Toefl Reading sample 

In 1881, a new type of weed began spreading across the northern Great Plains. Unlike other weeds, the tumbleweed did not spend its life rooted to the soil; instead, it tumbled and rolled across fields in the wind. The weed had sharp, spiny leaves that could lacerate the flesh of ranchers and horses alike. It exploited the vast area of the plains, thriving in regions too barren to support other plants. With its ability to generate and disseminate numerous seeds quickly, it soon became the scourge of the prairies.

To present-day Americans, the tumbleweed symbolizes the Old West. They read the Zane Grey novels in which tumbleweeds drift across stark western landscapes and see classic western movies in which tumbleweeds share scenes with cowboys and covered wagons. Yet just over a century ago, the tumbleweed was a newcomer. The first sign of the invasion occurred in North and South Dakota in the late 1870s.

Farmers had noticed the sudden appearance of the new, unusual weed. One group of immigrants, however, did not find the weed at all unfamiliar. The tumbleweed, it turns out, was a native of southern Russia, where it was known as Tartar thistle. It was imported to the United States by unknown means.

Frontier settlers gave the plants various names: saltwort, Russian cactus, and wind witch. But botanists at the Department of Agriculture preferred the designation Russian thistle as the plant’s common name. However, these botanists had a much harder time agreeing on the plant’s scientific name. In general, botanists compare a plant to published accounts of similar plants, or to samples kept as specimens. Unfortunately, no book described the weed and no samples existed in herbaria in the United States.

1. Which of the following can be inferred about tumbleweeds?

A. They have strong, deep roots.

B. They require a lot of care.

C. They reproduce efficiently.

D. They provided food for ranchers and animals.

2. The passage suggests that most present-day Americans

A. consider the tumbleweed beneficial.

B. don’t know when tumbleweeds came to North America.

C. have never heard of tumbleweeds.

D. believe tumbleweeds are newcomers to the United States.

3. It is probable that the “group of immigrants” mentioned in paragraph 3

A. was from southern Russia.

B. had lived in North and South Dakota for many years.

C. imported tumbleweeds into the United States.

D. wrote several accounts about tumbleweeds.

4. From the passage it can be inferred that the botanists at the Department of


A. could not find any tumbleweeds on the plains.

B. gave the names saltwort, Russian cactus, and wind witch to the tumbleweed.

C. could not decide on a common designation for the tumbleweed.

D. found it difficult to classify the plant scientifically.

Answer key: 1. C 2. B 3. A 4. D


It would be no exaggeration to say that no disease has had a more devastating impact on the history of mankind than malaria. Consider the numbers: an estimated one to three million people are killed each year by the mosquito-borne illness, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. It is likely that the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria has been with mankind throughout its entire development as a species, especially since a close relative of the parasite that causes malaria in humans is common in chimpanzees. In ancient times, malaria was not limited to sub-tropical areas. It was common in Rome, and it may in fact have contributed to the decline of the mighty Roman Empire. The great armies of the Persian king Darius III could not defeat Alexander the Great, but malaria managed to stop his armies upon his arrival in India. There is even speculation that malaria may have ended the life of the great Macedonian ruler, who died under mysterious circumstances in 323 BC. But one need not turn the clock back so far to see the effects of malaria on the world’s events. As recently as World War II, malaria was responsible for the deaths of sixty thousand American soldiers in the Pacific campaigns, and American troops were still dying from the disease as they waged battle in Vietnam in the early 70s. But the most important effect is in Africa, where the disease continues to devastate entire villages that, due to their proximity to sources of water, serve an important function as the bread basket of Africa. By killing entire families of farmers, malaria is perpetuating the circle of poverty that makes eradicating the disease so hard in the first place.

1.This article is mainly about

a) the link between malaria and chimpanzees,
b) the effect of malaria on the history of man,
c) showing that malaria is the deadliest
disease in the world,
d) the effect of malaria on the outcome of wars.

2. According to the article, which of the following
might represent the number of people killed
by malaria each year?

a) 800 thousand,
b) two million,
c) four million,
d) half a million.

3. In ancient times, malaria

a) was more widespread than it is now,
b) killed more people than it does now,
c) was limited to sub-tropical areas,
d) was used as a weapon by armies.

4. The article implies that

a) Alexander the Great would have conquered
India if not for malaria,
b) poverty in Africa is the result of diseases
like malaria,
c) Darius III was unable to defeat Alexander
the Great because of malaria,
d) malaria had an effect on the course of
human history.

5. The article establishes a link between malaria
and the outcome of World War II.

True                               False

6. What do you think the term “bread basket of
Africa” (underlined) means?

a) this is talking about an area of Africa where
baskets are made,
b) it refers to Africa’s food-producing regions,
c) these are stores where bread is made,
d) it is a generic term used to refer to any area

7. The last sentence implies that poverty
perpetuates malaria and vice versa.

True                  False

8. The mood of the article is

a) academic,
b) somber,
c) optimistic,
d) literary
Answer key: 1.b 2.b 3.a 4.d 5.fals 6.b 7.true 8.b