A Crucial Skill You Must Develop for the Reading Section

In this blog, you will learn a crucial skill for the Reading section of the TOEFL. 
Many of my students struggle with inference questions. They look at the text, and think the answer will be there somewhere. The problem is this: That is not how inference questions work. They are specifically asking you to “read between the lines.” In other words, you have to think critically and use your deductive skills in order to get the question right. You must use logic. The answer will not be written in the passage.
Since this is a critical skill in college and university, and college admissions was the original purpose of the test, you must be able to do this. (Sorry to all of you in the medical field – this was, and remains, a test that is used to assess how well you would do in a college classroom. It’s may not seem fair, but that’s how it is).
Imagine this passage, which I created. It’s similar to a TPO question, but I changed it enough so that I won’t get into trouble 😊
​The Roosevelt elk is a large mammal that is herbivorous. During the summer, it lives at high elevations and browses on huckleberry, salal, and dogwood. However, this feeding takes place when the weather is fair. When snow and frost appear on the ground and plants begin to decay, the Roosevelt elk migrates down to lower elevations. Even with a significant amount of snow on the ground, there remains a thick understory of plants for the elk to browse upon. This compensates for the elk’s inability to go into a state of hibernation.
It can be inferred that winter conditions:
 A. Prevent the Roosevelt elk from migrating
 B. Make food unavailable at high elevations
 C. Increases the understory of plants at lower elevations
D. Cause the Roosevelt elk to hibernate  
When you are ready to answer, continue:
The answer is B. You might be surprised, because it was never mentioned that there is no food at high elevations. But again, use your critical thinking skills. Why do animals migrate? Generally, although there are other reasons, they migrate to find FOOD. Remember, migration takes ENERGY from animals—a lot of it. It also exposes them to predators and other risks. Think like a scientist: Animals do not like to waste energy. They would only do this—migrate—if they had no food where they were. Think it through!

The other answers are wrong because:
 A. It’s not true. The elk migrates to the lowlands.
C. Although these plants are mentioned, there is NO mention of an increase.
 D. This is not true. The last sentence states they do NOT hibernate. 

Let’s try another inference question to practice this:
In the middle of the nineteenth century, railroads were the most popular form of transportation for both passengers and freight. It was not until the next century that the famous automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, created the Model T, a car that was affordable to the middle class. Ford developed the assembly line mode of production, which revolutionized the automobile industry and made him a world-famous leader in business. The impact Ford had on the world is beyond measure. The introduction of the Model T to the mass market transformed agricultural economies into prosperous industries. With the invention of the Model T in 1908, farmers were able to move their produce to large markets and operate in a national economy.
It can be inferred that before 1908:
 A. Nobody owned an automobile
 B. America did not have a middle class
 C. Farmers did not have access to national markets
​ D. Agricultural produce was moved into large markets by railroad  

When you are ready to answer, continue:
The answer is C. The reading says “With the invention of the Model T in 1908, farmers were able to move their produce to large markets and operate in a national economy.”
Now, the reading doesn’t explicitly claim that before 1908, farmers could not access a national economy. Again, you must INFER. If after 1908 farmers were able to move their produce – and operate in a national economy—it’s only logical that BEFORE 1908, they were NOT able to do this.
I hope this blog helped you in your reading journey. As always, good luck on your test.