Achieve a High Score on the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in 7 Steps

Achieve a High Score on the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in 7 Steps

The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task does not have to be scary.

However, if you are not prepared, it might seem like the most complex writing task in any test of the English language.

You may not be familiar with writing in English, and this TOEFL task gives you only 20 minutes to create your written response.

Unlike the TOEFL Independent Writing Task, you have to do more than write. You need to read and listen before you get started writing. Plus, you still need to do some good writing to score high in this part of the test.

Fortunately, if you follow these steps, you will be totally prepared to write on test day.

Achieve a High Score on the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in 7 Steps

Achieve a High Score on the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in 7 Steps

1. Understand the Task

If you are taking the TOEFL test, you are probably preparing for university abroad. That is why you have to prove you can understand the main ideas of lectures and texts. Being able to understand spoken and written English is also important for anyone who wants to travel abroad, work abroad or work with English-speaking people in their home country.

In this part of the test, you have to read a passage that is 250 to 300 words long and listen to a lecture that is 1 to 2 minutes long. Both the written passage and the lecture are about the same academic topic. They present two perspectives on the same issue.

You should take notes while reading and listening so you can remember the important things you want to write about. After you read and listen, you need to be able to write a 150-225 word response about how the reading and the listening passages are related.

2. Use Directions to Your Advantage

The directions for the Integrated Writing Task will be the same on all tests.

Prepare by doing as many practice tests as you possible can before the exam. This way, you will know all the directions before the exam so you don’t need to waste time and energy reading them carefully during the actual test.

The more you know about the directions, the more prepared you will be. You will know exactly what to do! That sounds less terrifying already, right?

3. Take Excellent Notes

You are supposed to take notes while reading and listening in order to be able write about the main ideas in the two passages and show how they are related. Good notes are going to help you remember information. But how do you write good notes?

Use Key Words

Do not try to write in full sentences. Especially while listening, it can be very hard to concentrate on both understanding English and writing down sentences word-for-word.

You will have access to the reading passage while you do the writing task, so you can always look at it one more time while you are writing. However, this takes time! You want to maximize your writing time so you have extra minutes to work on creating your response. You do not want to look at the passage more than once if possible.

Try not to read passage again and again. Take brief notes while you are reading the passage the first or second time.

Taking notes also means that you will be writing down your ideas and opinions about the reading, and you will be writing using your own words. You do not want to copy any of the language from the passage when you are writing your response. You want to use original language and prove that you have a wide range of vocabulary.

Use Symbols

You can save time while taking notes by replacing words with symbols. One symbol can replace an entire sentence! It saves you time to make only a couple of quick marks, rather than writing out an entire sentence.

For example, you could use <—> to show contrast between two ideas.

Use —>to show cause and effect.

You can come up with your own list of symbols while preparing for the exam. Create ones that make sense to you. If you use them repeatedly, you will be able to be very effective while taking notes on the test.

Practice Makes Perfect

Keep a notebook nearby whenever you are reading or listening to something in English. You can practice taking notes while doing reading in your spare time or while listening to science-related TED talks.

It’s best to practice with academic passages because these tend to be more structured, like the ones you get in the test.

Use a Table to Take Notes in a Structured Way

It is very quick and easy to draw a table while taking your test, and it will help you a lot. Draw a table before you start reading or listening.

This will help you focus on the main ideas in the two passages and how they are related. You will be able to see the main ideas and the connections between them at a glance. This will save a lot of planning time before writing.

You can use this model:

Main Idea Reading Listening

Stay Calm While Listening

You only get to listen to the spoken passage once, so you can feel a lot of pressure to understand everything, take great notes and get all the information you need to get the written response right.

There is no way to press “rewind” or play the passage again. When it is over, it is over.

That might sound really scary, but it is not that bad when you know how the test works.

Remember that you are only supposed to understand the main ideas andconnect these to the main ideas of the reading passage. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand every single word! This is not a vocabulary test. You do not have to answer 30 specific questions after listening. You just have to understand the main points.

Try not to worry if you do not remember very specific information. When you do the writing task, you are the one who decides what to include. For this, you are going to need the main ideas and connections between them. If you can only take notes on just a few supporting ideas from the listening passage, remember you can access the reading passage for more details while writing.

4. Organize Your Writing


You should spend only 1-2 minutes to plan your written response, but do not panic while planning! Remember the table you made while you read and listened? Use it now and you can save time.

Divide Your Response into Paragraphs

You should attempt to write 4 paragraphs.

Try to target both the reading and listening passage in each paragraph. Do not write one paragraph about the text and then one about the lecture. It is better to discuss both.

You can follow the structure of the example paragraphs below:

  • Introduction: State the main topic of the two passages and the main connection between the passages.

Example: Both the reading and the listening passage discuss__________. The author of the reading passage argues that__________, while the lecturer challenges the points made by the article. He/She claims that__________.

  • 1st Paragraph: State the first main idea of the text and relate it to a main idea in the listening passage.

Example: First of all, the author of the reading passage states that__________. He/She claims that__________. However, the lecturer in the spoken passage implies that__________. Moreover, he/she believes that__________.

  • 2nd and 3rd Paragraph: State more main ideas of the text and connect these ideas to main ideas from the lecture. You can use the 1st paragraph example above to structure these paragraphs.
  • Conclusion: Write a short concluding paragraph about how the topic is seen differently by the two authors. If you don’t have time for a conclusion, don’t panic. You can turn the paragraph dealing with the last main idea into a conclusion like this:

Last but not least, the reading passage mentions__________. The author seems to believe that__________. In contrast, the lecturer argues that__________. He/She discusses__________. The two perspectives differ in their approach to__________.

Use connectors to make your writing more structured and logical.

  1. To sequence ideas: firstly, secondly, last but not least
  2. To contrast ideas: however, although, nevertheless, in contrast, on the one hand/ on the other hand
  3. To show cause and effectas a result, consequently, therefore

5. Remember: This Is a Language Test

Do not worry if you know nothing about the topic, you are not supposed to know about the topic! You may even lose points for focusing on your personal opinion.

The Independent Writing Task will ask you about your point of view. However, the Integrated Writing Task is about reading well, listening well, understanding and discussing the ideas that were given to you.

The raters (the people who read your test and decide your score) are interested in how well you can synthesize information from the two sources and, of course, they are interested in your level of English writing.

This means you have to prove your level of English is really good. How do you do that? By using complex grammar structures and a wide range of vocabulary.

You should try to use your most advanced knowledge of English here, but do not use words or phrases you are not sure about. You have a very important strategic advantage when you do writing: You have time to think!

When you are speaking you cannot stop and think about the words you are going to use, but when you are writing you can choose to use the vocabulary you are confident about.

Do some writing tasks and have a teacher or native speaker edit them for you. To find a native English speaker who’s trained to teach you about the TOEFL, visit Wyzant. This website will help you find a local TOEFL tutor anywhere in the United States, and you can even choose one who has specialized in English writing or English grammar.

If you’d prefer to meet with an English tutor online, search on Verbling. This huge website has thousands of professional tutors who you can choose from, and many offer very low, affordable prices for tutoring. And there are specialized TOEFL tutors here too!

While working with your TOEFL tutor, keep a “favorite mistakes” diary in which you record language mistakes so you avoid making them again. 

6. Edit

Leave 1-2 minutes to proofread your work. Remember, you don’t have time for big changes. The raters know this is a first draft. What you can do, however, is correct spelling and punctuation mistakes.

7. Time Is of the Essence

Time is very important!

Exams are about using your time well so you can score as high as possible.

Time yourself as you do practice tests and do not waste any exam time on things that are not worth it. Do not waste valuable minutes to think about a word that you simply cannot remember. Use a synonym that you know very well instead!

Give yourself 1-2 minutes to do planning and editing work. All the rest of your time should be left for writing.

Use as much time as you can before the exam to do exam-like tasks, because practice makes perfect!

Before you take the real TOEFL exam, you should take at least one full practice TOEFL exam. An ideal place to do this is BestMyTest. When you take your practice TOEFL exam on this website, you will receive feedback from real, TOEFL-certified English teachers. They’ll read your writing and give you suggestions to help you improve your exam score.

Remember that, even after you have passed the TOEFL test, the skills you developed while preparing for the Integrated Writing Task will stay with you. These skills will be your valuable resources when you study or work abroad.

The time you spend studying now can greatly improve your overall level of English.

So, get excited to study!

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10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section

10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section

Why Practice TOEFL Writing?

The simple answer? You want a better score.

This isn’t the only reason to practice TOEFL writing though. If you’re taking the TOEFL, it’s probably because you want to go to a university in another country.

The TOEFL is based on a lot of the things that foreign learners struggle with. Studying for the TOEFL will prepare you for university abroad. If you can get a high score on the TOEFL, it likely means you’re more prepared for the university environment where teachers will ask you to discuss or write about unfamiliar topics all the time.

Top Mistakes English Students Make on the TOEFL (and Why I Know)

As a former TOEFL rater, I read hundreds of essays per week.

I saw the same mistakes over and over again.

Mistakes do matter, so I’m going to share the most frequent ones with you before we get started.

The first one is to apologize to your rater for your English skills. We know you’re not a native speaker, so do not apologize to us. You’ll lower our expectations of the rest of your writing, which can only make things worse.

Another is to freeze up and write down almost nothing. Some ideas are better than no ideas. Don’t try to be perfect when the clock is ticking.

One more thing: remember that there’s also an Integrated Writing Section of the TOEFL which is completely different. In that section, your opinions and ideas should not be included, so make sure to study for that section separately.

10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section

There are some ways you can improve your score by using some basic strategies. Today, I’ll share them with you, along with ways that you can practice them. Some of these things will probably surprise you because they might be different from what your English teacher taught you in school — but just stay with me! I know what I’m talking about here, and I won’t guide you down the wrong path.

10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section

10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section

1. Practice timed writing before the day of the test.

Preparing an essay for English class and writing on the day of the TOEFL are completely different experiences. With an essay for class, you have tons of time to formulate your ideas and write them down carefully.

When a timer is involved, things change. You need to think fast, write fast and correct writing fast. You must practice this, especially if you aren’t good at typing on a computer keyboard. Choose a topic and set a timer for thirty minutes. Try to spend the entire 30 minutes writing, without stopping.

When the timer is finished, read your writing carefully to see how you did. How was your grammar? How many sentences could you write?

Do this several times per week. Lots of practice can really help you improve on the TOEFL. With practice, you’ll be able to think about ideas faster and type your responses out more quickly.

Eventually, you’ll want to take a complete TOEFL practice exam—it’s the only way to be fully prepared for the TOEFL. When you’re ready, take a TOEFL practice exam on BestMyTest. You’ll get a real score and a full review of your writing from a TOEFL certified teacher.

2. Think quality, not quantity.

Shorter, well-written responses are fine. Many of the responses that receive scores of 4 or 5 are only one paragraph long. On the other hand, many longer responses receive only a 2 or a 3. If you use transitions and clear language, you can fit all of your reasons and details into one smooth paragraph. That will really impress your rater.

If the response is too long, you’ll be in a rush and you won’t be able to check your grammar and vocabulary. You also might repeat yourself or include irrelevant specifics. Of course, don’t make your response so short that you can’t show off your ability to make a good argument.

3. Learn some basic sentence patterns that you can use comfortably.

TOEFL raters look at your ability to make different types of sentences. Create your own toolbox of different types of English connectors, such as “but,” “however,” and “although.” Practice writing sentences and use them in your TOEFL response. If you only use simple short sentences, your response won’t receive a high score. You don’t need to be a grammar expert, but you do need to show sentence variety.

4. Learn the common types of TOEFL prompts.

You won’t have a choice of your topic on the day of the TOEFL exam.

The topic will be a complete surprise.

However, Educational Testing Services (the makers of the TOEFL) publish sample topics on their website. If you study these, you can be more prepared.

Look for keywords that are repeated over and over in the prompts, like “prefer” or “oppose,” and make sure you understand their meanings and how to respond to the questions they’re asking.

Ask yourself: “Should I make a choice? Agree or disagree?”

Once you notice these patterns, they’re be easier to identify and respond to correctly on the day of the exam.

5. Have (or Fake) an Opinion.

Don’t say that you don’t have an opinion.

This is an argumentative essay. In many cultures, people don’t express their opinions directly — but you’ve got to do it on the TOEFL Independent Essay.

If it’s new for you to have an opinion and express it strongly, practice. When you read something or listen to something, think: “Do I agree or disagree? Do I support or oppose this decision?” 

Have coffee with another ESL student and practice discussing current events. Talking about your opinions will make it easier to write about them. On the day of the TOEFL, choose the side you can argue best, even if it’s not your true opinion. If you don’t have an opinion on the TOEFL topic, invent one!

6. Brainstorm before you start your response.

It’s good to make a little plan before you start writing your TOEFL response. Don’t immediately start writing.

Instead, take 1-3 minutes to decide what you’ll write about and think about some reasons and examples. Again, usually you’ll have to choose between two opposite arguments. That means it’s useful to quickly brainstorm both sides and see which one you have the most reasons and details for, even if you truly think differently.

7. Write a basic thesis statement.

This is the first thing your rater will see, so you should make a clear and grammatically-correct sentence that states the main idea of your response. You don’t need an introductory paragraph, but you should definitely write a thesis statement. This can be borrowed mostly from the prompt itself. 

For example, if your prompt says, “In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students. Do you think this is a good idea?” I can write “I think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students” or “I don’t think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students.” Simply take the words from the original prompt and create a strong opinion sentence. The rest of your essay will be built around this sentence which strongly and clearly states your opinion on the topic.

As you’re looking at sample TOEFL prompts, practice writing a thesis statement like this for each one.

On the day of the exam, your topic will probably be different from any sample topics you’ve looked at. Even so, the topics will probably be very similar overall. You don’t need to have much specific knowledge on any topic to succeed. It should be easy to write the thesis statement if you’ve already studied and practiced how to write.

8. Give specific reasons and details.

Every TOEFL prompt asks for specific reasons and details.

One reason a response receives a higher or lower score is because of the number of reasons and examples they can give.

To get the highest scores, you’ll need three different, well-written reasons along with specific details. When you do your timed practices at home, be sure to practice doing this.

Many students have trouble thinking of specific examples, but it’s an important part of good writing. You can also practice brainstorming or planning reasons even if you don’t write a complete response. You shouldn’t use statistics because you won’t be able to research during the exam. Instead, practice using experiences or facts from your general knowledge to support your thesis statements.

9. Stay on topic.

Unfortunately, you can’t choose or change your topic. Write only about the topic that’s given to you by the exam.

Keep in mind: TOEFL raters are always looking for pre-made essays. Some students will memorize essays before the TOEFL exam and use them instead of writing on their own. Therefore, one of the lowest scores students can receive is for missing the topic. Writing about a different topic is an easy way to get a low score. I don’t recommend trying to memorize an essay.

Honest, dedicated practice is much more useful and effective. 

If there are unfamiliar words in the prompt, use context to guess their meanings. Try your best to write about the exact topic given to you. Don’t include sentences that don’t connect to your thesis statement — these irrelevant sentences will lower your score. 

10. Edit your response if you have time.

Even native speakers make small mistakes in their writing, but if we read our essays again we can find our mistakes. Try to save the last 1-3 minutes for fixing your errors. Of course, the more grammar you learn the better you’ll become at fixing and avoiding errors as you write, but anyone can identify small mistakes in typing (typos) that would bring the score down.

That’s all we’ve got for now. Just keep practicing until next time, and good luck!

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You Can Do It! 8 Tips to Get a Fantastic TOEFL Score

You Can Do It! Get a Fantastic TOEFL Score with These 8 Tips

Do you start feeling anxious when you think about your TOEFL exam?

You and everyone else.

Yes, the good news here is that everyone else taking the exam is probably feeling exactly the same way. You can make a great difference in your score by maximizing your potential before and during the actual exam.

Maximizing your potential means that you’ll be totally prepared and ready to do your absolute best work.

Sounds pretty great, right?

Here’s how you can make this happen!

You Can Do It! Get a Fantastic TOEFL Score with These 8 Tips

8 Tips to Get a Fantastic TOEFL Score

8 Tips to Get a Fantastic TOEFL Score

1. Practice, Practice and Then Practice Some More

There’s no way around it, the more you practice, the higher you will score! But do you know how to make the best use of your time, money, energy and other resources as you prepare?

  • Don’t take the test too soon. If you can afford to postpone the test for a few more months, you will gain more time to prepare. Do not sign up until you feel 99% ready. This means you will probably score higher. But be careful: You must make a commitment to yourself to use the extra time to study intensively or you may forget what you learned.
  • Make a study plan and stick to it. See how many practice tests and resources you can get access to and make a plan. You should regularly take practice tests. Try to take one every week or every two weeks. Remember the questions that you most often get wrong, and practice those areas of English. Spend the rest of your time improving your general level of English. If you don’t have access to as many practice tests as you’d like, you can create your own.
  • Pretend you are taking the exam. Save seven practice tests for the week before the exam. Wake up every day like you would on the day of the actual exam and pretend it’s the real thing. Take a full test every day, in exam conditions, and try to imagine you are at the exam. No dictionary, no phone, no help. Time yourself and stop when the time has ended. You will probably feel quite nervous, but that is a good thing! Overcoming nerves is something you need to do. Once you learn how to control your own level of stress, chances are good that the actual exam will seem just like another practice session. You will feel more familiar with the situation, and you will probably feel more confident and prepared.
  • Have a teacher or friend help with speaking and writing. You’ll probably be able to do reading and listening practice by yourself, but you are going to need someone to read your writing samples and listen to your speaking. You need some feedback. Ideally, this person should be a teacher or native speaker of English, but anyone who can speak really good English can help you.

2. Know All the Directions

All tests are created equal in terms of difficulty and what you have to do. You are going to read the same directions on every TOEFL test you take. These directions tell you what task you have to do (reading, writing, answering questions) and how much time you have to do that task.

If you do a lot of practice tests, you will not need to read the directions anymore. This means you can read them very quickly, click the CONTINUE button as soon as it appears and use this extra time on the questions. Extra time to read, think and answer questions is always good!

When you take practice tests, read the directions carefully. Try to remember the directions for each section. When you take the real test, read the directions of every section again quickly to make sure that you know what to do.

Make sure you follow directions and prove that you understand them. In the speaking test, whenever you are told to “use reasons and examples to support your response,” make sure you include specific reasons and examples! For every main point you make, you should present at least one reason and one example to support it.

Also, don’t forget that this is a language test, so you cannot just use the same words from the task directions. You must show that you know a variety of English words. Do not use the words “reasons” and “examples” repetitively in your writing, as this can sound annoying to the listener. Try to prove you have a wide range of vocabulary by using lots of synonyms. For example:

“My first point is__________. One of the arguments for this is __________. To illustrate this idea, let me __________.”

“Another point that I’d like to make is__________and here’s why: __________. In other words, __________.”

“Last but not least, __________. It is for this reason that I think__________. For instance, __________”

3. Time Is Not the Enemy

Time is not the enemy…if you know how to use it. Keep one eye on the title and directions on your computer screen, but focus on the questions. Don’t waste time on minor issues, like one specific word you don’t know or can’t remember. If this is just one question, it is better to guess the answer than waste 5 valuable minutes thinking about it.

Just think about how many correct answers you can get in 5 minutes. You can go more quickly through easier questions, gaining you more points.

If you are taking the test online, work on your typing skills. Start doing this well in advance of the test so you can maximize your writing time. If you do a lot of practice tests while timing yourself, you will see that the time you are given is just about the right amount of time.

4. Focus on Grammar and Vocabulary

Don’t forget that this is a test of how much English you know. All languages are, in the end, about words (vocabulary) and how you connect those words (grammar). You need to prove your knowledge of English is at the right level for you to pass the test. How do you that?

  • Learn a few new words and expressions every day. Make your own sentences with them. If you just try to memorize them without using them in context, your memorization won’t work. You have to practice new words so they become a part of your active vocabulary. Your active vocabulary are all the words you can remember and use easily. This means you’ll be able to use them in speaking and writing without thinking too much. Here are some really good resources to help you improve your vocabulary and grammar.
  • Prove you learned those words. Try to include them in your speaking and writing practice.
  • Only use the words you know. On the exam, avoid using words and structures you are not sure about.

5. Take Good Notes

Practice note-taking when reading and listening in your spare time. You can do this while relaxing with an article in your favorite magazine or a documentary. You can also work with more exam-like texts and academic lectures. Write down information using key words (the most important words) and symbols to save time.

You don’t need to write down everything word-for-word. You won’t be able to do that because there is not enough time. Writing full sentences will take you a very long time.

Try to develop your own note-taking style to help you save time. For example, listen to the following passage:

The study is the latest to suggest that snakes evolved from land lizards that lost their limbs while adapting to a slithery, subterranean lifestyle. Another theory posits that today’s snakes descended from marine reptiles—with a svelte body and lack of legs serving as adaptations to move through a watery home.

You may choose to take the following notes, by keeping only the key words and using arrows as helpful symbols. You may also use numbers to show the number of main ideas:

  1. snakes <— lizards, no limbs
  2. snakes <— reptiles, svelte body, no legs

6. Reading and Listening

Practice by reading academic texts and listening to lectures and by doing exam-like practice tests. Look for the main ideas. They are usually signposted (marked) with discourse markers. Click that link to learn more about discourse markers. Basically, they are common phrases that introduce information.

After you learn what they look like, you will see them everywhere.

For example, look for phrases like,“another point that I’d like to make…” and “this takes us to… ” or rhetorical questions like, “why is this so important?” You will find important information near these kinds of phrases.

7. Speaking and Writing

To practice speaking and writing you are going to need a partner to work with, ideally a teacher or a friend with good English skills.

But you don’t need a partner to be there for you all the time. You can practice speaking by recording yourself and then listening to yourself. You can read writing samples to see how your writing compares.

With both speaking and writing, make sure your message is very clear. You can achieve clear writing by following these steps:

  • Decide on your main ideas. Do not change the focus of your writing after you start writing.
  • Make sure you understand the connection between your ideas. Are the ideas different from one another? Are they cause and effect? Are they part of a numerical list or series of steps?
  • Use discourse markers to signpost the main ideas and the connections between them. For example, you can use the following phrases:
    • To show contrast or difference: however, nevertheless, on the other hand
    • To show cause and effect: as a result, consequently, therefore
    • To show a numerical list or series of steps: firstly, secondly, finally

8. Work on Your Attitude

Everybody has exam nerves. Some level of stress is good because it can help you focus on your goals and motivate you.

But if you worry too much, you will not be able to prove your real English skill level in the exam. You will answer questions wrong or make mistakes because you are too nervous and not paying attention to the exam.

Remain calm and confident, and do not let that happen!

The good news is that if you simulate exam conditions by taking a lot of practice tests, you will be more relaxed in the exam.

Go to the real exam with confidence. Feel strong. Feel intelligent. Think about all the time you spent studying.

Don’t worry about the unfamiliar topics you may come across on the exam. This is not a general knowledge quiz, so you do not have to know about every topic or theme. This is a language test. You are not supposed to focus on your knowledge, opinions or ideas. You are supposed to focus on communicating clearly.

With these tips in mind, get started on your study plan. Write it down and post it somewhere so you can see it every day. Remember that language skills don’t improve overnight, but you can certainly make every day count!

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TOEFL IBT Listening Practice Test 12 Solution, Explanation & Transcripts

TOEFL IBT Listening Practice Test 12 Solution, Explanation & Transcripts

TOEFL IBT Listening Practice Test 12 From Delta’s Key TOEFL Test Solution & Explanation

1. C

The woman is inquiring about writing arts reviews for the paper. She says …I’m interested in writing for the campus paper; I’m interested—I’d like to write arts reviews, stories about… concerts and films and events in the arts. (2.3)


2. D

The man’s purpose is to inform her that the paper does not need another reviewer. The woman wants to write arts reviews, but the man says they already have a couple of ‘journalism students who write reviews. He explains further by saying You see, we re not a big paper to start out with, and the administration just cut our funding, and there are lots of students who want to write for us, so I’m afraid it’s pretty competitive. (2.3)


3. A

The man means that he probably cannot offer her a job now. The woman wants to write reviews for the campus paper, but the man says he couldn’t guarantee anything (a job) at present. He explains further by saying …our budget was cut, and we had to reduce the size of our paper. (2.4)


4. C

The city newspaper is called The Clarion. The man says If you really want to write reviews, you should send something to The Clarion; They sometimes print reviews by students. (2.2)


5. D

The woman wants to write reviews for a newspaper, and the man advises her to send some of her writing to the city newspaper, The Clarion. The woman says Thanks! I really appreciate the information;

Actually, I would be very interested in writing book reviews. You can predict that she will contact the city newspaper about writing book reviews. (2.4)

TOEFL IBT Listening Practice Test 12 Solution, Explanation & Transcripts

TOEFL IBT Listening Practice Test 12 Solution, Explanation & Transcripts

6. C

The professor mainly discusses what causes the auroras. The professor says The auroras are the result of a complex interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. Here s what happens. (2.1)


7. B, C

Red and green are commonly seen in the auroras. The professor says An early twentieth-century explorer wrote about the “bloody red” and “ghostly green ” lights; Most of the time they’re greenish—yellow, but sometimes they take colors from violet to red. (2.2)


8. C

The professor’s purpose is to point out where the auroras are most visible. The professor says They ’re most often seen near the North and South Poles…. (2.3)


9. A

The professor’s purpose is to explain how the auroras are electrical in nature. The student says it sounds kind of like electricity, and the professor responds by explaining how electricity is generated by the solar wind, carrying a stream of charged particles and moving across Earth’s magnetic field. (2.3)



Yes: Oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the ionosphere become “excited”: …oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the ionosphere become “excited,” or ionized

No: Sunlight travels to Earth and is reflected back into space by clouds: Not mentioned in the lecture.

Yes: Ionized atoms de-energize and emit radiation as visible light: The auroras happen when these ionized atoms return to their normal state from their excited, energized states; …as they do so, they emit radiation. Part of this radiation is visible light….

Yes: The solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field: The auroras are the result of a complex interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. (2.6)


11. B

The professor says Oxygen releases either dark red or ghostly green. Nitrogen emits rosy pink or magenta. You can infer that the color of auroras is related to the type of gas involved. (2.4)


12. C

The professor describes political parties in a two-party system. The professor says The democratic institutions of these countries operate essentially on a two-party system. Why a two-party system? Or, should I say why has the two-party system prevailed in so many democratic states?; In every democratic society, there are generally two dominant parties…; The two parties have lasted so long because they have the ability to adjust to changes in events and in public opinion. (2.1)


13. C

The professor’s purpose is to introduce a point that he will make. The professor’s point is that the two-party system has succeeded in democratic states because the essence of politics is debate, so there must be another party to debate with. (2.3)


14. A

The professor implies that parties make decisions based on the interests of several organizations. He says that parties are closely associated with various groups and organizations that want to influence the decisions of the state, implying that these organizations influence the decisions made by parties. (2.4)



No: They are a group of people who come together mainly for amusement: Not supported by the information in the lecture.

✓ Yes: They organize voters and compete for support on major issues: …political parties that organize voters and compete for support on issues,

Yes: They are voluntary organizations of people who agree on public policies: Political parties are voluntary organizations…made up of people who agree to some degree on public policies,

Yes: They have research offices that develop positions on important issues: Parties maintain research offices and establish connections with press and citizens groups. This is how political parties develop information and thinking on major issues. (2.5)


16. C

The professor means that politics is about competition, while government is about responsibility. The professor says that politics is like a game with winners and losers and that politics is based on competition. However, government must be responsible, and collaboration and compromise are necessary because the job has got to get done. (2.4)


17. A

The professor’s purpose is to show how major parties usually deal with the same issues. The professor says …the party platforms tend to balance each other in the types of issues they take up, and he mentions education reform as an example of an issue that both parties deal with. (2.3)


18. A

The students mainly discuss languages that connect speakers of diverse languages. The students say A lingua franca is sort of common language used by people who speak different languages; That language that connects them all is a lingua franca; That makes sense—kind of a universal business language; …any language can be a lingua franca if it connects lots of people who speak different languages. (2.1)

19. D

The woman finds the lecture topics interesting. She says My linguistics class is really getting good.

Today the lecture was about the social aspects of language, like slang and accents, and stuff. But the thing that really intrigues me is something called a lingua franca. (2.3)


20. B, D

English and Swahili are lingua francas. The speakers say …English is a lingua franca because English is an international business language; English is definitely a lingua franca. In East Africa, Swahili is a lingua franca that’s understood in every marketplace. (2.2)

—>Next Page to continue

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5 TOEFL Reading Tips and Test-taking Strategies for Total Success

5 TOEFL Reading Tips and Test-taking Strategies for Total Success

The TOEFL test has four sections—and each section can make you beyond frustrated.

But there is no need for frustration anymore!

We are going to give you the best TOEFL study tips to make sure you succeed (and keep your sanity).

If you are getting ready to take TOEFL, you are probably well aware that these four sections consist of Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. They all test your ability to communicate in English effectively.

The Reading section is the first section on the test. It involves reading a long passage (six paragraphs minimum) on a specific topic. The topics are often highly technical and are always written in an academic style (scary!).

The Reading section has a total of three or four passages like this, each of which is followed by its own set of twelve multiple choice questions. These questions may test vocabulary knowledge, general comprehension of the passage along with sentence- or word-specific comprehension. The ability to infer and summarize information presented in the text is also vital to the Reading portion.

Even though it sounds complex, I bet Reading is not the section you are most worried about, despite its difficulty. There are three other sections of the TOEFL to study for, after all. It is easy to be lured into a false sense of security when it comes to reading. All the information is right in front of you—you can go back to the passage, read it over and over again.

Listening and Speaking, on the other hand, sound much more intimidating. The Writing section sounds even scarier because you will have to take your ideas and put them down on paper. Make up an essay on the spot? Whaaat?

How hard can reading be?

Well, truth be told, the reading section of the TOEFL has some of the trickiest questions you will ever see on a test. You will not pass the section with flying colors (an outstanding score) if you do not prepare well for it.

The Reading section is worth just as many points as the other sections (30 points, to be exact). If you find yourself struggling with writing or listening, you should use Reading as an opportunity to score a very high grade and make your exam results even better.

Since the TOEFL Reading section is the first section of the exam, how you perform will set the rhythm for the rest of the test. If you are sweating and stressing out right at the very beginning, it will be difficult to regroup and refocus to do better on other sections.

5 TOEFL Reading Tips and Test-taking Strategies for Total Success

“Okay,” you may say, “I get it, I get it! Studying for the reading section of TOEFL is vital. But how does one do it?”

Glad you asked!

There are multiple study strategies and areas of improvement that you may consider to get a higher score on the reading section of the test.

5 TOEFL Reading Tips and Test-taking Strategies for Total Success

5 TOEFL Reading Tips and Test-taking Strategies for Total Success

1. Improve Your Reading Speed

Time is of the essence when it comes to the TOEFL. In fact, all other things being equal, good timing and the ability to pace yourself can make or break your TOEFL score.

In other sections, time is specifically called out. For example, when you are speaking, you will have 15 seconds to prepare an answer and 45 seconds to record it. In the Listening section, you can only hear the dialogue when it is played out to you.

The Reading section is where a sense of time and pace will need to come from you and you alone. You need to judge how much time you have left to complete the readings and give your answers.

This is trickier than it seems, because you will be faced by not one difficult-to-understand text, but several (three or four).

The Reading section can have up to 56 questions for 3 or 4 passages, and the maximum time given for the section is 80 minutes. That means you will have only 5 minutes to read each text and about 1 minute to answer each question in the Reading section.

If you want to have more time to answer the questions, you will need read each passage in just 3 or 4 minutes—and you’re probably going to want to read each passage more than once. That’s tough!

To succeed, you’ll need start improving your reading speed.

Time yourself when you study for the test and note how long it takes you to go through a given passage. You will likely notice that you slow down when your level of comprehension drops down, and that’s normal! When you understand less, you need to slow down and read more carefully.

Everyone reads at a different pace. Your task is to make your reading pace slightly faster for the very specific test-taking situation, so you can switch gears and go into full-speed mode if you need to.

Apart from studying TOEFL-style academic passages, be sure to read other English language material as well. Read English literature, newspapers and magazines—reading a variety of English writing styles will help improve your reading speed.

2. Work on Your Comprehension Speed

Once you have worked on your reading speed and are comfortable gulping down a complex English passage in less time (in under 4 minutes, to be precise), you are ready for the next step.

Now you need to teach yourself to remain calm and avoid stressing out when you encounter an unfamiliar word. The reading section will be full of challenging words you have not seen before. They put in challenging words that you probably do not know on purpose. 

The reading section will ask you to deduce meaning and infer informationfrom words you do not understand.

This is what the reading section is actually testing. Not your ability to memorize a thesaurus before the test, but your skill at dealing with vocabulary words that you do not know. Not knowing a word is not only normal, but it is expected from speakers of English as a foreign language.

When you stumble across a word you do not understand, your first reaction might be to check Google Translate or consult a dictionary. When these tools are not available, you may panic and get hung up on trying to understand the word, wasting time that is extremely valuable for you during the TOEFL.

Well, relax.

Force yourself to skip that unknown word and continue reading. Often, you will find that the meaning of the whole text is easy to understand, even if you did not understand a few words. Cool, right?

3. Learn Specific Vocabulary

Even though you will encounter unknown words, developing a nice and wide vocabulary never hurt anyone. When you study for the Reading section of the TOEFL, whether you are at home or in class, go ahead and look up words you don’t understand!

Since you are practicing for the Reading section of the TOEFL, try to read every text completely without looking up any words. After you have read the whole text and tried to understand everything on your own, then you may look up words. This is very similar to the actual testing situation.

Make a list of unfamiliar words and translate them using an English-to-English dictionary. This is important! You must avoid the temptation to use a dictionary which translates words from English to your native language. Don’t give in!

The English-to-English dictionary will be very helpful to you. Not only will you read a clear English explanation for the word you do not understand, you will also familiarize yourself with synonyms (similar words) and antonyms (opposite words). Hint, hint! This is hugely useful and very much applicable to TOEFL.

Your vocabulary will grow and so will your confidence. By the time you get to your test day, you will have a much larger English vocabulary to help you out.

4. Keep Moving

Timing is everything in TOEFL.

When it comes to the Reading section, remember that you will not have more than 4 minutes per passage, so do not get hung up on every passage. Try not to stop! Keep moving no matter what.

There are multiple passages on the test, and you are guaranteed to feel more comfortable with one or another. Some will seem harder and some will seem easier. Skim the passage, note key words in sentences, leave unfamiliar terms behind and keep in mind that TOEFL passages may contain words that even native speakers don’t typically know.

Keep in mind that the TOEFL is highly specific.

You may see a question like: “The word X on line Y is closest in meaning to…” with four choices of words following. Rest assured—most of the choices will sound similar or have very similar meanings, so you will need to read the text carefully to identify the correct answer.

5. Use the Line Numbering

The TOEFL quirk of numbering every fifth line in the passage is meant to help you navigate to the words or sentences referred to in the questions. Practice locating specific lines by the numbers provided—you might be surprised by how much time you can actually waste looking for line 29 or 47!

That being said, when starting your actual TOEFL, take a deep breath and do not let the Reading section tire you out.

You have practiced and studied enough, and it is now time to demonstrate your excellent English reading skills!

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30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are formed by linking one verb to another word (typically a preposition or an adverb). The result is a new expression that has a different meaning from the original verb.

They are very frequently used in English in both speaking and writing. According to the “Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English,” phrasal verbs occur:

  • 1900 times per million words in fiction
  • 1800 times per million words in conversation
  • 1400 times per million words in newspapers
  • 800 times per million words in academic writing

You will be doing academic writing for the TOEFL, so you can expect to see and use plenty of these handy verbs.

You may have heard that phrasal verbs are more informal, but this is not true for all of them. Not all phrasal verbs are created equal. Actually, like all words or expressions, they can be informalformal or neutral.

Informal phrasal verbs are mainly used with people we know very well like close friends. Formal phrasal verbs can be used in situations that are more official, academic or professional. Neutral phrasal verbs can be used safely in almost all contexts.

How Phrasal Verbs Can Help You on the TOEFL Exam

Because phrasal verbs are used quite frequently in conversational English, understanding them will help you a lot on the listening and speaking sections of the TOEFL exam in which you listen to people talking to each other.

Most conversations on the TOEFL exam in both speaking and listening sections are between students discussing campus related topics. These conversations are generally neutral towards informal, so you may hear quite a few phrasal verbs.

You may want to use neutral to formal phrasal verbs in writing in both the independent and the integrated task and probably in speaking as well. You should avoid very informal ones as the general tone of the TOEFL exam is academic. That is why the phrasal verbs in the list we have here are suitable for both neutral and formal English.

A Few Rules for Using Phrasal Verbs Correctly

When you decide to use phrasal verbs in speaking or in writing, make sure you use them correctly.

Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable, depending on whether you can use other words between the verb and the particle. With separable phrasal verbs you can use other words between the verb and the particle, while with inseparable phrasal verbs you cannot insert other words between them.


Look the word up! (look up is a separable phrasal verb)

You should look into the matter. (look into is an inseparable phrasal verb)

Phrasal verbs can also be transitive or intransitive, depending on whether you can use an object with them. Transitive verbs take an object, while intransitive verbs cannot.


I made that story up. (story is the object of the phrasal verb made up)

My car broke down. (broke down is intransitive, it cannot take an object)

In the case of transitive verbs with really long objects, we can move the object between the verb and the particle if we replace the object with a shorter word. This is called shifting.


She made up a very funny story. (a very funny story is a long object)

She made a very funny story up. (correct, but the object is too long to comfortably place it between the verb and the particle)

She made it up. (we replace the object, a very funny story, with it and we can move it between the verb and the particle)

Now that you know these important rules, you can start learning some phrasal verbs!

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

The following list contains 30 phrasal verbs that can be used as either neutral or formal words, so you can confidently use them in academic contexts like the TOEFL exam.

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam

1. Account for

Meaning: To explain the reason for

Type: Inseparable

Example: Increased pollution may account for climate change.

2. Adhere to

Meaning: Obey

Type: Inseparable

Example: You must adhere to the terms of the contract.

3. Allude to

Meaning: Mention in an indirect way

Type: Inseparable

Example: She kept alluding to our agreement, but she didn’t want to reveal it.

4. Bring on

Meaning: To cause something bad to happen, especially illness

Type: Separable

Example: His heart condition was brought on by his diet.

5. Bring up

Meaning: To start discussing a subject

Type: Separable

Example: She brought the matter up very late so they didn’t have time to discuss it properly.

6. Come about

Meaning: To happen, especially by chance

Type: Inseparable

Example: Increased unemployment has come about through automated production.

7. Cut back

Meaning: To reduce

Type: Inseparable

Example: They are cutting back expenses.

8. Do without

Meaning: To succeed in living or working without

Type: Inseparable

Example: We can do without help from you.

9. Embark on

Meaning: To start a new project or activity, usually one that will be difficult or take time

Type: Inseparable

Example: After graduating from university, she embarked on a career in banking.

10. Follow through

Meaning: To continue doing something until it has been completed

Type: Inseparable

Example: You will need to follow through with some reading if you want to master the subject.

11. Frown upon

Meaning: To not approve of something

Type: Inseparable

Example: Failure to attend classes is frowned upon.

12. Get across

Meaning: To make people understand something

Type: Separable

Example: The teacher managed to get across how important it was to attend lectures. 

13. Get around

Meaning: To be heard by a lot of people

Type: Inseparable

Example: News of his promotion got around very fast.

14. Get at

Meaning: To try to suggest something without saying it directly

Type: Inseparable

Example: What are you getting at? Was my presentation too long?

15. Get back

Meaning: To start doing something again after not doing it for a period of time.

Type: Inseparable.

Example: Let’s get back to discussing how this happened.

16. Look forward to

Meaning: To feel happy about something that is going to happen

Type: Inseparable

Example: I’m looking forward to meeting you later.

17. Look into

Meaning: To try to discover facts about something

Type: Inseparable

Example: After several customers complained about late deliveries, they decided to look into the matter.

18. Make of

Meaning: To understand someone or something in a certain way

Type: Inseparable

Example: What do you make of the teacher’s decision to shorten this course?

19. Map out

Meaning: To plan in detail how something will happen

Type: Separable

Example: Her career was mapped out for her when she decided to take that job.

20. Meet up

Meaning: To come together with someone

Type: Inseparable

Example: Let’s meet up and discuss how we are going to go about this project.

21. Narrow down

Meaning: To reduce the number of possibilities

Type: Separable

Example: The detectives narrowed down the list of suspects to just two.

22. Put forward

Meaning: To suggest an idea, opinion so that it can be discussed

Type: Separable

Example: The proposals were put forward last week, but the committee didn’t have time to discuss them.

23. Put off

Meaning: To delay doing something especially when you don’t want to do it

Type: Separable

Example: Are you putting off writing that essay because you can’t concentrate right now?

24. Resort to

Meaning: To do something unpleasant in order to solve a problem

Type: Inseparable

Example: We must resort to legal action of they don’t offer compensation.

25. Rule out

Meaning: To stop considering something as a possibility

Type: Separable

Example: The CEO said that yearly bonuses can be ruled out in light of the financial crisis.

26. Run by

Meaning: To tell someone your ideas so they can give you their opinion

Type: Separable

Example: I have a few ideas for tomorrow’s meeting. Can I run them byyou?

27. Talk out of

Meaning: To persuade someone not to do something

Type: Separable

Example: Her parents talked her out of living in a rented flat.

28. Think over

Meaning: To consider a problem carefully

Type: Separable

Example: You should think it over before handing in your resignation.

29. Turn out

Meaning: To develop in a particular way

Type: Inseparable

Example: The presentation turned out well, considering how little you prepared for it.

30. Verge on

Meaning: To almost be in a particular state

Type: Inseparable

Example: His speech was so good, it was verging on genius.


Understanding and using phrasal verbs are great ways of making your English sound more natural and native-like.

Once you start using them on the TOEFL exam as well, you’ll start feeling more confident about your language level!

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30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test

30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test


Why Is Studying Vocabulary Important for the TOEFL Exam?

Just accept this fact now: The TOEFL will contain at least some words that you don’t know.

So, why study vocabulary?

Here’s why: As you study vocabulary words, each word will slowly become part of your working language. Think of this like a toolbox. Each word that you add becomes another tool that you can use for any task at hand.

Whether you are working on the TOEFL reading test, the TOEFL writing tasks, or just having a conversation with a neighbor, you have a toolbox of awesome words to choose from.

How to Study Vocabulary Words

First, know that it will take time (and many study sessions!) for these vocabulary words to become part of your English toolbox. Our goal is not for you to memorize each word, but to be able to recognize and use it in context (or, when it is around other words, like on the TOEFL test).

To do this, we have to study the word in context. Here’s an example, using the word “deli.”

Max couldn’t wait for his class to end, because he was so hungry! He quickly packed up his books, said goodbye to his teacher and walked across the street to the deli. He ordered a turkey sandwich and chips, paid the cashier, and sat down to enjoy his lunch.

Can you guess what a deli is?

Even if you’ve never looked it up in a dictionary, I’d bet you can guess that it’s a place that sells sandwiches. Now, let’s look at the definition:

Deli (noun): food typically sold at a delicatessen, such as coldcuts, salads and pickles.

Pretty close, right? And even better, by studying the word in context, you can quickly add “deli” to the toolbox of words that you can use.

Here are few things you can do to study vocabulary words in context:

  • Create sentences with the vocabulary word. Remember, these should be fun and personal for you! Don’t be afraid to be silly or to tell a story. An in-context sentence will look like this, “The penguins hated the zoo. So, they planned their escape” instead of “The man escaped.”
  • Learn words with entertaining FluentU videos. FluentU is an online immersion platform where you learn English through real-world videos. The program’s unique Learn Mode, multimedia flashcards and personalized vocab lists are especially helpful for learning TOEFL vocabulary in context. Try FluentU’s free 15-day trial today!
  • Look for clues if you encounter a word you don’t know. As you are working on your TOEFL listening and reading skills, practice using context to understand new vocabulary words. What words around the vocabulary word can help you guess the meaning?

30 Essential Words for the TOEFL Test

Here are 30 words that you’ll probably see in the TOEFL test—in the prompts, passages, questions or listening sections.

30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test

30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test

1. Considerable

Considerable (adjective): large or great in size, distance or amount

Jeff ate a considerable amount of ice cream. He couldn’t decide between chocolate, mint or strawberry, so he bought some of each.

2. Interpret

Interpret (verb): to give the meaning of something

Once you learn English, you can interpret for your Chinese-speaking parents when you travel to New York.

3. Attitude

Attitude (noun): manner, feeling or position, sometimes with regard to aperson or thing

My teacher has a friendly attitude; she always says hello to me, smiles and helps me study.

4. Estimate

Estimate (verb): to form an approximate judgment or opinion

estimate that we will arrive around 5:00 p.m., if we don’t get lost!

5. Authority

Authority (noun): the power or right to control

The judge has the authority to decide the man’s punishment.

6. Demonstrate

Demonstrate (verb): to describe, explain or show by argumentsor reasoning

I’ll demonstrate how to make cookies. First, we mix the ingredients, then we put it them in the oven to bake.

7. Proceed

Proceed (verb): to move or go forward

The marching band will proceed through the street for the parade.

8. Stable

Stable (adjective): not likely to fall or change suddenly

The bridge was old and falling apart; it didn’t seem very stable!

9. Contribute

Contribute (verb): to give, especially to a common cause

A generous man decided to contribute all of his savings to charity.

10. Risk

Risk (noun): chance of injury or loss

The risk of losing my purse at this music festival is high, so I’ll leave it at home.

11. Prior

Prior (adjective): preceding in time or order; previous

Prior to the Internet, students looked up vocabulary words in big, heavy dictionaries.

12. Shift

Shift (verb): to transfer, change or exchange

Maria felt the weather shift from warm to cool very quickly.

13. Benefit

Benefit (noun): something that is good; an advantage

One of the benefits of my job is that I get free snacks at work every day!

14. Impact

Impact (noun): influence, effect or striking of one thing against another

The oil spill had a terrible impact on the animals and their environment. 

15. Distribute

Distribute (verb): to divide or give out

The teacher distributed a test paper to each student.

16. Challenge

Challenge (verb): to call into question

The librarian challenged the idea that books are no longer important.

17. Evaluate

Evaluate (verb): to determine the value or significance

My teacher will evaluate my speaking ability during the test. I’m so nervous!

18. Former

Former (adjective): preceding in time, prior, earlier

My former boss helped me to get a new job.

19. Interfere

Interfere (verb): to come into opposition or conflict (one thing with another)

Megan’s new boyfriend interfered with her studies. She spent so much time with him that she didn’t have time to do her homework.

20. Issue

Issue (noun): a point, matter or dispute

The leaders disagreed on the issue of global warming.

21. Reinforce

Reinforce (verb): to strengthen; make more effective

Reinforced by a hot meal, I felt ready for the day.

22. Significantly

Significantly (adverb): in a great or important way

My cooking skills improved significantly after I took the cooking class.

23. Widespread

Widespread (adjective): found or distributed over a large area or group

There was widespread excitement in the school on the day of the concert!

24. Imply

Imply (verb): to suggest but not directly state

The angry look on my mother’s face implied that I was in big trouble.

25. Increase

Increase (verb): to become greater in size or quantity

The price of the movie ticket increased from $10 to $12.

26. Effective

Effective (adjective): successful at producing the desired result

The teacher was very effective; all of her students did well on the TOEFL!

27. Debate

Debate (verb): to argue about a subject, sometimes in a formal manner

My brother and I debated over what to eat for dinner. He wanted pizza, but I wanted sandwiches.

28. Sustain

Sustain (verb): to strengthen or support

The roof wasn’t able to sustain the weight of the heavy snow; it collapsed. 

29. Support

Support (verb): to agree with or approve

The man couldn’t decide which presidential candidate to support, so he read about each of them.

30. Measure

Measure (verb): calculate the size, amount or degree of something

The seamstress measured her fabric for the dress.


Keep practicing your vocabulary in context and adding words to your vocabulary toolbox. You’ll be glad you did on the day of the TOEFL test!

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8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

Have you been wondering what you can do to raise your TOEFL score?

There’s one element that will help you improve your performance in all four parts of the exam: grammar.

That’s right! Even if the TOEFL exam doesn’t test grammar directly, all the four parts (speaking, writing, reading and listening) indirectly evaluate your knowledge of grammar.

In speaking and writing, you have to be able to produce language that is correct grammatically. Grammatical correctness is a criterion that raters use when scoring your speaking and writing. Grammatical correctness refers to using a wide range of grammar structures and using them accurately.

In reading and listening, you need to understand the language used. Even if you don’t have to actively use grammar yourself, you still need to understand complex language as used by the speakers or as presented in the reading passages.

To make your life easier, we prepared eight important rules for you to learn. By learning and practicing each of these rules, you will feel more confident about your overall English knowledge and score higher on the TOEFL test.

Read each rule carefully and remember: Practice makes perfect! After you understand each rule, practice it by doing the short exercises at the end of each section.

8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

8 Grammar Rules You Must Learn to Raise Your TOEFL Score

1. Use the Continuous Aspect When Referring to a Progressive or Temporary Action

“Aspect” means that when we use verbs, we can focus on either the action itself (the action is seen as continuous, progressive, temporary, happening at the moment of speaking) or on the result of the action (the action is simple, general, habitual).

Each verbal tense has two aspects: continuous and simple. This means that whenever the action happens (past, present or future), we can focus on either the action itself (continuous aspect) or the result of the action (simple aspect).

The continuous aspect is formed with the auxiliary verb “to be” used in the intended tense, plus the “-ing” form of the verb.


He is climbing that mountain right now.

She has been writing for the past 40 minutes.

Have a look at the following table to understand how each aspect works for each of the tenses:

– Action is happening progressively
– Action may be temporary
– Action is general, habitual
Present Anna is working as a secretary while Diane is on maternity leave.
(temporary job)
Jane works as a secretary.
(permanent action, this is her job)
Present Perfect She has been workingon this project for five days.
(progressive action)
She has finished her breakfast.
(the focus is on the result)
Future John will be readingtonight.
(continuous action)
will help you with those bags!
(spontaneous, simple action)
Future Perfect When he calls, she will have been reading the article for two hours.
(continuous action, focus on the process)
By tomorrow morning, she will have finishedwriting the essay.
(simple action, the focus is on the result)
Past He was waiting for me when I arrived.
(continuous action, focus on the process)
He waited for two hours, after which he left.
(the focus is on the result)
Past Perfect He had been talking on the phone for two hours when she arrived.
(continuous action, focus on the process)
He had finished his dinner when she arrived.
(the focus is on the result)

What does this mean for you in the TOEFL exam? Whenever you use a verb in speaking or in writing, you must decide what kind of action you want to express. For example, in the first part of the speaking exam, you will have to speak about a familiar topic like your favorite hobby. In this case, you’ll probably use the simple aspect because you’ll be talking about a habitual action that you like doing in general.

To practice, try filling in the gaps with the right form of each verb given in parentheses. (Answers are at the end of the post.)

  1. My cat ___ (drink) all the milk by the time we got home.
  2. She ___ (think) about buying a new car because the one she has is old.
  3. I ___ (write) an email, so I can’t help you do the dishes.
  4. He ___ (write) a lot of emails as part of his job.
  5. It’s almost 10 p.m. and we still ___ (decided) what to eat yet.

2. Use “the” for Defined Things, People or Places

The definite article is used for things, people or places that are “defined” for the speakers. This means that the speakers know precisely what thing, person or place they are talking about.

You probably read a lot of rules about when to use “the,” but all of them can be reduced to one idea: We use the definite article when the things, people or places we are referring to are defined. Have a look at the following list of situations when we use “the”:

With people/things mentioned before, so it’s clear who/what you are referring to from the context.

We are staying in a nice hotel. The hotel is in the center of the city.

In the second sentence above, we already know what hotel we are talking about: the hotel mentioned in the first sentence.

With things that are unique, even if not mentioned before.

We went to the lake today.

You can find any information you need on the Internet.

Since “the lake” and “the Internet” are seen as unique, the speaker knows what they are. So these things are, again, defined.

With nouns followed by a defining relative clause (a clause that describes a person or thing we are talking about).

The book you gave me is nice.

“Book” is defined, because it’s the book that “you gave me,” not just any book.

With superlatives and ordinal numbers.

I think I just tasted the best ice cream ever.

In this first example, “ice cream” is defined because it’s not just any ice cream. It’s a special one, it’s the best one ever. “Best” is a superlative, just like “most expensive,” “most colorful,” “nicest” and “quickest.”

This is the second question he’s asked today.

In our second example, the question is again clearly defined for the speaker, who has counted the questions and knows that this particular question is the second one.

With names of countries that have plurals in them or that include the words “republic” or “kingdom.”

the United States of America
the Czech Republic
the Netherlands

This situation may not be as clear as the other ones. To simplify it, just think of the words “states” and “republic” as being defined for the speaker. The speaker specifies which states and which republic they are talking about: the United States (as opposed to any random state) and the Czech Republic (as opposed to any other republic).

With names of geographical areas, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands, canals and oceans.

the Arctic
the Alps
the Nile

In this case, you can generalize that plurals are used with “the.” As for the other geographical locations, there is no logical generalization you can make. You simply need to learn them the right way from the start.

If you are still new to this rule, it may be easier for you to make best use of it in writing. In the TOEFL writing section, try to leave a few minutes at the end of the test to proofread your work. Since you can only make small changes in such a short time, you can rethink whether you used “the” correctly.

If you realize the thing, person or place is in fact undefined, new or not specified, you can simply erase “the.” The more you practice, the faster you’ll be able to use “the” correctly in speaking too!

Have a look at these sentences. Decide if you have to use “the” or nothing in the gaps:

  1. ___ price of gas has doubled in the past three days.
  2. We can’t predict which way ___ global economy is going.
  3. I don’t like ___ chocolate, but I love ___ candy that you brought.
  4. Please pass me ___ sugar. It’s in ___ white bowl.
  5. ___ people don’t like it when you talk back to them.

    8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

    8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

3. Use Adjectives Only When Describing People, Places or Things

Some learners confuse adjectives with adverbs, so let’s look at both parts of speech one at a time, beginning with adjectives.


Adjectives describe nouns (people, places or things).

I like romantic movies.

Here, “romantic” describes the noun “movies.” To be sure you have an adjective, you can ask “What kind of movies?” and the answer is the adjective “romantic.”

Adjectives usually go before nouns.

Adjectives can also be part of the following structure:

[Noun] + to be + [adjective]

This same structure is used with verbs that can be replaced by “be” (feel, look, taste, smell, sound, appear, seem), as seen in the following examples:

The soup tastes/smells/looks/seems good.
The soup is good.

Cashmere feels nice.
Cashmere is nice.

The music sounds perfect.
The music is perfect.

In all these examples, “good,” “nice” and “perfect” describe the noun, not the verb, so they are adjectives (not adverbs). That’s why it would be incorrect to say “Cashmere feels nicely.” “Nice” describes “cashmere,” not “feels,” so it’s an adjective, not an adverb.


Adverbs are usually formed from adjectives by adding -ly at the end of the adjective. Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

Example of an adverb describing a verb:

The bird sang beautifully.

“Beautifully” describes the verb “sang.” You can ask, “How did the bird sing?” and you get the answer, “beautifully.”

Example of an adverb describing an adjective:

She is a really nice girl.

“Really” refers to the adjective “nice.” To be sure, you can ask “How nice?” and get the answer “really nice.”

Example of an adverb describing another adverb:

She talked very loudly.

“Very” describes the adverb “loudly.” If you ask “How loudly?,” you get the answer “very loudly.”

Spelling adverbs

When using adverbs in writing, many students don’t get the spelling right. How many l’s? Why two l’s and not just one?

Let’s make this simple for you once and for all. Whenever you have to use such adverbs in the TOEFL written exam, look at the adjective it comes from. If the adjective ends in an “l,” when you add -ly you get two l’s. As simple as that!

beautiful + ly = beautifully

interesting + ly = interestingly

Practice correct spelling and use of adjectives and adverbs online and by filling in the gaps below with the right form of the word given in brackets:

  1. She ___ (careful) took the baby out of the car.
  2. The puzzle was ___ (extreme) difficult.
  3. She remained ___ (calm) despite the turbulences.
  4. The ___ (recent) launched product was much better than the ___ (old) version.
  5. She made an ___ (unfortunate) mistake.

4. “Who,” “Whom” and “Which” Are Not Interchangeable

“Who” refers to people, “which” refers to things and “that” can refer to both people and things. Here are some examples:

I know the man who you talked to earlier.
I know the man that you talked to earlier.

The contract which you signed is on the table.
The contract that you signed is on the table.

The only exception is that “which” can be used when you have a group of people and you want to select one.

Which of you knows the answer?

Who vs. Whom

“Whom” refers to people. Many people overuse “whom” to sound more academic. The rule is to use “who” when you refer to the subject of a clause, and to use “whom” when referring to the object of a clause.

You can use this simple shortcut to decide if you should use “who” or “whom”:

  • Use “whom” if you can replace “whom” with “him” or “her.”
  • Use “who” if you can replace “who” with “he” or “she.”

For example:

Whom are you going to invite?
(You are going to invite him.)

Who wrote the email?
(She wrote the email.)

When proofreading your writing in the TOEFL exam, double check if you used “who,” “which”  and “whom” correctly. Remember that “which” is generally used to refer to things. Since these are short words, you can easily make corrections fast, without changing too much of the sentence structure you originally used.

Practice these rules online and by filling in the gaps below with the right word: “who,” “which” or “whom.”

  1. The person to ___ you are referring no longer works here.
  2. I liked the book ___ you gave me.
  3. ___ invited you here?
  4. I’m not sure ___ kid was here first.
  5. Give my regards to your brother, ___ was my classmate in high school.

5. The Future Is Not Used in Time and Conditional Clauses

You cannot use “will” to refer to the future in time and conditional clauses. Time clauses usually begin with a time expression, such as “when,” “as soon as,” “while,” “until,” “after,” “before,” “as.” Conditional clauses usually start with “if.”

You simply need to omit “will” (to refer to the future) so that instead of the future simple, you will use the present simple.

Wrong: After she will return, we can talk.
Right: After she returns, we can talk.

Similarly, instead of the future continuous, you should use the present continuous in time and conditional clauses.

Wrong: While she will be reading, I’ll be watching a movie.
Right: While she is reading, I’ll be watching a movie.

The future perfect changes into the present perfect and the future perfect continuous changes into the present perfect continuous.

Wrong: If she will have finished the book, she can give us the main ideas.
Right: If she has finished the book, she can give us the main ideas.

In the TOEFL speaking exam, you may be asked to talk about the future. You have to pay extra attention to the words and expressions given above so that you don’t use “will” after them. In the written test you have the advantage of more thinking time. When proofreading, make sure you cross out any “will”s used after time expressions and “if.”

To become faster at deciding if “will” can be used or not, practice online and by deciding if the sentences below are correct or not:

  1. Whatever I do, my daughter will not listen to me.
  2. If she will play the piano at night, we can ask her to take a break.
  3. When I have talked to him, I’ll know what he thinks.
  4. Before the doctor will see you, you have to do some tests.
  5. If you will write her an email, she may change her mind.

    8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

    8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know

6. The Present Perfect Is Used When There Is a Connection with the Present

You have probably read a lot of rules about when to use the present perfect and when to use the past. You can reduce them all to one simple rule: If the speaker feels there is a connection with the present, then the present perfect should be used.

If the action is in the past and is seen as separate from the present, then you should use the past. Have a look at the following situations in which we use the present perfect and the past and check out how this simple rule applies:

haven’t seen that movie yet.
(Present perfect — Possible connection with the present: I may want to see the movie, don’t spoil it for me!)

saw that movie yesterday.
(Past tense — No connection with the present: The action happened in the past.)

have lived here since 2004.
(Present perfect — Possible connection with the present: You can count the years since I started living here from 2004 to the present.)

I last saw him in 2004.
(Past tense — No connection with the present: The action happened in the past.)

So in the speaking exam, whenever you have to decide really quickly between the two tenses, try to think about how important the action still is in the present. If it affects the present in any way, then you should use the present perfect.

In writing, you have more time to decide, but don’t overthink it. Just remember that when the action happened at a specified time in the past, with no connection with the present, you should use the past.

If you are still not sure, remember to practice as much as you can online. You can start by filling in the gaps below with the right form of the verb in parentheses:

  1. I ___ (never tasted) such a good pie before!
  2. I ___ (see) him in the park two hours ago, so he can’t be at home.
  3. How long ___ (you, wait) here?
  4. She ___ (just, talk) to her father on the phone so we know he is safe.
  5. They ___ (buy) a new car so they are selling the old one.

7. Do Not Use Inversions in Embedded Questions

Embedded questions are used when you want to make a question more polite and less direct. You form embedded questions by using a short introductory phrase, such as

  • Can/Could you tell me…?
  • I wonder…
  • I would like to know…

After the introductory phrase you should not use an inversion like in normal questions.


(Normal Question) Are you going to the party?
(Embedded Question) I would like to know if you are going to the party.

(Normal Question) Do you have any siblings?
(Embedded Questions) I wonder if you have any siblings.

(Normal Question) How long have you been waiting?
(Embedded Question) I wonder how long you have been waiting.

Only use a question mark at the end if the introductory phrase is a question.

Can you tell me how long you have been living here?
(The introductory phrase “Can you tell me?” is a question.)

I want to know how long you have been waiting here.
(The introductory phrase “I want to know” is not a question.)

In the TOEFL integrated speaking test, you may have to sum up points made by speakers in dialogues. It’s important to get embedded questions right when doing this. For instance, if you hear:

John: How many courses do you have to take this semester?

Mary: I’m not sure. How many do you have to take?

You can sum this up as:

John wanted to know how many courses Mary had to take, but Mary didn’t know the answer.

It would be wrong, however, to use an inversion and say:

John wanted to know how many courses did Mary have to take. (Incorrect)

Practice embedded questions online, after you rewrite the following questions:

  1. When will they move to the new location?

I wonder ___

  1. How often do you come here?

Can you tell me___

  1. What time did you finish writing the email?

Tell me___

  1. Did you get any free samples?

I want to ask you ___

  1. Did they tell you where to wait?

I’d like to know ___

8. To Express Contrast, the Correct Structure Depends on the Phrase Used

There are several phrases you can use to express contrast in English, but they don’t all follow the same structure. Look at these examples and the structures used with each of them:

In spite of/Despite + [noun]/[verb ending in -ing]

In spite of the weather, he decided to go surfing.
(In spite of + [noun])

Despite writing the letter in the morning, he didn’t manage to post it today.
(Despite + [verb ending in -ing])

However/No matter how + [adjective]/[adverb]

No matter how fit you are, you still shouldn’t take such risks.
(No matter how + [adjective])

However hard I try, I can’t learn Chinese.
(However + [adverb])

Although/Even though/Even if + [subject] + [verb]

He was not ready for the finals, although/even though he studied a lot.

Although/Even though he studied a lot, he was not ready for the finals.

Even if he studied a lot, he wouldn’t be ready for the finals.

Whatever + [noun]

Whatever the risks, I am sure I will follow his advice.

Whatever/No matter what + [subject] + [verb]

Whatever you say, I won’t believe you now that you’ve lied to me.

No matter what he does, she won’t trust him again.

“However,” “nonetheless” and “though”

“However,” “nevertheless” and “though” can be used independently to express contrast with the sentence before. They are separated by a comma from the rest of the sentence in which they appear.

“However” can be used both at the beginning and at the end of the sentence, “nevertheless” is used only at the beginning and “though” is used only at the end of the sentence.

Her attitude is not positive at all. However, she has very good technical skills.

Her linguistic skills are far from excellent. She excels in her determination to learn, however.

This has been a tough year for the company. Nevertheless, there is hope for growth this year.

The rooms were very spacious and the food delicious. The location wasn’t ideal, though.

Such phrases are used a lot in the TOEFL exam because they help connect complex ideas. You’ll probably hear many of them in the academic lectures you’ll listen to. In the reading passages they will help you establish connections between main ideas. They will also be of great use in speaking when you have to express contrast between the reading and the listening passages or between the ideas of two different speakers. If you use them correctly in writing, they will help organize ideas more effectively and you are sure to gain extra points.

That’s why it’s really important to get the structures right and to use them interchangeably so you can avoid repetition. You know how! By practicing them a lot. Join the sentences below using the words given in parentheses to obtain complex sentences that express contrast:

  1. The weather was nice. The hotel facilities were terrible. (although)
  2. Her presentation was very good. The audience was not impressed. (however good)
  3. She is making progress with writing. She is still struggling with speaking. (despite)
  4. The car is very fast. It’s too unsafe for me. (though)
  5. The marketing campaign went really well. We didn’t sell much. (even though)


Learning grammar may seem like a lot of hard work. The good part about it is that it gives you the structure and confidence you need to learn a language correctly. In exam situations, you need that confidence. It can help you gain time and points!

Whenever you proofread your writing or try to express an idea in speaking, you can rely on the rules you learned, they stay the same. The whole trick is to keep practicing them!

Answer Key

  1. had drunk
  2. is thinking / has been thinking
  3. am writing
  4. writes
  5. haven’t decided
  6. The (price of gas)
  7. the (global economy)
  8. — (chocolate), the (candy)
  9. the (sugar), the (white bowl)
  10. — (People)
  11. carefully
  12. extremely
  13. calm
  14. recently, old
  15. unfortunate
  16. whom
  17. which/that
  18. Who
  19. which
  20. who
  21. Correct
  22. Incorrect. Correct version: If she plays the piano at night, we can ask her to take a break.
  23. Correct
  24. Incorrect. Correct version: Before the doctor sees you, you have to do some tests.
  25. Incorrect. Correct version: If you write her an email, she may change her mind.
  26. have never tasted
  27. saw
  28. have you been waiting
  29. has just talked
  30. have bought
  31. (I wonder) when they will move to the new location.
  32. (Can you tell me) how often you come here?
  33. (Tell me) what time you finished writing the email.
  34. (I want to ask you) if you got any free samples.
  35. (I’d like to know) if they told you where to wait.
  36. Although the weather was nice, the hotel facilities were terrible.
  37. However good her presentation was, the audience was not impressed.
  38. Despite making progress with writing, she is still struggling with speaking.
  39. The car is very fast. It’s too unsafe for me, though.
  40. Even though the marketing campaign went really well, we didn’t sell much.
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