Reading Comprehension for TOEFL 2

The most thoroughly studied cases of deception strategies employed by ground nesting birds involve plovers, small birds that typically nest on beaches or in open fields, their nests merely scrapes in the sand or earth. Plovers also have an effective repertoire of tricks for distracting potential nest predators from their exposed and defenseless eggs or chicks.

            The ever-watchful plover can detect a possible threat at a considerable distance. When she does, the nesting bird moves inconspicuously off the nest to a spot well away from eggs or chicks. At this point she may use one of several ploys. One technique involves first moving quietly toward an approaching animal and then setting off noisily through the grass or brush in a low, crouching run away from the nest, while emitting rodent like squeaks. The effect mimics a scurrying mouse or vole, and the behavior rivets the attention of the type of predators that would also be interested in eggs and chicks.

            Another deception begins with quiet movement to an exposed and visible location well away from the nest. Once there, the bird pretends to incubate a brood. When the predator approaches, the parent flees, leaving the false nest to be searched. The direction in which the plover “escapes” is such that if the predator chooses to follow, it will be led still further away from the true nest.

            The plover’s most famous stratagem is the broken-wing display, actually  a continuum of injury-mimicking behaviors spanning the range from slight disability to near-complete helplessness. One or both wings are held in an abnormal position, suggesting injury. The bird appears to be attempting escape along an irregular route that indicates panic. In the most extreme version of the display, the bird flaps one wing in an apparent attempt to take to the air, flops over helplessly, struggles back to its feet, runs away a short distance, seemingly attempts once more to take off, flops over again as the “useless” wing fails to provide any lift, and so on. Few predators fail to pursue such obviously vulnerably prey. Needless to say, each short run between “flight attempts” is directed away from the nest.


(TOEFL Practice)

Graphs and Charts

A picture, so they say, will tell a thousand words. But what about a graph or chart?

A good graph or chart can show as much as several paragraphs of words. But how do you choose which style of graph to use?

Types of Charts

There are several different types of charts and graphs. The four most common are probably line graphs, bar graphs and histograms, pie charts, and Cartesian graphs. They are generally used for, and best for, quite different things.

You would use:

  • Bar graphs to show numbers that are independent of each other. Example data might include things like the number of people who preferred each of Chinese takeaways, Indian takeaways and fish and chips.

  • Pie charts to show you how a whole is divided into different parts. You might, for example, want to show how a budget had been spent on different items in a particular year.

  • Line graphs show you how numbers have changed over time. They are used when you have data that are connected, and to show trends, for example, average night time temperature in each month of the year.

  • Cartesian graphs have numbers on both axes, which therefore allow you to show how changes in one thing affect another. These are widely used in mathematics, and particularly in Algebra.


Graphs have two axes, the lines that run across the bottom and up the side. The line along the bottom is called the horizontal or x-axis, and the line up the side is called the vertical or y-axis.

  • The x-axis may contain categories or numbers. You read it from the bottom left of the graph.

  • The y-axis usually contains numbers, again starting from the bottom left of the graph.

The numbers on the y-axis generally, but not always, start at 0 in the bottom left of the graph, and move upwards. Usually the axes of a graph are labelled to indicate the type of data they show.

Bar Graphs and Histograms

Bar graphs generally have categories on the x-axis, and numbers on the y-axis. This means that you can compare numbers between different categories. The categories need to be independent, that is changes in one of them do not affect the others.

Here is a summary of ‘some data’ in a data table:


Some Data
Category 1 4.1
Category 2 2.5
Category 3 3.5
Category 4 4.7

And the same data displayed in a bar chart:

Example basic bar chart


You can see immediately that this graph gives you a clear picture of which category is largest and which is smallest.

You can also use the graph to read off information about how many are in each category without having to refer back to the data table, which may or may not be provided with every graph you see.

In general, you can draw bar graphs with the bars either horizontal or vertical, because it doesn’t make any difference. The bars do not touch.

A histogram is a specific type of bar chart, where the categories are ranges of numbers. Histograms therefore show combined continuous data.

Histogram – Worked Example

You have been given a list of ages in years, and you need to show them in a graph.

The ages are:
5, 12, 23, 22, 28, 17, 11, 21, 25, 23, 7, 16, 13, 39, 35, 42, 24, 31, 35, 36, 35, 34, 37, 44, 51, 53, 46, 45, and 57.

You can choose to group them into ten-year age categories, 0–10, 11–20, 21–30 and so on:

   Age Number of
0-10 2
11-20 5
21-30 7
31-40 8
41-50 4
51-60 3

To show this data in a histogram, your x-axis would be numbered in 10s from 0 to your highest age, your y-axis from 0 to 8 (the highest number of people in any group), and there would be no gaps between the bars, because there are no gaps between the age ranges.

Example Histogram


A pictogram is a special type of bar graph. Instead of using an axis with numbers, it uses pictures to represent a particular number of items. For example, you could use a pictogram for the data above about ages, with an image of a person to show the number of people in each category:

Example Pictogram

Pie Charts

A pie chart looks like a circle (or a pie) cut up into segments. Pie charts are used to show how the whole breaks down into parts.

For example, this data shows the sales figures for a year, broken down by quarters:

Quarterly Sales Figures 1st Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 4th Qtr
8.2 3.2 1.4 1.2

Example Pie Chart

From the pie chart you can see immediately that sales in Quarter 1 were much bigger than all the others: more than 50% of total annual sales.

Quarter 2 was next, with around one quarter of sales.

Without knowing anything more about this business, you might be concerned about the way that sales appeared to have dropped over the year.

Pie charts, unlike bar graphs, show dependent data.

The total sales in the year have to have occurred in one quarter or another. If you’ve got the figures wrong, and Q1 should be smaller, one of the other quarters will have sales added to compensate, assuming that you haven’t made a mistake with the total.

Pie charts show percentages of a whole – your total is therefore 100% and the segments of the pie chart are proportionally sized to represent the percentage of the total. For more on percentages see our page: Introduction to Percentages.

Usually it is not appropriate to use pie charts for more than 5 or 6 different categories. Lots of segments are difficult to visualise and such data may be better displayed on a different type of chart or graph.

Line Graphs

Line graphs are usually used to show dependent data, and particularly trends over time.

Line graphs depict a point value for each category, which are joined in a line. We can use the data from the pie chart as a line graph too.

You can see even more obviously that sales have fallen rapidly over the year, although the slow-down is levelling out at the end of the year. Line graphs are particularly useful for identifying the point in time at which a certain level of sales, revenue (or whatever the y value represents) was reached.

In the example above, suppose we want to know during which quarter sales first fell below 5. We can draw a line across from 5 on the y-axis (red line on the example), and see that it was during quarter 2.

Cartesian Graphs

Cartesian graphs are what mathematicians really mean when they talk about graphs. They compare two sets of numbers, one of which is plotted on the x-axis and one on the y-axis. The numbers can be written as Cartesian coordinates, which look like (x,y), where x is the number read from the x-axis, and y the number from the y-axis.

Cartesian Graph – Worked Example

John is two years older than Mary, and their ages added together equal 12. What age are they both now?

We can solve this by drawing two lines, one of John’s age compared with Mary’s, and one of the ages that add together to give 12.

Line 1: John’s age when Mary is different ages between 1 and 9

Mary’s Age 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
John’s Age
(=Mary + 2)
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Line 2: John’s age when Mary is different ages between 1 and 9 if their ages add up to 12

Mary’s Age 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
John’s Age
(=12 – Mary’s Age)
11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

Plotting the two lines on graph, with Mary’s age as the x-axis, you can see that there is a point at which the lines cross. This is the only point at which a) John is two years older than Mary and b) their ages add up to 12. This must be their current ages, which are therefore 5 for Mary and 7 for John.

For more about the uses of Cartesian graphs to solve problems in maths, take a look at our pages on Simple Equations and More Complicated Equations.

Drawing Graphs using Computer Packages

You can use various computer software packages, including Word and Excel, to draw graphs.

However, be aware that these applications are somewhat limited in the type of charts that they can draw, and you may not find the results entirely what you expected! You really need a basic understanding of graphs and charts so that you can compare what the computer has created to what you want to show.

Computer applications also make it easy to produce overly complicated graphs. A 3D exploding pie chart may look ‘cool’ but does it help you or others to visualise the data? It is often best to keep graphs and charts simple with neat, clear formatting.

A Graph is Worth…

Whatever way you choose to draw your graphs, once you have the knack of reading them, you will almost certainly find that the old saying is right: a picture really can tell a thousand words.

Whether a graph is worth a thousand numbers is a moot point, but it is certainly an effective way of showing several numbers together, and demonstrating the relationships or differences between them.




How to Write a Letter of Application for a Job

Part 1

Preparing Your Letter

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Grab a piece of paper and make two columns. In the left column write “Requirements” and in the right, “My Skills”. Read the job application carefully and become familiar with the requirements for this job. Next you will compare those to your skills and experiences on your resume.

  • In the left column write down the requirements and skills needed for the job.
  • In the right column write down points from your resume that fit those.
  • Having these points of interest that correlate to the job will help you provide the most important information in your cover letter quickly and effectively.

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Start your letter by adding your contact information at the top. You want to make it as easy as possible for your prospective employer to contact you and know who you are. Before you begin your letter, make sure that you have the proper letterhead.

  • Make sure your document is aligned to the left.
  • Include the current date, then separated by a space, add your contact information:
    • Name
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • Email address
    • Personal website (if you have one)
    • LinkedIn profile

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Include the company’s information. After you include your information, you need to include the name of the employer to whom you are applying for the job, his title, name of company and address.[1]

  • By including the contact information of the company to which you are applying, you are showing that you have taken the time to write a specific letter or application to this company, and have done your research on the hiring manager for the position.
  • Doing your homework puts you ahead of a majority of applications which are clearly generic cut and paste letters, and shows you are dedicated.
  • If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, search the company’s website to see if you can find him. Go to LinkedIn, and even search Twitter. If you can’t narrow down a specific name, see if you can find the head of the department to which you are applying. If all else fails and you have no name, it’s ok to address your cover letter to the hiring manager of the department. Example: “[Department] Hiring Manager”.

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Address your letter to the person whom you are writing. To begin your letter, you want to be formal and start with a proper address. Don’t address it to “To Whomsoever it May Concern”, as this is informal, generic, and gives the impression that you haven’t researched the company.

  • Once again, if you don’t have the hiring manager’s name, a simple “Dear [Department] Hiring Manager” will do.



Part 2

Writing Your Letter


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1. Write an engaging first paragraph. Employers read a lot of cover letters, and most of the time a hiring manager will scan them quickly deciding if your letter goes in the trash or the “keep” pile. Don’t bury the lead, treat your application letter like a news article.[2]

  • Open with a strong, declarative statement that informs your reader that you are excited to be applying for [the position] at [company].
  • Be short and specific with what attracted you to the job. What is it about the company that you like? Give an example, and don’t be afraid to be a little conversational depending on how casual the company is.
  • Show the manager that you are not only familiar with the company’s work, but that you are a good fit by writing in a similar tone to the company.
  • For example: if you are applying to a company that writes news articles, try to embody a tone that is similar to those articles. Are they serious, do they add humor? If it’s a more formal company like a big marketing firm or financial institution, you might want to be more authoritative, but always be polite.


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    2. State where you found the position to which you are applying. Before applying, do some research and see if you know anyone at the company. It’s always better to have an in and reference, and don’t be afraid to name drop if you have the employee’s permission.

    • If you don’t have a contact at the company, still be sure to include where you found the application, such as via a job site, the company’s site, in a newspaper, etc
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    Explain why hiring you will benefit the employer. You don’t want to tell them why getting hired will benefit you. There’s a reason this position is open, there’s a problem that needs solving. You’re here to solve it.

    • Look at your list of accomplishments and experience and find one or two examples that you can speak about. These should highlight why you will be great in the role.
    • For example, if you see that the position needs someone who can lead a team and handle multiple projects at once, look at your accomplishments to see if you have any experience that solves that need. If you’ve led team members before, briefly speak to how your leadership skills increased productivity across multiple projects.
    • Anytime that you can provide stats and numbers, do so. When describing why hiring you will benefit the employer, try to use stats like an increase in revenue or a cut down on costs under your leadership.


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    Briefly summarize your strengths, qualifications, and experience. In your second paragraph, you want to mirror the job qualifications to two or three of your abilities and experiences that show why you’re perfect for the role.

    • Refer to your CV or resume, and your skills section from your outline for more explanations of your qualifications and skills.
    • Look for quick anecdotes that highlight how you’ve been able to solve issues that the company you are applying for might have based on the requirements.
    • Include the most relevant aspects of your career. While more recent accomplishments are a good place to start, you may have done something in the past that fits perfectly to the requirements; don’t be afraid to dig deep


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    Paint a picture of yourself that’s not on your resume. A hiring manager can read your CV or resume and see what you have done in your previous jobs. You want to show the hiring manager who the person behind the accomplishments is.[3]

    • In one or two sentences, express how the company has impacted you personally. If you are applying to your dream job, chances are this company has somehow shaped your life.
    • Don’t get too sappy, and keep it short. But by showing the human side of yourself with a story, you show that you’re more than just facts on a piece of paper.

    Part 3

    Finishing Up Your Letter

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      Briefly summarize why you’re the perfect candidate for the job in one sentence. Ending your letter of application on the right note is a very important part of your letter as it can help you land the interview.[4]

      • When you explain how you can contribute to the company, remember that you want to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. It’s about how your contributions will help the company, not how the company will help you.
      • Ask yourself what you would be looking for in a candidate if you were hiring.



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    Invite the hiring manager to contact you. Inform your reader that you would love the opportunity to speak further about the position and provide your contact info again.[5]

    • You can conclude your letter by thanking the hiring manager and ending with a statement like I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
    • Don’t just ask the hiring manager to contact you if he feels you are a good fit. Show some confidence (without being cocky) by telling him that you look forward to speaking further.


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    3. Sign off. Signing off can seem like an afterthought, or become frustrating if you don’t know what is appropriate. Use Yours sincerely or simply “Best”.

    • Being too formal can hurt you here as you may come off insincere, or it may not fit the style of the rest of your letter.
    • By saying something like “Best” or “Best wishes”, you show respect without sounding like you’re writing a love letter.[6] Alternatively, something like “Cheers” may be too informal and can come off as presumptuous.



Write your name underneath. After you sign off, write your full name on the last line, and consider including a signature.

  • If you have set up a signature on your word processor, you can insert it under your name.
  • Alternatively, you can print out your letter and sign your name by hand if you wish. Although with this method, you will have to scan your letter back into your computer.
  • A signature is not always required.