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TOEFL Tip #116: Vary Your Vocabulary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 26, 2011

Today’s post is the fourth in our series about the results of Strictly English’s research on the TOEFL exam, conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Writing section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking, Reading, and Listening sections.

Because Strictly English fully respects ETS’s copyright protection, the example below has been fabricated in order to illustrate the issues we’d like to discuss from our research. This material is not quoted from the TOEFL exam.

Our researcher – an American and a native speaker of English – wrote all of his essays with perfect intermediate-level English, with no mistakes. However, he wrote with a lot of redundancy, repeating key vocabulary words far too often. He scored only a 20. Our researcher has written just as simply on other TOEFL exams, but varied his vocabulary more significantly. He scored above a 25.

Here is a body paragraph written in the same style that our researcher produced on the exam this summer:

First of all, I like dogs because they are friendly. For example, my friend Mary has a dog. That dog is not friendly. Every time Mary has a friend over, her dog is not friendly to Mary’s friend. On the other hand, I have a very friendly dog. All of my friends love how friendly my dog is, which makes them want to be my friend.

Notice that the word “dog” appears 6 times, and “friend” or “friendly” appears 10 times – there are 3 “friend/friendly” repetitions in 2 different sentences!

So, redundancy kills your score. You must paraphrase and use a variety of words for the same concept. For example, you might say that Mary is your sister, a neighbor, or a co-worker. You could revise the last sentence to say, “Everyone I know loves how approachable my pet is, which makes them want to spend time with me.” These are small changes which convey the same idea in a broader range of words.


Categories: Vocabulary,Writing

2 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. Yalcin

    wrote on October 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    This article presents some important information in the writing section of TOEFL. I plan to use this method, when I write an essay. I believe this is going to help me in TOEFL.

  2. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » The Year In Review

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    [...] sections of the TOEFL exam. In particular, a four part series on speaking, reading, listening, and writing discussed Strictly English’s recent research and experience on the TOEFL. Several posts, such as [...]

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