Conceding Points to Score Points: Why You Need to Use Concessions in TOEFL Writing

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Why You Need to Use Concessions in TOEFL Writing

How do you convince someone to agree with your opinion on a certain topic?  While there are many factors that determine if a reader will ultimately agree with the position you take in an essay, trust may be the single most important.  But how do you get someone to trust you when the only connection is your writing?  To win over your reader every time, you need to carefully consider your word choice as well as the supporting details you choose to feature. However perhaps the most underrated method for getting readers to trust you is to acknowledge the other side.  In other words, to use concessions. 

The word concede often has a negative connotation.  While the word concede does mean to surrender, as in when a losing candidate officially declares that they have lost and the other person has won, in writing, the word concede typically refers to the strategy of showing that the opposite side does have a valid point.

Concessions can be as short as one sentence in which the writer demonstrates something's accuracy or advantage followed immediately by an independent clause that moves into stating why the other side is still the clear victor.  Common words and phrases for introducing concessions are: admittedly, although, even though, while, however, yet, and despite.

The TOEFL itself features many examples of concessions as they are common in academic writing.  Look for them at the beginning of the integrated essay lecture.  Most of the time, the reading passage and the lecture disagree, with the professor starting his/her lecture summarizing the gist of the lecture and following it up with an opposing viewpoint.

Concessions: A rhetorical strategy used across disciplines

Too many students assume that acknowledging the validity of a point made by the opposition is a sign of weakness.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Ignoring the other side entirely or making it seem like it has nothing going for it often just feels inauthentic.  By using a strategically placed concession, you are essentially showing that you are trustworthy. You aren't so biased that you cannot even admit that there is another side. Instead, you are showing how reasonable you are by making a small concession to a reasonable point that others would find convincing.

If you want to see how effective concessions are, just imagine the last political debate you watched.  If one candidate is doing everything in his/her power to avoid talking about the other side, it seems like this person isn't being completely forthcoming or totally reasonable.  However, if they first make a brief concession, stating that yes, there are one or two solid points that the opposition makes before diving into why his/her position still is the more advantageous, people can more easily buy into this idea even if they were not initially inclined to believe this.

Using concessions to build trust isn't exclusive to the realm of politics, either. A common piece of business advice is that people buy from those they know, like, and trust.  This exact formula can be applied to writing for certain types of standardized tests.  On the TOEFL, sharing personal experience is a completely appropriate way to support your position, and while that isn't always the case for formal writing situations, this certainly increases the know factor for this exam.  Like can be achieved through a combination of word choice and examples given.  While diction can also help when it comes to the trust factor, the concession is a great strategy to use to establish that content as well can contribute to creating confidence in the writer.

The When and Why to Use Concessions on the TOEFL

On the TOEFL, you do not need to dedicate an entire paragraph to crafting a concession.  While this might be necessary if you are writing an entire term paper length essay, a TOEFL essay tends to be 4 or 5 paragraphs in length.  As a result, devoting an entire paragraph to a concession would be overkill.   Rarely, ETS will ask you a compare/contrast question, when you should devote equal time to both positions.  For the vast majority of test questions, simply staying with one position with succinct concessions built into the paragraph is the most effective strategy.

Instead, try to use concessions in your topic sentences (the first sentence in each body paragraph) or following your topic sentence before introducing a key example in your body paragraph.

In addition to being great practice for cultivating trust in any type of writing assignment that you will need to craft in your university program, using concessions has two other fringe benefits on the TOEFL specifically.

First, it allows you to showcase your knowledge of transition words.  Because concessions require you to talk about the other side before switching to your primarily point, you will need to ease the reader in, guiding readers through this change in idea through well-placed transitions.  Using transitions that introduce contrast, like however, on the other hand, or yet are useful ways to create cohesion between ideas and sentences, helping to create the flow that ETS graders are looking for.

Second, concessions frequently force the writer to utilize complex sentences and subordinating conjunctions, providing a variety of sentence structure.  Are you the kind of person that relies on simple S-V-O sentences again and again?  There is an entire subsection of subordinating conjunctions that are used for introducing contrast.  Words such as although, while, and whereas can not only introduce a concession but also get you out of your simple sentence rut.  Varying sentence structure signals to the essay scorers that you are comfortable with more grammatically advanced types of sentences.

Key Takeaways

Use concessions (the acknowledgement of the validity of the opposite side) to increase your credibility as a writer, vary your sentence structure, and create flow in your own independent and integrated essays, just as professors in the integrated essay lecture do.

Now that you know what how concessions strengthen writing, practice putting them in your own essays by downloading One Month TOEFL Writing Challenge Printable.  Get 30 TOEFL independent essay prompts to practice with right now!

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TOEFL Grammar Series: How Mastering Pronouns Will Help You On Every Section of the TOEFL [Video Post]

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How Mastering Pronouns Will Help On Every Section of the TOEFL

Grammar is a topic which is often overlooked on the TOEFL.  Because the TOEFL does not have an explicit grammar section, students tend to see it as a lower priority.  While there is no section that tests grammar exclusively as is the case on other standardized tests, most students will readily admit that it is still necessary to know the rules and to use good grammar when producing open-ended responses on exam day.  But is being knowledgeable about grammar topics helpful for the receptive skills, like the Listening and Reading Sections?  In a word: yes.  

One set of grammar rules that comes into play in a big way on all four sections of the exam is pronoun rules. Learn the most important pronoun rules, then find out how to apply them to the test.

Pronoun Guide: An Overview Of Six Types of Pronouns

When most students think of pronouns, personal pronouns immediately spring to mind.  This makes sense because they are the ones students recall through muscle memory developed when learning how to conjugate verbs.  However, personal pronouns are only a small subsection of pronouns.  In fact, not all pronouns truly fit the description of being a word that stands in place of a noun, the general definition that most grammar books boil it down to.  Pronouns can be divided into a number of categories, the biggest of which are indefinite and definite pronouns.  Within the category of definite pronouns, you will find even smaller subcategories, such as personal, possessive, reflexive, reciprocal, relative and demonstrative.

Unlike indefinite pronouns which do not point to something specific, definite pronouns go by this name because they reference something clearly called an antecedent.  Because indefinite pronouns are not linking back to something mentioned earlier, they are less likely to be on the TOEFL.  However, the rules for indefinite pronoun agreement can get a little tricky, which is why they commonly show up on the SAT as even native speakers struggle with them.  Because indefinite pronouns are not as heavily tested on the TOEFL, we will focus our attention on the types of definite pronouns.

Personal pronouns are the ones that typically stand in for a person or a group of people.

 They include I, you, he/she/it, we and they.  These pronouns need to agree with their antecedent in number, gender, and case.

In other words, you need to know how many people the noun being replaced represents and, depending on the situation, if those people are male or female. Case refers to how the word is used in the context of the sentence.  Is it the subject or object?  (This is why it is grammatically correct to write My friend and I traveled to Spain last summer but not My friend and me traveled to Spain last summer.  When deciding if you need I or me, you need to determine what case is being used in that sentence.)

Possessive pronouns indicate belonging.

 If you want to show that an object belongs to someone, instead of using 's, you can use the appropriate possessive pronoun.  The most complicated rule here for possessive pronouns is to remember that the word itself is noting belonging, so there is no need to add the apostrophe s.  Many students try to add the apostrophe to words that already end in s, like her's, but that is incorrect.  The one that confuses most people, even native speakers, is its/it's.  Remember, its is possessive already (it's is for the contraction it is).

Reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns

Both reflexive and intensive pronouns usually end in -self or -selves.  Reflexive is when the subject is also receiving the action: Don't feel bad for him.  He did it to himself. Intensive pronouns, also called emphatic pronouns, are used to stress who performed the action: I made it myself!


Relative pronouns are a unique group because they do not replace an antecedent.  Instead, they connect the noun to a word or phrase that modifies or gives additional information.  These words include who/whom/whose and which/that.  In order to determine which relative pronoun to use, you must consider both the case (subject, object, possessive), the necessity of the following information (known to grammar lovers everywhere as restrictive and non-restrictive clauses), and whether or not the initial noun being modified is person or a place/thing/idea.  


Demonstrative pronouns help create cohesion.  They frequently point back to an antecedent in the previous sentence, which students do not always anticipate when working with them.  Demonstrative pronouns explain which one(or), pointing to a specific thing(s).  They are used frequently in conversation, but they can also be used in writing to create flow between sentences.  Demonstrative pronouns must agree in number (singular/plural) and distance.  Use this/these to show that something is close by whereas use that/those to make something seem further away or to the feeling of distance.

More of an audial/visual learner?  Watch the video I've created on this topic


Pronouns For Each Section of the TOEFL

Now that you know the most common pronoun rules that show up on the exam, you will want to know where each of these topics will most likely appear. This will give you a leg up, making it faster for you to draw upon this information.

Writing section

Whether you are writing for the TOEFL or for your university level class, using pronouns effectively is important for clear, concise communication.  Pronouns can create cohesion in your essay, making neat transitions between sentences and ideas through the use of demonstrative pronouns that begin sentences and alternating between relative clauses and adjectives to vary sentence structure.

Furthermore, using pronouns reduce unnecessary redundancies in your writing.  You do not need to mention the name of the same person over and over again.  Instead, after the first usage, replace the antecedent with the pronoun. 

Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing by knowing the pronoun rules.  Have you been that person debating whether or not you need to put an apostrophe in yours, theirs, or hers?  Now that you know the rules for pronouns, you won't be tricked by these silly grammar errors that constantly find their way into student produced essays.

Ready to put what you've learned about pronouns into practice in your own essay writing?  Grab 30 days of TOEFL independent essay prompts in a convenient 2-page download.

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Speaking section

One major pronoun problem that is particular to speaking is the use of personal pronouns.  Too often students will make mistakes with personal pronouns in spoken English when they would never have made that mistake in written English.  By understanding the importance of both gender and case when it comes to selecting the correct personal pronoun, you can cut down on errors made.  If you find you have accidentally switched over from he to she, use I mean to correct your mistake.  Do you hear native speakers use the wrong form of I/me all the time in informal speaking situations?  While that likely happens regularly in everyday life, do not replicate this when speaking your response on test day.  

Additionally, now that you know the purpose of intensive pronouns, you can incorporate them into your own responses.  English is a stress-timed language.  If you use an intensive pronoun, make sure that your speech pattern indicates that emphasis as well.

Listening section

On the listening section, the quality of your notes almost always has a direct correlation with the score you receive.  Based on your knowledge regarding pronouns, you will better be able to understand the strategy the professor is using for making a group more specific (like using relative pronouns in order to make something more specific, which may show up as a detail question), the use of demonstrative pronouns to connect one sentence to the next, or points of particular interest through the use of intensive pronouns to highlight something that is remarkable or surprising.

Reading section

The Reading section most directly tests your pronoun knowledge.  Referents questions make up one of the most common types of TOEFL reading question.  At some point for each passage that you've read, a definite pronoun will be undermined.  The question will then ask you what that pronoun refers back to.  In other words, you will be asked to identify the antecedent of a word in the passage.  Armed with the knowledge of pronoun rules, you will be able to make the correct selection each time.  

Though possible, it is unlikely that EST will ask you about a personal pronoun.  However, you may be asked what a possessive, relative, or demonstrative pronoun is pointing to.

Be sure to follow the rules listed above so that the answer you select makes sense with all of the rules for that type of pronoun.  For example, the relative pronoun who is used specifically for people, so I don't want to select an answer choice that features an inanimate object.

Pronoun referents questions are one of the best types of questions to focus on for the Reading section because once you think you've found the correct answer, you can check it.  When you think you've located the proper antecedent, put that word back in that sentence where the pronoun stood.

Remember, Pronoun Referent questions are just one type of commonly asked Reading question.  Get your free Reading Questions Tracker here to keep tabs on all types of questions as well as your progress.

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Key Takeaways

The TOEFL infuses grammar concepts throughout the exam.  By understanding how pronouns can be used to eliminate redundancy, to create cohesion, to modify nouns, to imply case or gender, to add emphasis, or to indicate literal or figurative relationships, you will be able to score points on questions that directly test pronoun knowledge, such as referents questions on the Reading section, as well as those that indirectly do so, like using pronouns to create flow in your own writing.

Top 10 TOEFL Speaking Myths Debunked

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The Top 10 TOEFL Speaking Myths Are Debunked Here

For many students, standardized tests produce a lot of anxiety;  this creates an environment in which myths thrive.  Students pass along advice to other students without necessarily having any foundation for it.  For many TOEFL-takers, the speaking section of the exam produces the most fear and consequently some of the most ingrained misconceptions.  Here are some of the top misunderstandings students have about the TOEFL speaking section (and the truth that you need to know).

Myth #1|  Native speakers would ace the speaking section

Non-native speakers assume that those who grew up speaking English as their primary language would have no problems on the speaking section of the exam.  Although it is true that, for the most part, native speakers would have no problem with using slang, choosing the correct word, or speaking at an appropriate pace, native speakers would not be able to work within the time constraints or summarize all the main ideas from a lecture like in speaking question 6 without some note-taking abilities and some preparation on the test criteria.

Measuring your own test scores against how a native speaker would perform is a futile comparison.  It is often used as an excuse or serves as another reason to be discouraged.  Native speakers aren't taking the exam, and even if they were, they wouldn't be able to achieve top scores without understanding the ins and outs of the test itself.

Myth #2|  If you make a mistake when speaking, it is impossible to correct it

One reason that the speaking section is more nerve-wracking than the writing section is the disparity between tactics to correct errors.  When typing, no one has to know you initially made a mistake.  By deleting typos and mistakes as you go and leaving time at the end to proofread, editing can help remove any errors that were initially made.  However, when it comes to speaking, there is no back or delete button.  Just like with any in-person conversation, there is no back button or do-overs; you only can get one chance.

But even when native English speakers talk, mistakes are made because of the improvisational nature of speaking.  Because you cannot plan every word in advance, everyone-- English speakers and English learners alike, make mistakes.  You can and should correct important mistakes.  Native speakers do this regularly and casually by inserting the phrase "I mean" before the correction.

For example: My brother is a doctor.  She-- I mean, he-- needed the perseverance to get through the academic and emotional challenges of medical school.

In this case, using I mean to make an essential correction was essential.  Using the wrong pronoun is, of course, a grammar mistake, but more than that, it could have made the listener believe that you were now talking about a different person, causing greater confusing.  By using I mean to correct these types of errors on test day and in regular conversational, anyone who is listening to you will have a much clearer understanding of your meaning.

Myth #3|  Speaking faster is better

Different regions of the United States are known for having certain quirks regarding their speech patterns.  Those in the Northeast, for example, are known for speaking quite fast (like the characters on one of my favorite shows of all time, Gilmore Girls).  

Pacing is an important part of making sure that your spoken response can be understood by the graders.  Although you want to make sure that you can fully develop your examples and reasons in your response, there is no need to rush.  When speaking too quickly, you could be sacrificing the clarity of your pronunciation.

Myth #4| Grammar mistakes matter significantly, so you should think carefully, pausing if needed, when choosing each word

While speaking so quickly that you cannot be understood will undermine your score, speaking too slowly could be just as, if not more so, detrimental to your TOEFL speaking score.  Listening to students who pause frequently between words or sentences is a very challenging experience.  It is difficult for the grader to follow the ideas because there seems to be no clear flow.  Pausing often in your response causes students to sound like they lack confidence in their speaking abilities, something you do not want your graders to infer.

Furthermore, hesitations and pauses cause the language to sound unnatural.  Spoken English regularly makes use of reductions and stress is not divided equally on every word.  This means you may sound robotic or mechanical to a native speaker if pauses interfere with what would be considered normal speech patterns.

Myth #5|  You must use formal, academic language all the time

Using academic language is vital for highlighting your vocabulary.  While writing typically requires a formal register, speaking does not always have some strict guidelines.  For spoken responses, using a mix of more academic vocabulary words as well as slang and phrasal verbs when appropriate will help you sound natural.

Writing is almost always a more formal register. While there is a lot of overlap as both writing and speaking are productive rather than receptive skills, expectations for sentence varieties, vocabulary, and tone are lower for spoken interactions. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to make them match.

Myth #6| You should correct every error you realize you made

While correcting your mistakes can be a good thing and may end up clearing up potential misunderstandings, correcting every single error made could be unnecessarily distracting.  

First, the person listening may not have caught each mistake.  Second, you may not be making the right correction;  you may have substituted one mistake for another.  Lastly, in addition to drawing more attention to the mistakes, you could be preventing your response from developing any sort of flow and coherence, compounding grammar or vocabulary mistakes with larger content problems.

Myths #7|  It is polite to apologize for any perceived shortcomings

Just like you do not want to apologize at the end of your essay for anything that you believe you did poorly, in your spoken responses, you similarly should not issue an apology.  Some students think it is polite to apologize for their accent or their grammar mistakes, but this is something that will absolutely cost you points.

Students are even more tempted to apologize for speaking mistakes than they are with written mistakes as people often unthinkingly apologize in conversation frequently.  We apologize for interrupting what someone else said, for being late to a meeting, or for saying something that we didn't really mean.  Because spoken apologies are such a natural part of conversation, it is easy to do so in your response, especially if you feel you have messed up.  If you have done this in your Speaking section practice, it is important to break this habit as it will cost you points.

Myth # 8|  Transitions are unnecessary in spoken English

In written responses, it is important to guide the reader through your ideas. The best way to do this is through the use of transition words and phrases.

Although your transitions don't have to be as formal, you should still use transitions when listing reasons and when introducing examples. While you might not always have time to use a concluding sentence at the end of each response, these internal transitions will help keep your ideas organized, create cohesion and flow, and ultimately make it easier for the listener to understand. While listeners can ask questions when interacting in person, the recorded nature if these one-way responses make transitions that much more important.

Myth #9| Speaking into the microphone is exactly like speaking to someone in person

Practicing small talk regularly can go a long way in developing your confidence and your oral skills. However, when you add in the element of a recording device, the interactions feel a little bit different than speaking to someone in person. 

While imagining that you are speaking to someone you are comfortable with, like a family member or a friend, might help make you feel more confident and at ease when forming your responses, don't completely ignore the technology element involved when recording TOEFL speaking responses.  Because you will be recording your answers via microphone and getting no visual cues as to the listener's comprehension of your statements, make sure to practice in situations that mimic this. Talking to your friend via phone call, using a free audio recorder on your mobile device, or using apps like Recap to send practice answers to your tutor or teacher are great ways to simulate the test.

Myth #10| You need to be quiet when giving your answer because that is polite

When grading TOEFL speaking homework for my students, sometimes I would encounter recordings that were so quiet it was nearly impossible to hear the response.  Students who would speak confidently in class, raising their hands to volunteer answers, suddenly became nearly impossible to hear on recordings.  If you are barely speaking above a whisper, this will influence how the person grading your response perceives and understands your response.  First, speaking that softly may inadvertently make it appear that you are not confident in your response.  More importantly, however, when you are whispering, it is difficult to get a good sense of the pronunciation, causing the grader to strain or guess at what is being said.  

Although you don't want to yell or project your voice in the test center, be sure to speak at a regular talking volume, as if you are interacting with someone sitting near you. It may feel uncomfortable to speak even at that volume in a near silent atmosphere like the testing center, but speaking at a regular tone is the only way to avoid whispering or mumbling.

Key Takeaways

 By recognizing the differences in expectations between written and spoken situations, practicing the correct volume, vocabulary, and pacing, and understanding the conventions regarding making mistakes, test-takers can avoid the common pitfalls of many responses that craft responses based on myths, not on grading criteria and listener expectations.  Practice these in daily interactions by grabbing the small talk cheat sheet!

Mind Matters Series: Are You Suffering From Test Prep Burnout? How To Recognize It + Come Back Stronger

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Are You Actually Suffering From TOEFL Test Prep Burnout? How To Overcome It

Intro: What is Burnout

When it comes to both standardized testing as well as language learning more generally, perception and mindset can have a big impact on results.  While lacking confidence and overconfidence are both real issues that can hold you back, they are not the only issues that can stand in the way of making progress.  One of the most common issues that students preparing for standardized tests face is burnout.  Burnout can take a real toll on your TOEFL score, but by recognizing the signs, you can combat this problem head on.

Burnout is when one health or work suffers as a result of mental or physical exhaustion.  In other words, one ceases to be able to function properly-- to do what one needs to do, like study for an exam, get a project finished on time, or finish writing a term paper.  Burnout happens when you are so fatigued that you cannot move forward with the tasks you need to accomplish, and it is particularly likely to happen when you are faced with a particularly large task, meaning that the TOEFL is a likely candidate for causing burnout.

Signs of burnout

Even though you now know the definition of burnout, it might be difficult to identify in the moment.  While every person copes with mental of physical stressors differently, look out for these three common signs of burnout.

1| Inability to focus

Are you noticing that you are having a problem with staying on topic?  If it exceeds the normal, you might be suffering from burnout.  Although everyone will encounter the inability to focus from time to time-- maybe you've got something weighing on your mind, like a fight you've had with your significant other-- or you keep getting interrupted by pop up messages on your computer as you work-- the inability to focus whatsoever in multiple study sessions in a way that seems out of the ordinary for you could be a sign of burnout.

2| Lacking motivation  

Although the vast majority of people don't get excited at the thought of test prep, if you are so lacking in motivation that you are making a habit of not sticking to your test prep, you may be suffering from burnout.  If putting in your regular test prep time is like pulling teeth, you may be experiencing test fatigue.

3| A pattern of declining scores  

Are you putting more and more time in and seeing lower scores every time?  When there isn't a language skill problem to explain a series of declining scores, burnout may be the answer.  If you are putting tons of time in but nothing seems to be changing in a positive way, it is very likely that burnout has occurred.

How to beat burnout

The good news is that once detected, burnout can be overcome.  There are several different strategies that you can use in order to rectify the situation.

1| Change up your routine  

Are you stuck in a rut? To put it another way, are things getting stale?  If you've been test-prepping for a long time, you may need to shake things up in order to breathe new life into your study habits.  Do you always study at your desk in your room?  Maybe try spending a few days at a desk in the library instead.  By changing your location, you might be able to recharge.  In addition to switching up your study site, consider changing the exact study plan you've been using.  Do you do the exact same thing all the time?  Perhaps you always start with vocabulary flashcards, then work on one essay and then move on to one hour of reading practice.  While routine is good, it could cause burnout faster.  Consider batching your days instead of thinking about every single section of the test every day if that is different from your usual schedule.

If changing the study site or practice set up itself doesn't seem to be enough, consider changing your reward strategy.  How do you keep yourself on track with your study plan?  Do you always buy yourself a coffee after you've completed a full study session?  If that has been your routine but you no longer feel motivation, change your reward strategy.  Perhaps after a full week's worth of test prep you treat yourself to a bigger reward, like getting a pedicure or going to the movies with your friends.  Know what motivates you-- material items, experiences, keep a streak, etc.-- in order to find what else could work for you other than what your default has always been.

2|  Take a scheduled break  

If your test burnout is severe, you may want to take a short, scheduled break from all test prep activities.  If you have been studying for hours every day for months on end without a break, you are bound to be feeling the effects.  Take a long weekend off from formal test prep completely, only reading or listening to English for fun.  If you opt for this, which offers the most powerful potential benefits, you need to be very disciplined when it comes to scheduling this break.  Without an exact start and end date and with burnout having overtaken your mindset, you might never return to your study plan.  For that reason, it is important to take a short but clear break.

3| Bring in reinforcements

Often students see test prep as a solitary endeavor.  Make it a team effort to help you avoid burnout.  By keeping an eye on one another and acting as one another's motivation, you can avoid burnout before it happens, keeping each other to study schedules (and scheduled breaks).

Key Takeaways

While experiencing burnout is not unique to test preparation, it is extremely common in this area because of the time-consuming and difficult nature of getting ready for a standardized test.  By recognizing its signs, like lacking motivation where you once had it or focusing on constantly declining scores, you can implement the suggestions above, recharge your batteries, and get back to regular test prep with progress. 

Need ideas for fun ways to practice English that won't leave you feeling burnout?

Mind Matters Series: Is Overconfidence Preventing You From Reaching Your Goal Score?

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Is Overconfidence Standing in the Way of Your TOEFL Goal Score?

Not All Score Problems Are Language Issues

Confidence is critical for success.  Whether you are trying to get a job, to make a good impression on your future in-laws, or to get a perfect score on the TOEFL speaking section, being self-assured (or at least projecting that you are) is key.  Is it possible to have too much confidence?  In a word, yes.  In fact, being overconfident could be the very problem holding you back from achieving your goal score.  

While many would agree with the statement that a language test is not an indication of one's intelligence, too often we assume that language is the only factor in determining what score one receives.  Sometimes the score you get on the TOEFL has nothing to do with your language ability but is more of a reflection of one's attitude and preparation.  

While lacking confidence comes with many of its own problems, being overconfident can undermine your study habits and ultimately your score.

5 Common Mistakes That Overconfident Students Make (And How To Fix Them)

The #1 most common mistake that overconfident students make is that they simply do not study for the exam.  

Not preparing for the exam is a recipe for disaster.  Students who are extremely confident in their language abilities might think that they will be able to take the test without any problems because their language skills are so good.  Doing this puts you at a huge disadvantage, and remember, even native speakers might not get a perfect score if they went in not familiar with the exam.  For some people, they might see it as a point of pride that they are able to take the exam without having studied for it, but you do not get any extra points and no one in the admissions office will know that you took the exam cold.  As a result, there is no benefit to not getting ready for the exam.

The solution: acknowledge that studying for the exam is not a sign of weakness or a sign that your language skills are insufficient.  Think of it as leveling the playing field considering that most students preparing for months before they ever take the exam.  If they are putting their best foot forward, you should as well.  Even if you do not need to prepare for the same length of time as those who do not measure up in terms of language skill, you absolute should need to familiarize yourself, at minimum, with the structure and scoring of the exam. 

While not quite as bad as problem #1, problem #2 is very similar: not preparing for the exam properly.  

Students who are overconfident tend to focus on the wrong things, and they inadvertently squander their time as a result.  Although these students are studying for the exam, they are using their time and focus to learn about the wrong things.  For example, if you are reading a particularly difficult passage, going back to review, record, and memorize the unknown vocabulary words is a good idea.  However, students that fall into this category frequently try to dedicate every single new vocabulary word to memory, dismissing a key consideration: the likelihood of that particular vocabulary word to occur again.  Students are not concentrating on anything specific or being systematic when it comes to their test prep, resulting in a lot of time spent on test prep without a lot of progress.

This can lead to problem #3: burnout.  

Students who are overconfident might be incredibly motivated students.  In fact, the underlying reason behind their confidence is probably due to the success they have had in academic settings in the past.  For extremely motivated students, it may be difficult to draw boundaries or realistic expectations.  This can result in burnout, where you have spent so much time studying you become absolutely exhausted.

The solution here is to stick to a study plan.  (Bonus points if you stay with an approved study plan).  If you know that you are the kind of person that sets unrealistic expectations, like memorizing 100 new vocabulary words each day,  have a teacher, tutor, or a friend who is also preparing for the exam look over your study plan.  Stick to your schedule.  Do not let yourself go over the allotted time to spend on preparation.  When you are out of time, you are done.  That means that you need to start using your resources, in this case time, more wisely, preventing you from focusing on the wrong areas and eliminating or at least minimizing the risk of burnout.

Common problem #4: Attempting to utilize every vocabulary term at one's disposal to the detrimant of clarity of concepts (In other words, over using fancy vocabulary).  

This one is probably the most shocking of the problems on the list for most overconfident students.  They have worked hard to learn many new terms, and they want to make sure that they show them off in their essays.  While it is admirable to use a range of vocabulary and you want to showcase your extensive knowledge, frequently overconfident students fail to make progress on the writing section of the test in particular because no one knows what their essay is about.  When students become consumed with using challenging vocabulary words, they often do so at the expense of their essay.  Forcing yourself to use every single vocabulary word you know often results in awkward or imprecise phrasing.  Reading these essays takes serious effort on the reader's behalf, ultimately lowering your score.

The solution: use good synonyms when appropriate.  It is perfectly okay to show off that vocab.  You can and should! But try to limit yourself to two serious vocabulary words per sentence, maximum.  If you stack the vocabulary words, any errors become compounded and leave the reader lost.

The last frequently occurring mistake that overconfident students make is refusing to play the test's game.  

Even after taking the time to learn the structure and scoring systems, to make and stick to a study plan and focus on the areas linked to score, sometimes, students refuse to follow the advice from teachers or tutors regarding how to make the most of their time on the test.  I always advise that when you find something that works for you, keep doing it over and over again.  For example, if you've got a topic sentence that works really well to start the second paragraph of your essay, use that same sentence structure each time because you'll know the grammar and vocabulary will be correct and the transition will be strong, all resulting in a high writing score.  However, after giving this suggestion to a student, sometimes overconfident students in the very next essay would come up with an entirely new topic sentence for the second body paragraph.  This sentence may not have been as strong, but at the very least, it would have cut into valuable composing and editing time.  Teachers and tutors know what test scorers are looking for and the strategies to help you make the most of every second on the test.  By ignoring ways to take advantage of the test, you might actually be leaving points on the table.

The solution here is a complete mindset shift.  Listening to the advice of your teacher or tutor does not mean that he or she is necessarily smarter than you are or that you are dumb.  They are not suggestions that you are incapable of writing a great essay; instead, they are trying to help you make the most of your study and test taking time by making the structure and patterns of the test work for you instead of you always working for the test.


The good news is that your language skills, which take a long time to cultivate, are well-developed, and changing your attitude will be a much quicker fix.  By determining if your goal score obstacle is a mindset issue, specifically, that your overconfidence is the root cause of why you aren't making progress, you can easily implement the solutions.  Being confident is great, but being overconfident can lead great English speakers to see less than impressive scores.  Stay humble and get to the score you deserve.

Now that you know the potential problems (and how to fix them), put what you've learned into practice by concentrating first on the independent essay question with 30 free essay prompts.

Take Note: How To Note-Take for TOEFL and University Success

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How To Note-Take for TOEFL and University Success

Getting prepared for university classes shares a lot in common with getting ready for the TOEFL; this should come as no surprise given that the TOEFL was built to mimic university situations that non-native speakers will encounter in college classes and is used to, therefore, gauge student readiness. While some sections certainly do this better than others (for example, the independent essay questions are probably not on par with the type of essay you will need to write for college level classes while the reading passages seem just like those that may come out of a college level textbook), effective note taking on lectures is an essential skill to master for TOEFL and university success.

Why Note-Taking Matters

Note-taking is a component of several sections of the TOEFL. It is not limited to the Listening section only; the integrated questions for the writing and speaking sections require you to take good notes as well. Without these, you will not be able to provide enough detail to craft a fully developed response.

When you do make it to the university of your dreams, classes (especially those taken by freshman undergraduates) tend to follow a lecture format.  This means that the professor is typically standing in the front of the room delivering information without a lot of input from students and often (though not always) without putting notes on the board or projecting slides. Because first-year university students are typically required to take a certain number of core classes, these classes can be quite large, so you need to be an excellent note-taker in order to know what questions you want to ask your TA or during office hours and what to study when the midterm or final approaches.

Qualities of Strong Notes

The best notes, whether you are listening to a TOEFL lecture or one in your college or graduate school, are efficient.  To be a skillful note-taker, you must work quickly, identify important pieces of information, and stay organized.  All three of these essential characteristics work hand in hand.

Working quickly combines using smart symbols and abbreviations with finding only the most important items to record, tasks that non-native speakers frequently neglect to do in test-taking situations.  Do not try to write down everything the professor says. First, it is impossible, even for native speakers, to keep up with the speaker word for word. Additionally, if you are only copying verbatim what is being said, you aren't actually processing what he/she has stated.  Instead, only write down the key words (who/what/when/where/why/how) eliminating all the extras (articles, prepositions, most adjectives and adverbs).  Can you summarize the main point of the sentence?  Write it in your words, not necessarily the words the professor used.  Furthermore, you don't need to write out the entire word.  Is this lecture about a person?  Use abbreviations for names, places, etc. especially those that occur more than once.  Use symbols for common words like increase/decrease, similar to/differs from, and causes.  Drawing an arrow is much faster than writing down a series of letters (plus you remove the need to think about spelling when you are working under these time constraints).

Good notes need to be organized or it will be impossible to find the information when a question prompts you to recall specific information.  Remember, unlike the Reading section, the Listening section will only give you a certain amount of time per question.  In other words, while the Reading questions are self-paced, the Listening questions are not.  While this does have pros and cons, it means that you need to be able to call upon information in your notes quickly.  This necessitates good organization. Just like reading passages tend to follow a specific format, listening passages are usually organized in a similar fashion.  The professor will begin with a short introduction which will give you an idea about what the main idea of the lecture will be and this will help you guess the structure the lecture will take.  Additionally, you want to learn to anticipate the types of questions that you will be asked.  Only take notes on these pieces of information in order to avoid clouding your notes with distractions.

Where To Note-Take Before and After Test Day

Obviously, when you are taking practice tests or doing TOEFL practice problems, you should be taking notes in order to polish this skill.  But are you taking advantage of all the other opportunities you have to make good note taking a habit?

Do you take notes when listening to TOEFL prep strategies, like videos you find on YouTube?  Note taking more often will clearly improve your abilities, but it will also better help you retain information that you will need come exam day.  Because you are putting into practice the qualities of good note taking above, you are actually internalizing the information by note taking instead of passively listening and hoping to absorb some of it.

Don't limit your listening sessions solely to those dedicated to advice for language learning or TOEFL prep.  Use high-quality lectures to hone your note taking skills, and be sure to get a good balance of language learning/test prep and lectures across disciplines.  Using lectures from and Ted Ed as well as quizzes created on ESLvideo will give you a nearly endless supply of material to work with.

Get used to taking your note organization one step further.  Instead of just organizing the information on the piece of paper itself, make sure that if you encounter valuable information for the long term, you store it in such a way that you can find it again.  Use my free Trello Boards while you are prepping for the test, and then move over the relevant vocabulary and academic skill advice to a university resources folder so you can keep it for reference well after test day.

TOEFL Grammar: Why The Sentence Fragment Should Be The First Grammar Focus

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Why The Sentence Fragment Should Be The First Grammar Focus

You want the highest score you can achieve on the TOEFL, and you know that you want to focus on the writing section because small changes can make a significant difference in terms of your score.  You are improving your vocabulary by taking the words you are memorizing to increase your understanding of reading passages and utilizing them in your own essays, and you are creating organized essays because you are using transitions and brainstorming before you start composing your essay.  While the improvement in vocabulary and organization will absolutely make a huge difference in terms of your overall score, you know that in order to maximize your potential points earned on the writing section, you need to improve one other fundamental aspect of your writing: grammar.

To get the highest score on the TOEFL writing, you know that you need to eliminate or at least minimize grammar mistakes.  But where should you begin?  You've probably been studying formal grammar rules in school for years, so how do you know what particular points to focus on when your TOEFL test date is on the horizon?  If you only have time to brush up on one grammar topic, make sure that you make it sentence fragments.

Why You Should Focus on Sentence Fragments

Is it possible that some grammar errors are more serious problems than others, even on the TOEFL?  Notice how ETS phrases how grammar and vocabulary issues are taken into account.  To achieve a 4 or 5, you may only have "minor lexical or grammatical errors" that do not "interfere with meaning."  Furthermore, the human essay scorers read tons of essays every day, and at many test grading centers, scorers are encouraged to spend about 2-3 minutes per essay in order to keep up with the number of essays submitted.  A very slight issue might not matter enough to warrant decreasing your score or it might be so minor that it gets missed because the grading process necessitates going through the essays so quickly.

Even after test day, some native speakers reading your work may overlook some smaller mistakes, especially if they can still understand the meaning.  In fact, some native speakers might not even realize that a grammar error has occurred as they may not be clear on what the grammar rule actually is for certain topics.  Generally speaking, Americans are not instructed in grammar topics beyond elementary school, and the importance of good grammar frequently gets downplayed in formal school settings. As a result, many may not even be aware of the complexities and minutia of many grammar rules.  

But one grammar issue that cannot be easily overlooked is the sentence fragment.

A sentence fragment is difficult for native speakers to ignore because it interrupts the normal flow of reading. Even those who do not consider themselves grammar experts can spot fragments because as they read, something feels missing; things are incomplete.

In other words, sentence fragments are one of the most noticeable and recognizable grammar mistakes on the TOEFL and in writing situations after test day, so learning about them now will yield short and long term benefits.

One final benefit of making sentence fragments your grammar priority is that they are found on standardized tests beyond just the TOEFL.  If you are studying for the TOEFL, you may also need to take other admissions tests like the SAT.  Sentence fragments are common sentence errors that appear on the new SAT in the Writing and Language section, so by eliminating this issue from your own essay writing, you will be able to do so on the multiple choice section of the SAT and in the optional SAT essay.  One of the top errors to look for, the run-on sentence, is essentially the exact opposite of the sentence fragment, so by getting a better understanding of the fragment, you will also get a better grasp on how to fix run-ons as well.

What Is a Sentence Fragment

In order to know what a sentence fragment is (and how to prevent these types of errors in your own writing), we need to know what makes up a sentence.  A full sentence is an independent clause.

  1. The subject
  2. The verb (the predicate)
  3. A complete idea 

You should check that you can clearly identify the subject and the verb of each sentence that you write.  This will also allow you to check that your subject and verb agree, which is a good habit to get into (especially because this is another frequently tested grammar error). 

If you don't have a subject or a verb, you cannot have a complete sentence.  Also be sure to confirm that the verb in the sentence is actually acting as the predicate in the context of the sentence.  

   Writing, proofreading, and note taking.                           Incorrect

   Writing, proofreading, and note taking are all essential academic skills.      Correct.

In the example above, the be verb are is the verb and begins the complete predicate even though you may at first be drawn to the words writing, proofreading, and note taking as they are actions that you can see.  In this example, however, they act as the subject. 

If you know that you have both a subject and a verb in the form of a predicate, ask yourself if you have a complete idea.  In other words, have you given the reader all the information that they need to know in order to avoid confusion?  This lack of information may occur if you did not provide an object but the verb must take an object (as it is a transitive verb).   

    My boss sent.                                                                       Incorrect

   My boss sent the email yesterday.                                       Correct

   Her mother bought.                                                              Incorrect

   Her mother bought that sweater.                                        Correct

However, length of a sentence itself does not determine whether something is a full sentence or a sentence fragment.  This is a common misconception that even many native speakers have.  Frequently, sentence fragments occur because we have started a sentence with a subordinating conjunction.  These words—which include although, because, after, since, while, when, and if, to name just a few—take information that would be a complete sentence and make it weaker (dependent), so the information can no longer stand alone (work by itself).  For instance:

    I believe that parents are the best teachers.                         Correct

   Since I believe that parents are the best teachers.                Incorrect

When working with a subordinating conjunction, you will need a separate independent clause (full sentence, meaning a subject, verb, and complete idea).  If your subordinating conjunction begins the sentence, you will need a comma before your independent clause.

    Since I believe that parents are the best teachers, I think homeschooling is a great method of education.                                                                                    Correct

Using subordinating conjunctions allows us to add sentence variety and often complex ideas to our writing.  By understanding the rules for subordinating conjunctions and complete sentences, readers will be able to understand and appreciate all of our ideas.

So, by confirming that you have a subject, a predicate, and you've expressed a complete idea, you can be sure that you have a full sentence and not just a fragment-- a portion of a sentence masquerading as a full sentence.

Become An Expert At Locating and Fixing Sentence Fragments

My favorite grammar website, bar none, is  I have used this website with native and non-native speakers alike, and I cannot speak highly enough of this excellent resource.  Because of the way that the site is set up, you are able to select particular topics.  Although subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and comma rules are all also excellent topics to review and NoRedInk makes grammar practice as painless as possible by crafting example sentences based on your own self-selected interests, if you are pressed for time, begin with the unit on sentence fragments.  By locating and fixing sentence fragments in the given sentences, you'll be able to apply the same concepts to your own writing, where it is often more difficult to find sentence errors.

Once you feel comfortable, go through old essays and see if you can locate sentence fragments.  If you locate any, fix them.  Once you think you've taken care of them all, upload your essay to Grammarly (this is an affiliate link.  If you want to read more about why I am a huge fan of Grammarly, check out my post about it here).  Grammarly will catch any sentence fragments you may still have and recommend ways to fix your sentence.  For this reason, it can be an excellent learning tool.

Get into the habit of writing new essays within the time constraint, leaving two minutes at the end to proofread and edit your work.  As I recommended in the pacing guide I wrote for, don't practice writing right up til the last second; give yourself time to catch those grammatical errors, particularly sentence fragments, in order to get the highest score.  Not sure what topics to write new independent essays about?  Grab 30 days of writing prompts in the free One Month TOEFL Writing Challenge Printable.

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University Vocabulary Words + Conversation Starters You Must Know For The TOEFL (and The First Week Of School)

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Popular University Vocab for the first week of school + TOEFL

There is no denying it, and it isn't just retail store hype anymore; back to school season is upon us.  Although start dates vary in the United States based on region and the level of the institution (with schools in the American south and colleges typically going back to school well before the first work day after Labor Day, which most primary and secondary schools in the Northern part of the U.S. use as their guideline), the academic year tends to start at the end of August or beginning of September.  Heading back to the classroom can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially if you have just enrolled at a new school.  If you are thinking about university-level classes, you will have to deal with specific vocabulary that is unique to the college setting and many of the terms that you will encounter during your first week there are words that you are expected to know.  

Even if you aren't heading to a university yet because you still need to take the TOEFL and get to your goal score, knowing these vocabulary words is essential because they frequently appear on the integrated speaking and listening sections of the exam.  Remember, the TOEFL is designed to mimic actual university situations, so it is quite possible that you will hear a conversation between a new student and a university employee or listen to a lecture that takes place on the first day of class.  By preparing yourself for the exam with this vocabulary, you will also be ready to hear these words when you arrive at your college campus.

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On the first day of class, your professor will provide you with a syllabus.  The syllabus is the formal write-up of all the information that you need to know about the class-- the course description (so you will know what you are studying), the grading breakdown, the required course materials, etc.  You will want to pay particular attention to what comprises the grade for the course.  Is there a midterm, a final paper, or a final exam?  If so, is the final exam cumulative (in other words, does it cover everything from the first day of class or just from the midterm on)?  Although it might seem premature to be thinking about the final exam this early, putting these important dates and knowing exactly how you will be graded might help you decide whether or not this is the right class for you and how you will need to structure your time for the rest of the semester.  The professor will also list their office hours (the times when the professor is sitting in his/her office waiting for you to come in and ask any questions you may have) on this document.  In America, it is not considered rude or insulting to ask your instructor questions, and many professors welcome students who want to know more information about a particular topic.

At many American universities, you have roughly two weeks of school to decide if you are going to keep the classes you initially signed up for or if you are going to make changes to your schedule.  This time is usually called add/drop or shopping period, where you can decide to take (or not take) classes without any penalty.  In order to decide what classes you should take, you should speak with your academic advisor.  This is typically a professor in your department who recommends what classes you should take based on your major, the number of credits you need to take, and the number of electives that you have.  Your major is your primary area of study, so many of the classes that you will take will all be related to this topic.  At the beginning of your time at a particular university, you may have to take some core requirements first-- the types of classes that the university has decided all students must take in order to have a well-rounded education.  Keeping track of how many credits you have-- the worth that the university has assigned to your particular class-- is important because it may determine the price of your tuition for the semester as well as how many classes you should take.  Classes outside of your major are known as electives, and courses you must take before you can take a more advanced level class are known as pre-requisites, all key terms for you to know before interacting with your advisor.

After you have spoken to your academic advisor, you may need to see the registrar.  This is the person who approves the official schedule every student takes.

Hopefully, you are able to take all of the classes you want, but you may encounter problems with registering for classes or moving into your dorm room if you have a hold on your account.  A hold simply means that your account has been frozen-- you cannot do anything-- until something, usually a financial problem, has been cleared up.  Perhaps you did not pay the deposit or submit the appropriate medical forms to the university, for example.  If this happens, make sure you talk to those who work for the university in order to resolve the issue.  On the listening section of the TOEFL, you might hear a conversation when a student visits the registrar's office to discover he can't drop a class because there is a hold on his account.  For this reason,  it is imperative to know these words for the test as well as to address real issues that may arise when you arrive on the college campus.  

During the first few days of school, your RA (resident assistant) will be one of the best resources that you have available to you.  He or she is an upperclassman (an older student), so they will know what buildings you will need to go to, who you need to speak with, and what activities are going on on campus.  

If you are living on campus, the RA will likely have a meeting during the first few days where they explain all of the policies for living in the dorms and the emergency procedures.  This meeting will likely involve an icebreaker-- a get-to-know you activity to help you learn a little bit about the other people living on your floor.

Some of the words on the list are important for making small talk, a type of conversation that is expected and considered polite and appropriate in the United States.  Although there are generally good guidelines for what you should and shouldn't say to those you make small talk with, when it comes to your first meeting, there are several key phrases that make sense for you to draw from.   If you lack some confidence in your own speaking skills, just remember, people love to talk about themselves.  These questions give the other person an opportunity to really expand, and by asking follow up questions or prompting the other person to go into more detail, they will do the majority of the talking.  As a bonus, these are the questions that they are most likely to ask you, so if you have an idea of what you are going to say, you will be even more confident that you will be able to adeptly navigate these interactions.

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TOEFL Must-Know Words and Debates About Literature


10 literary words that you need to know for the TOEFL

The topics for the lectures, reading passage, and integrated essays can come from any discipline that you can find at the university level, so you will notice a mix of pieces from humanities as well as the hard sciences as you go through your preparation process.  Although you will not see any passages that are excerpts from classic pieces of literature like those you might find on the New SAT, you may encounter readings or lectures that are based on literature.  Some of these passages may take the form of biographies, providing a detailed account of the author, playwright, or poets life, career, and legacy.  However, more often than not, these literary-based discussions or articles will feature a position taken on a particular work of literature.  As with any form of art, literature leaves room for interpretation and as a result, these are particularly likely to show up as topics for a lecture with student interaction, perhaps a seminar style class, or an integrated essay.

While it would be impossible to be knowledgeable about every piece of literature that might be featured on test day, becoming familiar with some key literary terms will give you an advantage, no matter what piece of writing is being discussed.


Discussions that center on literature tend to focus on ambiguity, those moments that are unclear or intentionally confusing.  The author's motivation for doing something (otherwise known as his/her intent) is often a source of debate among literary scholars. This might take the discussion an interdisciplinary route, especially if the writer is supposedly critiquing the government or a trend happening at the time the work was penned. Similarly, a character's reason for taking (or failing to take) some sort of action might be cause for disagreement.  Is the character actually dynamic (one that changes over time) or has he/she remained the same?  This question is often asked of protagonists though minor characters or villains can draw some attention to.  These topics will likely connect back to important moments in the plot of the main conflict of the story.  Critics might also discuss the meaning of a particular symbol-- what something is supposed to represent in the work of literature-- or what genre the work can be best classified as.  Especially if the discussion is based on genre, expect to hear a list of criteria for putting it into a certain category (or not).

Regardless, when someone is supporting his/her position in this type of environment, they will use textual evidence to back up his/her opinion.  You might hear directly ask a student about this, which may turn into a listening detail question, so be sure to pay particular attention.  Look out for the phrase refer back to the text as well, as they mean the same thing.

Don't feel limited to using these words in a discussion of literature, though.  Although these words draw from that discipline, many of them can easily transcend the field of literature or even art and can be incorporated more broadly into your own writing and speech. Conflicts can be used for any sort of struggle or fight, internal or external, physical or verbal.  This word can be used when discussing countries, wars, and politics or in everyday situations like getting into an argument with one's brother.  Intent-- what you've meant to do-- is similarly useful for both conversational settings and for formal situations.

Although being widely read is a great way to expand your vocabulary, reading classic texts probably won't help you make much headway on test day; however, knowing the terms above and the topics of discussion that usually occur surrounding literature will help you better anticipate the main idea, regardless of which section of the test you find it in.


5 Root Words To Catapult You Towards Your Goal Score [Video/ Cata]


There are tons of vocabulary words you need to learn in order to succeed on the TOEFL and in university level classes.  In order to maximize the amount of words you know, you will want to think about memorizing words that are related to one another.  There are several ways to achieve this.  Memorizing one word and all those in the same word family, several words that are all on the same topic, or words that share the same prefix, suffix, or root.

One reason that it is particularly useful to memorize prefixes, suffixes, and roots is that they are often recycled.  As a result, even though you may not know a particular word on test day, if you recognize the common component--the prefix, suffix, or root, you may be more prepared than you had thought.  

Remember, when studying words for the TOEFL, you want to think about where the words might appear but also where you can use them in responses you produce.

How should you decide what terms to learn first?  Of course, you want to learn those that are the most likely to show up on test day, and if you can stay on track using a list in which words are ranked by likelihood of appearance, this is a brilliant tactic.  However, another way to keep you interested is to use current events in order to get you in the mood to study.  Whether you want to take a silly, bizarre holiday like International Cat Day or an established holiday like the 4th of July to inspire your academic endeavors, harnessing the power of what is going on at the moment can help you better understand puns the day of the event or understand cultural traditions.  If studying a list of 100 words a day listed in no particular order isn't your cup of tea, then why not use the calendar to find additional motivation?

So, let's get the ball rolling.

Cata (from the Greek kata meaning down from, down to, or sometimes against) is a common root that can be seen across all four sections of the TOFEL.

-CATALYST: a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

-CATASTROPHE: an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster

-CATACLYSMIC: relating to or denoting a violent natural event

-CATHARTIC: providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions

-CATAPULT: to hurl or launch

Catastrophe is strongly negative and would be extremely useful to reinforce your point in a conclusion paragraph, stressing how doing the opposite of what you advocate would have costly consequences.  You can use it in the adjective form, catastrophic, too if that fits your sentence better.  Cataclysmic is even more strongly negative and should be reserved for world shattering consequences.

Catapult can be used to answer independent speaking and writing questions when used in a figurative sense.  A career or even a country can be catapulted, for example.  Don't feel like you can only use it for discussing rocket ships.

Now use these new TOEFL vocab words to catapult your score to the next level.  How?  Try to work in at least one of the new words into a practice independent essay response.  Need some practice questions?  Grab my list of One Month of TOEFL Writing Questions for free.

Want to see more videos like this?  Check out the 2 Minute TOEFL series to learn even more terms.  Never miss a new video by hitting the subscribe button.

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