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Imagine if you were having a conversation with a person, and you ask him. “How are you?”
He replies, “I live in Florida now.”
His reply would leave you confused because it was an incoherent response to your question.
“What is incoherence anyway?” you might be asking. It is the opposite of coherent, which means being logically consistent or making something stick together. In this case, it is important that the second speaker’s response logically connects to the speaker’s question.
Being coherent, or logically organized, in both your TOEFL iBT speaking and writing is crucial because it is one of the criteria by which TOEFL iBT human raters willl score you. Therefore, the more coherent you are in your TOEFL iBT speaking and writing tasks, the greater chance you have of achieving a higher TOEFL iBT score.
Let’s examine coherence and TOEFL iBT independent writing. It is important that your writing is coherent at three levels: 1) the thesis statement connects to the writing prompt, 2) the topic sentences connect to the thesis, 3) and the details connect to the topic sentences. If you have problems making one, two, or three of these levels stick together, your writing will not be coherent.
How can you know if your writing is coherent? A telling sign is to isolate a practice TOEFL iBT essay that you written by deleting everything from the essay except for the thesis and the topic sentences. For example, suppose you were writing an essay based on the following prompt:
Do you believe that it is important to take general education classes in addition to your major? Give specific examples and reasons to support your point of view.
Then, you would delete everything except for what you see below:
Sample Response 1 (Incoherent Response)
Thesis: Taking general education classes is good, which is why I think it is important.
Topic Sentence A: Students learned anthropology and sociology.
Topic Sentence B: A student may not be good in math but still takes it.
Topic Sentence C: I benefited from taking general education classes.
Sample Response 2 (Coherent Response)
Thesis: Taking general education classes in addition to a major expands students’ cultural knowedge, increases their academic proficency to more than just one area of expertise, and prepares them for a variety of jobs in today’s information-based society.
Topic Sentence A: First, if students take general education classes, they will increase their cultural knowledge.
Topic Sentence B: Second, students who take general education classes will have a broader academic area of expertise.
Topic Sentence C: Finally, by taking general education classes in addition to their major, students will be prepared to function in a variety of hi-tech jobs which may or may not be directly related to their major.
So, why is sample response 2 more coherent?
First, the writer has a sharply-focused thesis, around which to organize the developmental paragraphs of the essay: “expands students’ cultural knowedge, increases their academic proficency…, and prepares them for a variety of jobs…”
Second, each topic sentence restates one of the key points made in the thesis: “…increase their cultural knowedge, …have an broader academic area of expertise, and …will be prepared to function in a variety of hi-tech jobs…”
Third, the writer is logically consistent in terms of verb tenses (i.e., take, will increase, take, will have, will be prepared) and with point of view (i.e., students, they, their).
To sum up, being coherent in both TOEFL iBT speaking and writing is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something that you learn automatically, but you can learn how to be coherent with practice.
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