2015, pp. 38).

This is simply false. I will show you how the passage reveals numerous clues for you to guess the meaning of a word.

Other resources offer vague advice like:

“Identify the part of speech.”


“Try to figure out the meaning based on the context.”

While this advice might be mildly helpful, it offers almost no specific guidance that the student, or teacher, can apply. Questions immediately arise like:

“How can I figure out the meaning based on context?”

“What if I don’t know the part of speech?”

I promise by the end of this article you will have a deeper understanding of what vocabulary questions to expect on the TOEFL and how to answer them. Even if you don’t know the meaning of a given word, you will know the exact step-by-strategy you need to employ to understand the meaning and get the answer without referring to a dictionary.

Also, if you stick around to the end, I will share my top ten tips for the TOEFL reading section, which will help you better prepare for the TOEFL exam.  

Again, you can download a quick and easy cheat sheet that summarizes the main points of this article right here.

This is going to be a rather long blog, so here’s a handy table of contents for you to refer to:

  1. How do you know so much about the TOEFL?
  2. Should I study a specific vocabulary list?
  3. What do vocabulary questions look like in the reading section?
  4. How much time should I take to answer vocabulary questions?
  5. What’s the best way to answer vocabulary questions (step – by step)
  6. How do I read in context? (The DEECS Method)
  7. What’s the Vocabulary Ninja Method?
  8. Conclusion
  9. Ten Best Tips for TOEFL Reading Section

Also, if you’d rather sit back and relax for 49 minutes, here’s a video of me talking about TOEFL Vocabulary for the Reading Section. (I don’t even think my wife wants to look at my face and hear me speak for that long, but I’m told it’s worth the pain.)

1. How do you know so much about the TOEFL? 

About five years ago, I was asked to create the TOEFL program for a private college located in midtown Manhattan. The course started with just one student and an inexperienced teacher, me. I read almost every book and online resource I could find about the TOEFL. Over time, my students’ performance started to improve and the class grew.

For over three years I taught TOEFL fours hours a day for five days a week. I wrote a book and created an online course called TOEFL Speaking Success that is available on Udemy.

Currently, over 9000 students from 140 countries have enrolled in the course and the average rating is 4.8 out of 5.0.

If you want to know more about the TOEFL Speaking course, you can follow this link to Udemy.

2. Should I study a specific TOEFL vocabulary list? 

It depends on you, the student.

Every TOEFL taker is different. Some students are at a fairly low level of English proficiency and must improve their vocabulary before they think about preparing for the TOEFL. I will talk about this more in part three of this TOEFL Series: The Best TOEFL Vocabulary List.

However, if you can’t wait till then, here are some links to a couple of helpful lists:

Magoosh TOEFL Vocabulary PDF

TOEFL vocabulary book

Don’t study lists of thousands of words before studying for the actual test. You should have a list of, at most, around 600 words.

Once you start studying thousands of words you are just wasting your time. The best way to prepare for an exam is to copy the conditions of the exam. Instead of studying long lists of isolated words, your time would be much better spent learning vocabulary in the context of the TOEFL exam.  This has two benefits:

  1. You have the opportunity to see the words you’re studying in context.
  2. You become better prepared for the exam because you’re more familiar with the structure and design of the test.

However, if you’re a complete beginner to English, then maybe you should spend some time studying vocabulary and expanding your knowledge first before considering the TOEFL.

3. What do vocabulary questions look like on the exam?

TOEFL vocabulary questions are fairly simple and straightforward. They’re easy to identify. The vocabulary questions on the TOEFL are almost always worded the exact same way:

The word (inevitable) is closest in meaning to…

In the above image, you will also notice that that the word inevitable is highlighted in the passage, so you don’t have to spend much time trying to find the word.

Each question in the reading section, including vocabulary questions, will be followed by four choices.

You will know a vocabulary question when you see it. It follows a simple structure.

4. How much time should I take to answer vocabulary questions?

Less than one minute.

That’s it.


Let’s do a little math together (easily my least favorite subject).

Sometimes, there are four reading passages in the reading section, but most of the time there are only three. So, I will calculate based on the assumption that there are only three reading passages:

The TOEFL Reading Section:

  • Time – 60 minutes (20 minutes per passage)
  • Words per passage – 700 approximately (2100 words in total)
  • Questions – 40 questions (13-15 questions per passage)
  • Vocabulary Question Frequency – 12 questions (3-6 questions per passage)

If all of the questions were equally complex, you would have 90 seconds to answer each question. However, vocabulary questions are simple and straightforward. You want to spend more time answering questions like paraphrase, insert or summary that take more time to read and answer.

Also, not only do you have to answer questions, but you also have to read the passage, which gives you even less time to answer.

I’d also like to add that almost a third of the questions on the reading section of the test are vocabulary questions. Vocabulary questions are by far the most frequent on the exam, followed by detail questions, so make sure that you excel at answering them.

5. What’s the best way to answer vocabulary questions? (step-by-step) 

Let’s get into the details.

I’m going to take you step-by-step through the process I teach students to answer vocabulary questions.

Now, this is going to be a lot of information at once, so I suggest you come back to this article again and again to review and refresh your memory.

Also, don’t forget there is a handy cheatsheet of this post that you can download right here.

Let’s look at an example from a reading passage.

This is actually a passage I made a few years back and I’m told it’s too difficult, so don’t worry if you have trouble understanding, this is just an example.

Question – The word compartmentalize is closest in meaning to

Before I tell you how to answer this question I want you to reflect on how you would answer this question.

It’s important to think critically about your own actions before you blindly follow my advice.

Stop reading. 

Take out a piece of paper and a pen and write down how you would answer this question.

What is your process? 

Go ahead, I’ll wait.


Okay, now, let’s compare your process with my own.

While reading this article, I want you to think if you agree or disagree with what I’m saying. Only through critical reflection and action will you be able to use this information to improve your TOEFL score.

If you want to improve, you must think.

Step 1 – Activate prior knowledge – Do I think I know the meaning?

As you can see from the screenshot, the highlighted word and the question will light up at the same time.

But DON’T look at the answers first!

If possible, try to guess the meaning of the word before you look at the choices.

This is crucial.

When you have options, A, B, C, D it limits your thinking and turns you into a passive recipient of information.

You must always strive to be actively engaged in the content. 

Instead, of looking at the options first, try to guess what you think the word means and then go back to your choices.

When you take the TOEFL, you are given a piece of scrap paper and a pencil. I usually write down my guess on the paper before I look at the possible choices.

You should do the same.

Read the sentence with the vocabulary word, and jot down your idea of what it means on a piece of paper.

Right now.

Here’s the passage again:

If you have no idea, read the sentence one more time and try again.

If, after thinking as hard and deep as possible, you still have no idea what compartmentalize means, I want you to write down the following sentence on a piece of paper:

“I believe that the above passage provides absolutely no useful information for me to use so I can guess the meaning of the word compartmentalize.”

Seriously. If you didn’t take a guess write that sentence down.

This person has terrible handwriting! (It’s definitely not me)

I hope you felt as ridiculous as I did when you wrote out that sentence.

Step 2 – Scan your choices and reread the sentence  – What can you eliminate?

So far, you’ve seen the word in the sentence and guessed its meaning. Now, it’s time to look at the choices.

Question – The word compartmentalize in paragraph one is closest in meaning to:

  1. stereotype
  2. department
  3. multiplies
  4. categorize

Does your guess line up with any of these words? If it does, great, but…

DON’T answer the question yet. 

You only want to answer the question after step three.

My method for answering vocabulary questions is a four step process and I strongly encourage students to wait until step three to answer.

Keep this in mind…

The TOEFL test is designed to be difficult. The creators want to trick you, so don’t jump into an answer without thinking about it first.

Here, in step two, scan your choices and eliminate at least one possible answer.

Get rid of one choice you are almost 100% certain is not correct. 

When you eliminate one choice, you increase your odds of getting the correct answer.

One useful way of eliminating an option is to match the choice with the part of speech of the given vocabulary word.

In English, there are eight parts of speech, but for TOEFL vocabulary, you only need to focus on three: noun, verb, and adjective.

Let’s look at the passage again:

If you don’t know the part of speech of compartmentalize, that’s okay, but I can tell from the location of the word in the sentence and the suffix (I will talk more about suffixes a bit later) that compartmentalize is a verb.

When a word ends with -ize, it’s almost always a verb. So, the answer must also be a verb.

Question – The word compartmentalize in paragraph one is closest in meaning to:

  1. stereotype
  2. multiplies
  3. categorize

In this case, I know that 2, department, is a noun, so I eliminated it.

Besides part of speech, also look to eliminate choices you feel don’t match or have nothing to do with the meaning of the word. This advice is subjective and depends on you and your experience.

So far we’ve read the sentence, guessed the meaning, and eliminated at least one choice.

Time to move on to step three.

This is going to be the most useful, but most difficult part of this article, so make sure you take careful notes and rest whenever you need.

Step 3 – Read in Context

Which leads into the sixth question…

6. How do I read in context?

You might have heard teachers tell you before:

“Guess the meaning from the context.”

While this advice is useful, hardly any teacher provides a blueprint that a student can turn into a system that can be applied in almost any situation.

Until now.

I’m going to show you the exact system I teach to my TOEFL students to help them guess the meaning of a word or phrase without looking in a dictionary.

Like most students, I’ve always heard that it was important to guess the meaning from the context, but I didn’t know ho to teach it in a helpful way until I read Bruce Rogers’ TOEFL book, The Complete Guide to the TOEFL iBT. After implementing some of his ideas in the class, I found them effective, but vague. 

After much more research, practice and implementation, I have developed The DEECS System for reading in context. In academic reading passages (like the TOEFL), there are five main ways that the meaning of a word is revealed by the context. 

Let’s look at the first way the context reveals the meaning of a word.

D – Description (or definition)

Description is the first way the author reveals meaning. Basically, the author will describe in further detail what the word, phrase or main idea means.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

“Also, since HM had almost no episodic short-term memory ability, he would never tire of monotonous brain activities that many grow bored of after a short amount of time.”

In this situation, the author further describes a monotonous brain activity as something that “many grow bored of after a short amount of time.” So, in this situation, you can imagine that monotonous is an adjective that is somehow connected to boring.

“The only intimate contact between chimps comes during the rainy season, which leads them to stay inside cramped quarters where they’re forced to be more physical.”

The part of the sentence following the relative pronoun which further describes the “intimate contact”. The rest of the sentence elaborates on a situation in “cramped quarters where they’re forced to be more physical”. This latter half of the sentence provides more information on the words and ideas in the first half of the sentence.

Some key words to keep in mind that usually signal a description are that, which, is, means.

You will also find that, in many instances, there is a further description of the vocabulary word in the next sentence.

According to Freud, the human brain has three functions that coexist with each other: the id, ego, and superego. Let’s look at a couple of examples to further understand how these three aspects of the brain interact.

If you’re not sure what coexist means, you can just look at the next sentence where the author gives more information on “how these three parts of the brain interact”.

Americans don’t leave ideas hanging.

If you can’t find the answer within the sentence that includes the vocabulary word, look around the sentence, particularly the sentence directly following it to find some clues. Each sentence builds on the other, so you can always find some information about the word you don’t know somewhere in the paragraph. Helpful information can come before the word, but most of the time, the word or main idea of the sentence is elaborated in the next sentence. 

E – Explanation (Example) 

While the D stands for description, which is more directly correlated to the meaning of the word, the E stands for explanation, which implies that the author tries to make the word more understandable by further explaining how it functions, what it looks like, etc.

In many instances, explanations come in the form of examples, which is why its included in this category.

Examples are probably the easiest to identify because there are only a couple of phrases that introduce an example:

For example…

For instance…

Such as…

Take (for example)…

“Evidence of the forgotten city’s reverence for the gods can be found in the multiple edifices that populate the city. For example, The Temple on the Hill and The Shrine of Holy Understanding are just two of the many houses of worship found in the ruins.”

In the sentence that follows edifice, you have two specific examples along with the phrase “houses of worship”, which should provide you with enough information to figure out that edifices are somehow connected to buildings.

Explanations are not as simple to identify as examples, but a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to relative pronouns like who, which, that, where, etc.

After the foreign army was completely immobilized, which was due to the fact that the national army had completely surrounded their fortress, they had no choice but to surrender.

Another important transition word that signals explanation is moreover. Moreover is usually used to start a sentence that adds information to the main idea of the previous sentence.

Henry no longer had the ability to make declarative memories of specific facts like names, dates, and recent happenings. Moreover, he couldn’t form new relationships with people. Once you introduced yourself to Henry, within 30 seconds, he would completely forget ever meeting you.

After you see the phrase “declarative memory”, you probably have no idea what the word declarative means. However, when you read the next two sentences, the author adds an explanation when she mentions “he would completely forget ever meeting you”. So, you can guess that a declarative memory has something to do with a memory that you actually remember.

Some key words to keep in mind that usually signal a description are that, which, who, when, in other words, moreover, for example, for instance.

At this point, you might have a few questions…

Does the DEECS system always work?

No, it doesn’t always work. There are times when there are few clues to help you understand the meaning of the word. However, these instances are rare. While a lot of academic writing is both dry and challenging, almost all American authors want the reader to understand.

I touched on this point before but I want to reiterate it here because it’s important.

Americans value clarity.

When an author writes a word that may be challenging for the reader to understand, there is an innate desire to make it comprehensible. You also see this in the design of English sentence structure. Every complete sentence must have a subject. This is not the case in other languages, like Japanese for example, where the reader is expected to understand who is doing what based on the context. Every sentence in English builds on the previous sentence. So, it’s always a good idea to read around the sentence with the vocabulary word.

E – Effects

Before I talk about effects, I’d just like to thank Yosuke Sasao for his excellent website and resources on morphology and reading in context. I originally didn’t include effects in my original method, but his article on reading in context changed my mind. (You should definitely read it because it’s only three pages and actually includes twelve ways of reading in context, while I’ve condensed it into five).

Back to effects

An effect is the result of a cause. Stories, even academic texts, can only move forward through relationships of cause and effect.

It’s best to look at a few examples:

“The once thriving market for electronic pagers soon diminished to almost nothing, mainly because of the introduction of the cellular phone.”

“Due to budget constraints, the head of ABC Worldwide decided to cut funding projects to third world nations and laid off over 1000 employees.”

In both instances, the transitional phrases because of and due to show the relationship between what happened and how it had an impact on later actions.

The most common signal word that shows a cause and effect relationship is because, but also look for words and phrases like due to, so, since, therefore.

Does this make sense so far?

Are you learning something new?

All of this information is available in our Vocabulary for the TOEFL Reading Section Cheat Sheet that you can download for free right here.

Pay attention.

These last two ways of reading in context are most common.

C – Contrast 

A popular way that the definition of a word is revealed is through contrast words like but, however, instead, while and on the other hand.

When you see any of these transition words, it should signal to you that the author is going to reveal information that is opposite to the meaning of the given vocabulary word.

“During the Enlightenment, much of the population in Europe began to grow contempt of the despotic style of rule and, instead, wanted to live in a nation with a government that was chosen by the people, for the people.”

Here, you can guess that a “despotic ruler” is the opposite of a ruler who “was chosen by the people and for the people.”

Contrasting transition words like but and however almost always require a comma. The important information will most likely come after the comma.

This table is included in the Reading Section Cheat Sheet

Last but not least, the final way to read the passage for context clues is…

S- Synonyms 

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as another. If you’re looking for a synonym for big, you might think of words like large, huge or enormous. Sometimes, you will find the same word written a different way within the paragraph.

Remember, Americans tend to write with clarity. If the reader doesn’t understand the passage, it’s the writer’s fault, not the reader. Authors of academic texts must make their point clear, so they leave clues in the text.

You must become a detective and discover the clues. 

Here, with synonyms, the biggest clue is the transition word and. Let’s look back at our original example with the word compartmentalize.

You see the transition word and, so there’s a strong possibility that compartmentalizes has something to do with the word divide.

Question – The word compartmentalize in paragraph one is closest in meaning to:

  1. stereotype
  2. multiplies
  3. categorize

The word multiples is the opposite of divide, so you can probably cross choice C out, which leaves us with two possible choices.

  1. stereotype
  2. categorize

Table included in the TOEFL Reading Cheat Sheet

Now you have two choices left, categorize and stereotype.

Maybe you’re not sure what each of these words means, so, you will have to take a guess.

However, before you do, there’s one more way you can find the meaning of the word:

The Vocabulary Ninja Method 

Before I talk about the Vocabulary Ninja Method, I just want to recap the first three steps:

  • Step 1Activate prior knowledge – “Do I think I know the meaning?”
  • Step 2Scan your choices and reread the sentence  – “What can I eliminate?”
  • Step 3Read in context – Become a Context Clue Detective (DEECS)

Follow these steps in this exact order. 

Don’t start at step three. 

There’s a reason: 

  • Step 1Forces you to think actively 
  • Step 2Improves your odds 
  • Step 3Helps you gain a deeper understanding of the text and the word

For you to perform at your very best, TOEFL vocabulary questions must be answered in this exact order.

Memorize this system and use it whenever you see a vocabulary question.

I know it seems like a lot to do in under a minute, but as you keep practicing this method, you will find that you eliminate and read in context almost automatically.

But don’t forget, there’s still one more step to take…

7. What’s the Vocabulary Ninja Method?

Every English teacher knows that morphemes are important. Morphemes are those tiny little groups of letters that you find in a lot of other words.

Ankita a TOEFL Instructor from English Test Solution says, “I often tell students to try to break up the word and guess the meaning. For example, if the word is multilingual, we can break it into “multi” and “lingual”, and guess the meaning.” (You can learn more at

There are a lot of types of morphemes, but the Vocabulary Ninja Method only focuses on prefixes, suffixes and root words.

Prefixes are tiny groups of letters that go in the beginning of a lot of other words. For example:

transacross, carry

  • transatlantic – across the Atlantic Ocean
  • transportation – to carry from on pace to another

You can learn more about prefixes at our article here.

Root words are tiny groups of letters that can go at the beginning, middle or end of a word. For example:


  • biology – the study of life
  • autobiography – a book by yourself about your life

You can learn more about root words at our article here.

Suffixes are tiny groups of letters that go at the end of words. For example:

-able – implies an adjective that shows ability

  • believable – able to be believed
  • reliable – able to be relied on

Obviously, I didn’t invent root words. They come from history and have been around for thousands of years. However, the Vocabulary Ninja Method is the first program that has sifted through thousands of roots and has hand selected 219 of the most useful for you to know.

54 Prefixes
121 Roots
44 Suffixes

These 219 morphemes have the potential to expand your vocabulary by thousands while, at the same time, improve your reading comprehension.

You can learn more about the book, and the Vocabulary Ninja Course, which will be released on July 17th right here.

Sorry. I have to promote myself a little bit here.

Back to the question.

How can the Vocabulary Ninja Method help you understand more vocabulary?

Let’s look at the word again: compartmentalize

If we break this word down into parts, and, if you’re familiar with the Vocabulary Ninja Handbook, then you will know that:

Prefixcom implies that something is together

Root Wordpart which is similar to divide

Suffixize which creates a verb

So, in this situation, compartmentalize is a verb that brings parts together and divides them.

Question – The word compartmentalize in paragraph one is closest in meaning to:

  1. categorize

The only answer that makes sense is categorize.

Many students like the Vocabulary Ninja Method so much that they use it in step one. However, wait until step four to employ word analysis because, sometimes, it doesn’t work.

You might get a word like wry, which contains almost no information in terms of word analysis. Or, you may have a word that is not connected to the meaning of the root.

For example, if you look at the word formidable you may know that:

  • form – to take shape
  • able – adjective of ability

So, it would be reasonable for you to guess that formidable means that something is able to take shape. In actuality, formidable means inspiring fear and respect.

However, The Vocabulary Ninja Method only includes 219 of the most important morphemes, so, when you see a word that includes one of these 219 prefixes, suffixes and roots in The Vocabulary Ninja Method, there’s a strong possibility that the meaning of the word is somehow connected to the morpheme.

Don’t forget, carefully follow all of these steps in this exact order in less than one minute.

Available in the TOEFL reading Cheat Sheet

Want to know Vocabulary Ninja’s Ten Best TOEFL tips?

Check them out right after this quick conclusion…

8. Conclusion

Don’t forget that you can download the much shorter version of this blog post in the TOEFLVocabulary for the Reding Section Cheat Sheet right here.

The most important point to remember is…

Vocabulary Ninja is awesome and you should subscribe to my Youtube channel here

Ande here’s the video version of this blog (49 minutes, oh my god, that’s like, the same length as a Game of Thrones episode). Yes, it’s very long, but filled with useful content.

Repetition is the mother of learning, so let’s sum up what we talked about. Here are the seven most important points from this post:

  1. The best way to study vocabulary is to do it while also studying actual TOEFL material (I will share with you the best TOEFL vocabulary list in part three)
  2. Vocabulary questions on the TOEFL almost always follow the same structure, “The word (compartmentalize) is closest in meaning to…”
  3. It should take you less than one minute to answer a vocabulary-style question on the TOEFL.
  4. Follow the four-step process to answering vocabulary questions every time.
  5. Always eliminate before you guess the answer.
  6. Use the DEECS method to guess the meaning of the word from the context.
  7. Use The Vocabulary Ninja Method to analyze word parts.

Make sure you come back and reread this post again and again until it’s cemented in your mind. I guarantee this approach to answering vocabulary questions will improve your reading comprehension and your TOEFL test score. 

Also, this is the first part of a three-part TOEFL vocabulary series.

Next week (June 22nd) 

Part 2TOEFL Vocabulary for the Speaking

July 6th 

Part 3The Best TOEFL Vocabulary List

Vocabulary Ninja’s TOP Ten Tips for the Reading Section

  1. Use the review button.

This little button is packed with valuable information. It will let you know how many questions you have left to answer and which questions you skipped. Use it to help you keep track of your progress and your time.

2. Use the scrap paper.

The TOEFL is a computer-based test, so you can’t mark any notes on it, but you are given a piece of scrap paper. When I take the test, I note my answers and, most importantly, I circle questions I skip or I put a question mark next to questions I want to revisit later if I have time.

3. Vocabulary Questions should take you no longer than one minute.

Detail questions may take you a bit longer, but they still should take you no more than 75-90 seconds. Insert, paraphrasing and inference questions require more time.

4. When words look similar, they are most likely wrong.

For example, if the word is formidable and one of the four possible choices is formation, it’s probably not the correct answer. When teachers make tests, they have to make wrong answers that are appealing. TOEFL test makers want students to choose the wrong answer, so one way to make an incorrect choice look more appealing is by using a similar sounding or looking word. Don’t fall into this trap

5. Eliminate before you choose.

Even if you think you know the answer, eliminate first. Always eliminate before you make a choice. Eliminating one answer per question increases your odds of choosing correctly. Not only that, but when you eliminate, you also think deeper about the question and your answer.

6. Set a date for the exam.

Generally speaking, the more specific you are with your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. Set a date and improve your focus.

7 – If you have to take a blind guess, DON’T pick a.

A is the least frequent multiple choice answer used correctly. I don’t have any studies that back up my hypothesis. I’m just speaking from personal experience as a teacher and conferring with other teachers. When teachers create exams, wrong answers are more difficult to make than easy ones. However, we don’t want to just jump in and put the answer first. Choice “d” is also less likely to be correct because we can’t think of enough wrong answers before jotting down the correct one in choice B or C. If you have to guess blind, choose B or C. (However, this advice goes out the window if the choices are computer generated.)

8. Focus on vocabulary and detail questions.

There are ten different question types in the TOEFL reading section and many of them require a different kind of strategy to answer. However, detail (factual) questions and vocabulary questions comprise almost 50% of all questions in the TOEFL reading section, so you want to make sure you get very good at these two types of questions in particular.

9 – Practice like you play.

One of the most challenging aspects of the reading section is time. It’s hard to read and answer all of the questions in 60 minutes. You must prepare for the exam at home in a similar way you will encounter it on test day. Get your hands on a complete TOEFL reading section and set your timer for sixty minutes. If you’re unable to complete it, then you should slowly reduce the amount of time every practice session. Start with 70 minutes, then get it down to 68 and then 65 and so on. It’s crucial for you to practice for the exam in the same way you will be expected to complete it on test day. 

10 – Visit TOEFL Resources

One of the best and most undervalued TOEFL sites is created and curated by my friend Michael Goodine. He has a ton of TOEFL guides, templates, and examples for every single section of the exam. He’s also available to evaluate your speaking and writing samples. Check him out here.

That’s it!

Finally. (haha)

Did I miss anything about TOEFL vocabulary in the reading section? Do you disagree with any of my advice?Or do you want to just say some nice things that will make me smile?

Write it in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.

Stay hungry.

-Josh, The Vocabulary Ninja 



Kaplan’s TOEFL iBT Premier 2016 – 2017. (2015) New York: Kaplan Publishing

Coxhead, Averil Academic Word List PDF. Available for download at: Victoria University of Wellington Official Site 

Rogers, Bruce. The Complete Guide to the TOEFL iBT. (2006) Heinle ELT 4th edition.

Yosuke, Sasao. Contextual Clues PDF. Available at: Yosuke Sasao Official website 

Ankita at English Test Solutions

Goodine, Michael at TOEFL Resources 

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