TOEIC Exam Reading – Everything You Need to Know

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TOEIC Exam Reading : Read it and weep

The TOEIC exam consists of four sections divided over two separate exams; Listening and Reading, and Speaking and Writing. Today we are going to focus on the reading section of the Listening and Reading exam, as we’ve covered the listening section in a previous article. This article will cover everything you need to know about the TOEIC reading structure, and how to understand and answer the questions.


Understanding TOEIC  Test Reading Structure

Reading is the second section of the TOEIC Listening and Reading exam. It is also the longest section, covering 75 minutes of the two hour time limit for the whole exam. In order to help you prepare for the reading section, this article will briefly explain the reading section’s structure, as well as a few pieces of advice on how to learn, practice, and approach the reading section of the TOEIC exam.

The reading section is comprised of three parts containing 100 questions, for a total of 200 questions over the entire Listening and Reading exam. Because individual parts or questions of the reading section are not limited by time (unlike with the listening section, where your time is limited by the length of the audio clips), you will have 30 minutes more for the reading section as opposed to the listening section (which takes 45 minutes).

Compared to the listening section, the reading section of the exam will have a few advantages that the listening section doesn’t have. For starters, outside of the total time limit of 75 minutes, there are no limits as to how many times you are allowed to read the texts. Whereas an audio clip from the listening section would only be played once, you can read a text again as many times as you would like, until you have a full understanding of what is being told. The downside however, is that the reading section often covers longer, more complex texts than the listening section. In the listening section, an audio clip may consist of up to thirty seconds of spoken text. However, a piece of writing on the reading section will contain a lot more information you need to process. The reading section also covers technical questions about English language structure, rather than only testing your understanding of the story, as the listening section does.


Part One: Incomplete Sentences (30 questions)

The reading section of the exam is not just about comprehensive reading; it is also about error recognition and your general knowledge of English grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. The first part of the reading section is about finishing incomplete sentences. On your exercise paper you will see a written sentence with one word missing. Below it you will have the choice of four words, only one of which is the appropriate choice to fill the gap.

Example: “When Jake was in Korea, he got into a traffic accident. Luckily, his car was ___”
Choose the correct word that should be in the blank space.

  1. Ensured
  2. Assured
  3. Insured
  4. Reassured

In this case, the third answer, C., is correct.

This part will largely test your vocabulary and your ability to tell different types of words apart (such as verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.). The best way to prepare for this part of the exam, is to expand your vocabulary and familiarise yourself with the most commonly confused words. We have written a previous article about some of the most frequently confused words, and another one about the confusing world of homonyms. Check those out if you would like to have some more reference material. Some examples of these confusing words are ‘assured’, ‘insured’, and ‘ensured’, ‘farther’ and ‘further’, ‘accept’ and ‘except’, the list goes on. When learning new words, or finding words that may look like one another, compare them to each other and find the exact definition on the Internet or a dictionary. Keep in mind that some specific definitions can depend on very small details or context clues. Practice recognising and understanding these confusing words. Practice exams might also help you in this regard.


Part Two:  Text Completion (15 questions)

The second part of the reading section is similar to the first part, but on a somewhat larger scale. Instead of filling one blank space in a sentence, you will read a longer text with multiple missing words. These texts will then relate to four questions that resolve all of the blank spaces in the text. In some cases, you might be able to choose the correct answer based on the context of the written text. This could make this part easier; as you might be able to understand which blank word is missing purely out of the context of the story, but at the same time will require you to process more information. Furthermore, this part will  not only cover completing sentences with the correct words, but also with the correct phrases (a group of words).

Example: “I am emailing you the invoice for the order you ___ this morning”

  1. Put
  2. Placed
  3. Did
  4. Had

In this example, B. is the correct answer.
The text continues as follows; “Should you have any questions, _____ _____ _____ _____”

  1. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
  2. Let me talk to my superior.
  3. I will see you next week.
  4. Become a member and receive our newsletter.

Here, A. is the correct answer.

Generally, text-based exercises in part two of the reading section will consist of longer texts than the example above, around five to ten lines of text, and contain four questions that need to be solved. The best way to prepare for part two of the reading section, is to expand your vocabulary, and become familiar with common phrases in business English. The TOEIC exam is largely focused on a professional level of English, so many business related topics will appear on your TOEIC exam. Common phrases and idioms, such as ‘calling it a day’ (to end a meeting) or ‘to cut to the chase’ (to get to the point), and other business related vocabulary such as ‘ballpark’ (approximation) or ‘USP’ (Unique Selling Point) may appear in your TOEIC exam.


Part Three: Comprehension (55 questions)

The third part of the reading section is the longest part and will require the most time. This part covers the comprehension of written texts. Whereas part one and part two mostly related to vocabulary and knowledge of English language structure, part three will test your ability to follow events along a timeline, and understand the topic and context of a story. In this part, you will read texts, often set in a professional environment (such as business emails, advertisements, newspaper articles, or other business communications), followed by questions regarding the topic, contents, and context of the written text.

Example: (newspaper advertisement)

“For Sale: used motorcycle: Honda CBR600

I am selling my beloved motorcycle after ten years of ownership. I have owned it from new, and has served me well as a really fun motorbike. It has always been looked after and serviced regularly, but needs some maintenance, such as a new chain and gear sprockets. I recently got a new motorbike so this one needs to move on to a new owner. Asking price $6,000 or best offer.”

  1. What is said about the motorcycle?
  2. It needs some repairs
  3. It has had more than one owner
  4. It hasn’t had maintenance in a while
  5. The owner is selling it because it doesn’t work

In this example, the correct answer is A.

  1. What is true about the price?
  2. The price is fixed
  3. The owner will not take less than $6,000 for it
  4. The owner is open to negotiating the price
  5. The owner bought it for $6,000

In this example, the correct answer is C.

The questions in this part of the reading section often come down to specific details and nuances in the written text. It requires you to understand hidden meanings that may not have been communicated literally in the text, and also requires knowing some lesser common vocabulary as well as phrases or idioms used in professional and casual situations. As these texts are often based on real life examples of newspaper articles, advertisements, or other publicly available texts, a good way to prepare for these questions is by reading English magazines, websites, and newspapers as practice. Read a text, and then write as many factual statements about the text as you can, to learn how to read comprehensively.


TOEIC Test Reading : Practice makes perfect

I am sure you have heard it many times before, but practice makes perfect. Use this guide to practice these exercises as often as possible, wherever you can. For example, read English texts and summarize them using as many factual statements as possible to help you learn how to read comprehensively and understand the (hidden) meanings of a text. There are also many sources for practice exams online, which may be helpful for the reading section. Good luck!



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