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TOEFL Tests you on vocabulary:

  • Directly
  • Indirectly 
  • Actively
  • Passively 

Testing Vocabulary Directly:

  • Where: In the Reading Section
  • How: By asking you to define an word from the passage

Testing Vocabulary Indirectly:

  • Where: In all 4 sections of the iBT TOEFL
  • How: TOEFL uses difficult vocabulary throughout the exam that you must be abe to understand
  • NOTE: You're not asked to define the word, but you must understand its meaning in order to answer other fact or inference questions

Testing Active Vocabulary:

  • Where: In the Speaking and Writing sections
  • How: By evaluating the vocabulary you choose to use
  • The GOOD news is that this means that YOU are in control of this "vocabulary test" because you can determine what words you use.
  • NOTE: this does NOT mean that you should always try to use big, complicated, academic words. Instead it means that you should use the simpliest word that is appropriate for the discussion.

Testing Passive Vocabulary:

  • Where: In the Reading and Listening sections
  • How: By exposing you to words that you did not know you knew
  • PASSIVE vocabulary words are the words that you would never generate yourself but that you know when you see them.

To study vocabulary, focus on:

  • Content
  • Etymology
  • General aquisition with our TOEFL Word of the Day 
  • Learn how prefixes and suffixes function


  • Study vocabulary about a particular topic.
  • For example, studying words like slavery, pilgrim, revolution, abolition, manifiest destiny, colony, taxation, wampum, etc will familiarize you with the common terms that appear in many of the TOEFL Reading and Listening passages on the topic of American History.
  • Strictly English has over 15 vocabulary lists based on common TOEFL topics.
  • Each list has 150 words.
  • Each list has study quizzes for you to take


  • Once you know the root of a word, then you will also know the meaning of other words that have the same root.
  • For example, once you know that BENE means "Good", then you have a general idea that the words benediction, beneficial, beneficent, and benevolent must also have a general meaning of "goodness".
  • So, this means that memorizing one root will give you an understanding of many new words. 

General Aquisition

  • No matter how many vocabulary words you memorize, there will always be another one that you do not know.
  • Therefore, it's also good to read widely and study lots of words. You never know when some random word will appear on TOEFL that isn't found on any vocabulary content list and doesn't have a clearly defined etymological root.

Learn how Prefixes and Suffixes function

  • Prefixes change the MEANING or a word (EX: "UN"happy is the oppostie meaning of "happy")
  • Suffixes change the GRAMMAR of a word (EX: the adjective "happy" becomes the noun "happiness")
  • How does this help?  By removing prefixes and suffixes, you might understand the root of the word, and then figure out how the prefix or the suffix is changing that root's meaning.


  • In some respects, vocabulary is the backbone of the entire TOEFL. If you don't know the meaning of words, then you can't understand what you're reading or listening to.
  • In other respects, only 70% of the test's vocabulary is important. The other 30% is there to confuse and trick you.
  • Therefore, focus on the words you DO know, and ignore the ones you don't. This helps in over 90% of the instances when students say they "don't understand" the question or sentence.