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Michael: Hi, I'm Michael from ETS. Today on Inside the TOEFL Test, we're going inside the TOEFL iBT Reading section. Specifically, the Inference and Rhetorical Purpose questions.
Inside the TOEFL® Test – Reading
Michael: Inference questions ask you to identify information or comprehend an idea that is not explicitly stated in the reading passage.
You can recognize inference questions because they usually include the words "infer," "imply" or "suggest," like in these examples.
Rhetorical purpose questions are similar, because they also ask for information not explicitly stated. These will ask why the author has presented a piece of information.
On-screen: Inference- not explicitly stated
- Which of the following can be inferred from paragraph 1 about X?
- The author of the paragraph implies that X…
- Paragraph X suggests which of the following about Y?
- Why does the author mention X?
Michael: One way to approach these types of questions, if you can't identify the correct answer immediately, is to eliminate wrong answers. You will see more on this as we go through the example.
On-screen: Eliminate wrong answers if you can't identify the correct answer immediately.
Michael: Now let's do a sample inference question. Here's a paragraph from a reading passage about meteorite impacts.
On-screen: The body that impacted Earth at the end of the Cretaceous period was a meteorite with a mass of more than a trillion tons and a diameter of at least 10 kilometers. Scientists first identified this impact in 1980 from the worldwide layer of sediment deposited from the dust cloud that enveloped the planet after the impact. This sediment layer is enriched in the rare metal iridium and other elements that are relatively abundant in a meteorite but very rare in the crust of Earth. Even diluted by the terrestrial material excavated from the crater, this component of meteorites is easily identified. By 1990 geologists had located the impact site itself in the Yucatán region of Mexico. The crater, now deeply buried in sediment, was originally about 200 kilometers in diameter.
Michael: Next, let's look at the question.
You see that it uses the word "inferred," so that clearly tells you that it's an inference question
On-screen: Which of the following can be inferred from the paragraph about the location of the meteorite impact in Mexico?
- The location of the impact site in Mexico was kept secret by geologists from 1980 to 1990.
- It was a well-known fact that the impact had occurred in the Yucatán region.
- Geologists knew that there had been an impact before they knew where it had occurred.
- The Yucatán region was chosen by geologists as the most probable impact site because of its climate.
Michael: Can you identify the correct answer? It's Choice C, because it's supported by this sentence, which indicates that scientists knew in 1980 that there had been an impact…
- Answer choice C is highlighted, Geologists knew that there had been an impact before they knew where it had occurred.
- Highlight appears on excerpt text "Scientists first identified this impact in 1980 from the worldwide layer of sediment deposited from the dust cloud that enveloped the planet after the impact."
…and this one, where it said the site had been located in the Yucatan.
On-screen: Highlight appears on excerpt text, "By 1990 geologists had located the impact site itself in the Yucatán region of Mexico."
Michael: Let's look at why the other choices can be eliminated.
Choice A is not correct, because there isn't anything written or implied in the passage about geologists keeping the impact site secret.
On-screen: Red X appears next to answer choice A. The location of the impact site in Mexico was kept secret by geologists from 1980 to 1990.
Michael: Choice B is also not correct. Saying that it was a "well known fact" contradicts the passage where it talks about the discovery of the crater in the Yucatan.
- Red X appears next to answer choice B. It was a well-known fact that the impact had occurred in the Yucatán region
- Highlight appears on excerpt text, "By 1990 geologists had located the impact site itself in the Yucatán region of Mexico. The crater, now deeply buried in sediment, was originally about 200 kilometers in diameter."
Michael: Choice D also can't be correct, because the paragraph doesn't mention climate as a factor in the discovery of the impact site.
Red X appears next to answer choice D. The Yucatán region was chosen by geologists as the most probable impact site because of its climate.
Michael: Now let's look at an example of a rhetorical purpose question. It asks about information from a different paragraph in the same reading passage about meteorites and dinosaurs. It's like an Inference question, but it asks WHY the author includes a particular piece of information.
On-screen: If an impact is large enough, it can disturb the environment of the entire Earth and cause an ecological catastrophe. The best-documented such impact took place 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period of geological history. This break in Earth's history is marked by a mass extinction when as many as half the species on the planet became extinct. While there are a dozen or more mass extinctions in the geological record, the Cretaceous mass extinction has always intrigued paleontologists because it marks the end of the age of the dinosaurs. For tens of millions of years, those great creatures had flourished. Then suddenly, they disappeared.
In paragraph 2, why does the author include the information that dinosaurs had flourished for tens of millions of years and then suddenly disappeared?
- To support the claim that the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous is the best-documented of the dozen or so mass extinctions in the geological record
- To explain why as many as half of the species on Earth at the time are believed to have become extinct at the end of the Cretaceous
- To explain why paleontologists have always been intrigued by the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous
- To provide evidence that an impact can be large enough to disturb the environment of the entire planet and cause an ecological disaster
Michael: When reading each answer choice, the most important part to focus on is the "to clause" at the beginning of each one. Then pick the answer that best describes what the author is trying to do. In this case, the correct answer is C.
On-screen: Green check mark appears next to answer option C. To explain why paleontologists have always been intrigued by the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous
Michael: One way to build your reading skills is by practicing skimming, which is reading quickly to identify major points. One way to skim is to read the introductory paragraph, then the first sentence of each of the middle paragraphs, and then read the concluding paragraph.
On-screen: Skimming: reading quickly to identify major points
Michael: When you're practicing, try reading a passage twice, the first time skimming to get the main ideas, then read it again more carefully to see if you really DID get those main ideas.
Another tip that will help with rhetorical purpose questions is to make sure you know the definition of these words, because they are often used to describe kinds of rhetorical purposes.
On-screen: Rhetorical Purpose: Key words
- To illustrate
- To explain
- To contract
- To refute
- To note
- To support
Michael: There are lots of ways to improve your English skills. Whatever you do, keep practicing. And good luck on your TOEFL test.
On-screen: For more information about the TOEFL® test and to register, visit the TOEFL® website at www.toeflgoanywhere.org