Non-native English speakers applying for college in the United States may be asked to provide a TOEFL score; the nonprofit Education Testing Service puts out the Test of English as a Foreign Language as an assessment of academic English. To improve your reading for the TOEFL test, make a plan to study, commit to your study schedule and read widely.

Reading Material

The best way to improve your reading skills is to read often. The key is to choose academic-style materials. It's not necessary to limit yourself to college textbooks, though these are useful. Choose texts that are written in academic English, though. Major newspapers such as The New York Times or magazines such as Harper's Bazaar provide educational readings on a variety of topics. Transcripts for National Public Radio are another valid resource. Likewise, a number of companies including ETS publish TOEFL-preparation books that include several reading passages for practice.


Since the TOEFL is testing non-native English speakers' ability to succeed on a college campus, the readings rely heavily on academic vocabulary. Preparation books include vocabulary lists. Study words from the list every day; try making study cards that you take with you and read every time you have a few minutes. Likewise, familiarize yourself with word families, or words with the same roots. Study prefixes and suffixes as well. Mixing the study of affixes with word families, such as analyzing the difference in meaning between enjoyable and unenjoyable, greatly increases your vocabulary comprehension.

Reading Strategies

During your TOEFL study time, practice using specific reading strategies for comprehension. Make connections between the text and your prior knowledge as well as connections to other texts. Read several styles of passages such as nonfiction scientific articles and literary passages to familiarize yourself with their unique format. Likewise, learn to infer meaning from context by re-reading a confusing passage and connecting it to what you read before. While reading, practice your note-taking skills; try organizing your notes into main ideas and details as this will help you answer TOEFL reading questions.

Test-Taking Tips

Know ahead of time what to expect: the reading section consists of 60 to 100 minutes with 36 to 70 questions. Start by scanning the questions before reading the text so you can look for answers as you read. Pace yourself by keeping an eye on the time and ensuring you have finished an appropriate number of questions. As such, don't spend a lot of time on difficult tasks; mark the question and return to it after you have answered the other questions. Lastly, make educated guesses rather than leave an answer blank; in scoring, there is no difference between a wrong and a blank answer, so guess in case you get it right.

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