Study Tips

How to master the reading section of the TOEFL iBT

The TOEFL Internet Based Test (iBT) evaluates four aspects of English language proficiency: listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

The reading section of the TOEFL iBT consists of 3-4 passages from academic sources, each of which is about 700 words in length. Test takers have 60-80 minutes to complete a total of 36-56 questions (about 12-14 questions per passage).

The short TOEFL-style reading passage below is part of a series featuring various question types that commonly appear in the test. If you are unable to complete the passage and the four questions within six minutes, your reading comprehension skills will probably need some work before you attempt the TOEFL. Good luck!

On the morning of the 30th June 1908, the peaceful, blue skies overlooking a vast, forested expanse near the Tunguska River in central Siberia were suddenly torn asunder by an explosion that flattened tens of millions of trees in an area covering more than 2000 square kilometers. So powerful was the force of the blast (estimated to have been about 1,000 times greater than that generated by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War) that witnesses fifty kilometers from the epicenter reported being hurled through the air and feeling as if their clothes were on fire. Because the “Tunguska Fireball” took place in an almost completely uninhabited area thousands of kilometers from the nearest city, it went largely unremarked at the time. The remote location was exceedingly fortunate in that this cataclysmic explosion would have resulted in millions of casualties had it occurred in proximity to a major population center.

Due to both the inaccessibility of the Tunguska region and various political upheavals in Russia, the first scientific expedition to investigate the blast site was not undertaken until the 1920’s, yielding inconclusive results. Even a century later, scientists continue to debate the causes of this singular event. The most widely accepted view is that a large asteroid, or space rock, exploded in midair before reaching Earth’s surface and disintegrated into a cloud of dust and small particles, a hypothesis that would help to explain the absence of an impact crater. An alternative to this theory is the suggestion by the Russian physicist Edward Drobyshevski that the Tunguska Fireball may have been a natural hydrogen bomb, a comet fragment laden with ice containing combustible hydrogen that exploded when the friction of Earth’s atmosphere provided an ignition source for the hydrogen.

Example Question 1: The word “unremarked” in line 8 is closest in meaning to

A) unsuccessful
B) unstated
C) unnoticed
D) unimportant

Example Question 2: In paragraph 2, why does the author mention the absence of an impact crater?

A) To explain why scientists were delayed in reaching the site of the blast
B) To identify evidence consistent with a certain explanation
C) To strengthen a novel hypothesis proposed by the author
D) To show a weakness in an unproven theory

Example Question 3: According to the less widely accepted view mentioned in the passage, the Tunguska explosion was caused by

A) a comet.
B) a meteorite impact.
C) an accidental detonation of a thermonuclear weapon.
D) a midair explosion of an asteroid.

Example Question 4: According to paragraph 1, if the Tunguska explosion had occurred near a large city, it is likely that there would have been

A) many injuries and deaths.
B) an immediate investigation of the causes of the fireball.
C) a large number of accurate eyewitness accounts of the blast.
D) substantial damage to property.


1 C: The Tunguska Fireball passed largely unnoticed because it happened in a wilderness area.
2 B: The fact that no impact crater has been found is mentioned in support of the majority view that an asteroid exploded before reaching the surface of the Earth.

3 A: This less popular view is ascribed to Drobyshevski, who suggests that the Tunguska event resulted from a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere.

4 A: The last sentence of the first paragraph notes that the Tunguska event would have caused millions of casualties if it had occurred near a major city.

image: katerha

A law graduate of Stanford University, Blake scored above the 99th percentile on SAT reading, GMAT verbal, GRE verbal, and LSAT. He has worked in a dual role for Prep Zone Singapore since 2010: tutoring clients preparing for admission tests and overseeing the ongoing creation of written content used in Prep Zone classes. Prep Zone is one of the largest and most acclaimed test prep companies in Asia, with offices in Singapore, Dubai, Sri Lanka, and Shanghai. Since 2006, the company's experienced trainers have guided thousands of students to success.

Blake Hurst

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