To read it all the way through, or not to read it through

All the test-takers will find this question the most profound of all: Should the entire passage be read first or should the questions be read first?
The answer depends on your ability and your current score (or your goal).
If your score is below 80, wouldn’t it be impossible to read through the passage in just about 5~6 minutes to get the gist (as well as examples and details to support the main ideas) and confidently move on to each question? My advice is to directly go on to Question 1. After you read the question and four answer choices, you read the corresponding part of the passage (which appears on the screen) specifically to search for the answer.
This strategy is effective because you can set your purpose of reading the passage before you start reading. Whatever activity you may get involved in (sales promotion, for example), you will have a better result if your goal is clearly set. If you think “the larger number you can sell, the better you feel.” You will not be able to put your desire into action, thus failing to “feel good.”
The same it true of the TOEFL reading. The reading passage is as wide and deep as the Pacific Ocean. It is hard to get the whole picture of the ocean by sailing without a purpose. If your goal is to see if there are dolphins in the five-mile radius of Oahu, an island of the State of Hawaii, your goal is more likely to be reached.
If you can read the entire passage in 5 minutes before moving on to the questions, however, you should. Having already understood the main ideas and details, you stand a better chance of getting the correct answers. But if it takes more than 10 minutes to read the passage, you should take the “Question prior to Passage” approach. The passage is not worth spending as much as 10 minutes without knowing what to answer. The ultimate goal is to get a higher score.
What if it takes 7 or 8 minutes? That’s when you take the topic into consideration. If the topic is familiar to you, you can make it to the end of the passage faster and better. If it is not familiar, the “Question prior to Passage” approach is in action.

The first task at the test center

By the way, the first thing you are supposed to do at the test center is to test your microphone. Since the TOEFL involves listening and speaking, if the headset doesn’t work properly (which is often the case!) it will disrupt your calm and negatively influence your motivation, thus possibly lowering your score. Hence headset check. You are asked to say something for that purpose. Maybe I should refrain from revealing the exact prompt here, but anyways, there are four types of test takers in this case.

  1. those who repeat the prompt until the beep is heard (which indicates the headset is working normally)
  2. those who repeat the response (I live in … I live in… I live in…) until the beep
  3. those who read aloud what the screen says
  4. those who respond to the prompt on their own

This does not affect your score at all, but I like to respond to the prompt on my own. I belong to Group 4.

Below is what I say (The prompt is always the same, and so should the response be).

I live in Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Since it is located in the temperate zone, it has a warm climate. I like this climate partly because I was born and raised in the northern part of the country, where it often snows. One main feature of Tokyo is its function as a world financial center just like New York and London. In the center of the city, we have hundreds of banks and securities firms. It is therefore a very international city where you can see many foreigners. Tokyo is also a cultural center of Japan. We can enjoy Kabuki in the theater just adjacent to the business district.

Just a reminder. I cannot complete this prepared speech. By the time I say New York, I hear the beep and the screen changes. I have never said London … just yet.

Think carefully before adopting the “late-entry” strategy 

Everything has a flipside. Entering the room later than most people would give you an edge, as far as the reading section is concerned, but it also has a disadvantage – some people would even regard it as fatal. By the time you start the Speaking Section, most others would be working on their essays in the Writing Section. Just imagine. The entire room is replete with a mechanical sound of typing on the key board. It’s already a prohibiting area. There should not be any one sound that breaks this thick ice … except your lousy response to the prompts. 
Are you sure you can keep responding in a sane manner in such an unbearably tense atmosphere? Only when you are, will this “late-entry” strategy work.

When to enter the room?

The reading section is by far the most important section of the TOEFL test. If you make a blunder here you will not be motivated enough already to go on to the next section, which is listening, an even tougher section. this section is not for the faint-hearted. So in the sense that you should be well-prepared for the following sections, you cannot pay enough attention to the reading section.
If you want to really concentrate on the reading passages, you should enter the room after, not prior to, most of the test-takers. If you start the section earlier than the others in, let’s say, a room that can accommodate 30 people, then, you are supposed to hear 29 others testing the microphone, asking the administrator questions, bumping into the table you are sitting at, and making complaints about the malfunction of the PC. I do not believe this is an ideal environment in which to concentrate on the work.
The reading section is, in a sense, a key to success in the TOEFL test. So important is the section that you should even be more careful in deciding when to enter the room. On entrance into the test center, your test already starts.

Successful learners

This morning I recommended a book on earth science, which I read on my way to and from work. Earth science is a topic that appears most frequently on the actual TOEFL test. If you are not good at listening comprehension, a little acquisition of this type of knowledge will be a big plus. Well, what I wanted to say is something different. One of my friends and co-workers (teachers), who is also the coauthor of our previous book, has already ordered the book from It was just a matter of 30 minutes or so after I posted the recommendation. See? This is what distinguishes successful learners from unsuccessful learners. Successful learners always do. They are doers. Unsuccessful learners always think. They are thinkers. However, when you think about the book and decide not to read the book, isn’t it just like you didn’t think about the book at all in the first place? You will learn nothing from this act. On the other hand, successful learners can always learn from their deeds. That is partly why the above coworker is also a respectable translator.

Setting your goal

First thing first. The most important thing to get successful in your attempt toward the TOEFL test is to set your own goal. If you want to see yourself receiving the highest score you could ever get, then you will be still dreaming of it after all the time, effort, and money you spent on the TOEFL. If you look at the TOEFL itself in the distance, it may be elusive and whatever tips you get will not be able to contribute to a better score. However, if you look at each one of the four sections and get even closer to each question of each section, and how you can get to the right answer or an ideal response, you will realize the necessity to improve some specific abilities about your entire language ability. For that purpose, take an actual test just once. Then buy the official guide and do the first set to go over what questions are to be asked at the test center. Whether you study for yourself or go to a preparatory school, this is a prerequisite for a better score.