Inside the TOEFL® Test - Reading Vocabulary Question


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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 Vocabulary questions. 

Inside the TOEFL® Test – Reading

Michael: Vocabulary questions ask you to identify the meanings of words and phrases as they are used in the reading passage.

It's easy to identify Vocabulary questions, because there will be a word or phrase highlighted in the reading passage, and you will see questions like these, with phrases like "closest in meaning" or "the author means."

Vocabulary- identify meanings of words and phrases
Word or phrase highlighted in the reading passage

  • 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…

Michael: Now let's look at a sample vocabulary question. This one is from a reading passage about meteorite impacts.
Here's an excerpt from the passage with the vocabulary word highlighted. 
Here's the sample question, which asks the meaning of the word "pose".

Now, there's really not much strategy in answering these vocabulary questions. .

There is increasing evidence that the impacts of meteorites have had important effects on Earth, particularly in the field of biological evolution. Such impacts continue to pose a natural hazard to life on Earth.

The word "pose" is closest in meaning to

  1. claim
  2. model
  3. assume
  4. present

Green check appears next to answer option D. present

Michael: The words that are tested are academic vocabulary that you should know if your English is at the level of a university student.

They are not usually words that you can guess from context. So the best general strategy to be ready for this type of questions is to build your vocabulary.

On-screen: Academic Vocabulary – words that students at university level should know

Michael: Keep in mind that there's a difference between academic vocabulary and specialized vocabulary. Academic vocabulary words can be used across many fields of study. These are the kind of words you'll be tested on.

Specialized vocabulary words are specific to one field. If words like this are in a TOEFL reading passage, they will be defined for you.

On-screen: Academic Vocabulary (Expected to know)

  • Arbitrary
  • Capacity
  • Fluctuate
  • Relatively

Specialized Vocabulary (Defined for you)

  • Cadence (Music)
  • Monopolies (Business)
  • Desertification (Earth Science)
  • Cetaceans (Biology)

Michael: Here is a tip for increasing your vocabulary:
Many English words come from Latin or Greek.  So if you study Latin and Greek roots that will help you remember the meanings of words.  And it can also help you figure out the meanings of words you may not know.

Latin and Greek roots of English words

Root word Origin Meaning Examples and Definitions
bio Greek life Biology- science of life
cardi Greek heart Cardiac - relating to the heart
retro Latin back Retrospect - review past events
vac Latin empty Vacant – not occupied


Michael: For example, if you know that the Latin root "terra" means earth, then when you see this sentence from the passage that talks about the "terrestrial material" found at the impact site, you'll know that it's referring to the material from the earth, not from the meteorite.

On-screen: terra = earth

Even diluted by the terrestrial material excavated from the crater, this component of meteorites is easily identified.

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