TOEFL Reading Inference Question Type
The TOEFL reading Inference questions measure your ability to comprehend an argument or an idea that is strongly implied but not explicitly stated in the text. For example, if an effect is cited in the passage, an Inference question might ask about its cause. If a comparison is made, an Inference question might ask for the basis of comparison. You should think about not only the explicit meaning of the author’s words but also the logical implications of those words.
How To Recognize Inference Questions
Inference questions will usually include the word infer, suggest, or imply.
- Which of the following can be inferred about X?
- The author of the passage implies that X…
- Which of the following can be inferred from paragraph 1 about X?
Tips For Inference Questions
- Make sure your answer does not contradicts the main idea of the passage.
- Do not choose an answer just because it seems important or true. The correct answer must be inferable from the passage.
- You should be able to defend your choice by pointing to explicitly stated information in the passage that leads to the inference you have selected.
“… The nineteenth century brought with it a burst of new discoveries and inventions that revolutionized the candle industry and made lighting available to all. In the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, a process was developed to refined tallow (fat from animals) with alkali and sulfuric acid. The result was a product called stearin. Stearin is harder and burns longer than unrefined tallow. This breakthrough meant that it was possible to make tallow candles that would not produce the usual smoke and rancid odor. Stearin were also derived from palm oils, so vegetables waxes as well as animals fats could be used to make candles…”
Which of the following can be inferred from paragraph 1 about candles before the nineteenth century?
- They did not smoke when they were burned.
- They produced a pleasant odor as they burned.
- They were not available to all.
- They contained sulfuric acid.
In the first sentence from the excerpt the author says that “new discoveries and inventions” made “lighting available to all.” The only kind of lighting discussed in the passage is candles. If the new discoveries were important because they made candles available to all, we can infer that before the discoveries, candles were not available to everyone. Therefore choice 3 is an inference about candles we can make from the passage. Choices 1 and 2 can be eliminated because they explicitly contradict the passage (“the usual smoke” and “rancid odor”). Choice 4 can be eliminated because sulfuric acid was first used to make stearin in the nineteenth century, not before the nineteenth century.
Rhetorical Purpose Questions
Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively. In Factual Information questions you are asked what information an author has presented. In Rhetorical Purpose questions you are ask why the author has presented a particular piece of information in a particular place or manner. Rhetoric Purpose questions ask you to show that you understand the rhetoric function of a statement or paragraph as it relates to the rest of the passage.
Sometimes you will be asked to identify how one paragraph relates to another. For instance, the second paragraph may give examples to support a statement in the first paragraph. The answer choices may be expressed in general terms (for example, “a theory is explained and then illustrated”) or in terms that are specific to the passage. (“The author explains the categories of adaptation to deserts by mammals and then gives an example.”)
A Rhetorical Purpose question may also ask why the author quotes a certain person or why the author mentions a particular piece of information (Example: Why does the author mention “the ability to grasp a pencil”? Correct answer: It is an example of a motor skills developed by children at 10 to 11 months of age.)
How To Recognize Rhetorical Purpose Questions
These are examples of the way Rhetorical Purpose questions are typically worded:
- The author discusses X in paragraph 2 in order to…
- Why does the author mention X?
- The author uses X as an example of …
Tips For Rhetorical Purpose Questions
- Know the definitions of these words or phrases, which are often used to described different Kinds of rhetorical purpose: “definition,” “example,”
“to illustrate,” “to explain,” “to contrast,” “to refute,” “to note,” “to criticize,” “function of.”
- Rhetorical Purpose questions usually do not ask about the overall organization of the reading passage. Instead, they typically focus on the logical links between sentences and paragraphs.
“. . . Sensitivity to physical laws is thus an important consideration for the maker of applied-art objects. It is often taken for granted that this is also true for the maker of fine-art objects. This assumption misses a significant difference between the two disciplines. Fine-art objects are not constrained by the laws of physics in the same way that applied-art objects are. Because their primary purpose is not functional, they are only limited in terms of the materials used to make them. Sculptures must, for example, be stable, which requires an understanding for the properties of mass, weight distribution, and stress. Paintings must have rigid stretchers so that the canvas will be taut, and the paint must not deteriorate, crack, or discolor. These are problems that must be overcome by the artist because they tend to intrude upon his or her conception of the work. For example, in the early Italian Renaissance, bronze statues horses with a raised foreleg usually had a cannonball under that hoof. This was done because the cannonball was needed to support the weight of the leg. . .”
Why does the author discuss the “bronze statues of horses” created by artists in the early Italian Renaissance?
- To prove an example of a problem related to the laws of physics that a fine artist must overcome
- To argue that fine artists are unconcerned with the laws of physics
- To contrast the relative sophisticated of modern artists in solving problems related to the laws of physics
- To note an exceptional piece of art constructed without the aid of technology
You should note that the sentence that first mentions “bronze statues of horses” begins “For example. . .” The author is giving an example of something he has introduced earlier in the paragraph. The paragraph overall contrasts how the constraints of physical laws affect the fine arts differently from applied arts or crafts. The fine art is not concerned with making an object that is useful, so he or she is less constrained than the applied artist. However, because even a fine arts object is made of some material, the artists must take into account the physical properties of the material. In the passage, the author uses the example of the bronze statues of horses to discuss how artists had to include some support for the raise foreleg of the horse because of the physical properties of the bronze. So the correct answer is choice 1.
These questions ask you to identify the meanings of individual words and phrases as they are used in the reading passage ( a word might have more than one meaning, but in the reading passage, only one of those meanings is relevant.) Vocabulary that is tested actually occurs in the passage; there is no “list of words” that must be tested. Usually a word or phrase is chosen to be tested as a vocabulary questions because understanding that word or phrase is important to understanding large or important part of the passage. On the TOEFL test, some words in the passage that are unusual, are technical, or have special meanings in the context of the topic are defined for you. If you click on the hyperlinked word in the passage, a definition will appear in a box. In this book, words of this type are defined at the end of the passage. Naturally, words that are tested as vocabulary questions are not defined for you.
How To Recognize Vocabulary Questions
Vocabulary questions are usually easy to identify. You will see one word or phrase highlighted on the passage. You are then asked question like any of the following:
- The word “X” in the passage is closest in meaning to . . .
- The phrase “X” in the passage is closest in meaning to. . .
- In stating X, the author means that . . .
Tips For Vocabulary Question
- Remember that the question is not just asking the meaning of a word;
It is asking for the meaning as it is used in the passage. Do not choose an answer just because it can be a correct meaning of the word; understand which meaning the author is using in the passage.
- Reread the sentence in the passage, substituting the word or phrase you have chosen. Confirm that the sentence still makes sense in the context of the whole passage.