How to Develop Strong Vocabulary Skills for the TOEFL iBT-Without Using a Dictionary! Part Two

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When reading TOEFL iBT passages for pleasure, for work, or for university coursework, you will encounter unfamiliar vocabulary. In these situations, you should try to understand the new word by looking at the context in which it is used. Clauses, referents, “be” verb, contrasts, and other words in the sentence are contextual clues which may help you to understand a new word.


Adjective clauses and their connectors (i.e., that, when, where, which, who, and whom) may be used to identify words.

Both the electric generator, which makes electricity widely available, and the electric motor, which converts electricity to useful mechanical work, are based on these effects.

The meaning of “electric generator” is identified by the adjective clause: “which makes electricity widely available.” Similarly, the meaning of electric motor is identified by its adjective clause: “which converts electricity to useful mechanical work.”


Referents are words to refer to other words in a sentence or paragraph. The referent may refer to a previous word or one which follows it.

It is one of the more remarkable feats of American literature, how a young man who never graduated from high school, never received a college degree, living in a small town in the poorest state in the nation, all the while balancing a growing family of dependents and impending financial ruin, could during the Great Depression write a series of novels all set in the same small Southern county — As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and above all, Absalom, Absalom — that would one day be recognized as among the greatest novels ever written by an American. !

“As I Lay Dying, Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom” can be identified by their referent ” a series of novels.”


The object, which is referred to as the subject complement and which comes after the verb “be,” may be used to identify the subject.

The Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianusone of Canada’s commonest large birds of prey. isThe meaning of “The Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus” is identified by ” large birds of prey,” which comes after “is.”




Sometimes, the meaning of vocabulary words can be understood because they are in contrast to another word in the sentence. Some words to show contrast are the following:

although but despite even though however in contrast in spite of instead nevertheless on the other hand on the contrary or still unlike yet

are unlike wind-generated waves, which many of us may have observed on a local lake or at a coastal beach, in that they are characterized as shallow-water waves, with long periods and wave lengths.Tsunamis are understood to be “shallow-water waves” because they in contrast to “wind-generated waves.”


Other words in a sentence may also help you to understand the meaning of vocabulary words.

Sponges are the simplest grade of multi-celled animals. In general, sponges have open-topped, sack-like bodies which are fixed to the sea floor. Water is pulled through the body, and food is filtered out.

By using other words in the sentences as contextual clues, you can guess that a “sponge” is a “multi-celled animal” which is “fixed to the sea floor.”

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2 thoughts on “How to Develop Strong Vocabulary Skills for the TOEFL iBT-Without Using a Dictionary! Part Two”

  1. Pingback: TOEFL iBT Reading Passages: It Is Not About Reading! - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

  2. Pingback: Better TOEFL® Scores » Blog Archive » How to Develop Strong Vocabulary Skills for the TOEFL iBT-Without Using a Dictionary! Part One

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