How your Grammar Will be Evaluated on the TOEFL iBT: Part Two

Michael Buckhoff’s “7 Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT

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The good news is that the TOEFL iBT does not have a “drill and kill” grammar section like the Paper-Based TOEFL. Nevertheless, your grammar will be evaluated by human raters in the independent and integrated writing sections.

Grammar and Independent Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT
During the independent writing section of the TOEFL iBT, ETS requires that you demonstrate “consistent facility in the use of language, demonstrating syntactic variety though it may have minor…grammatical errors.” “Consistency” implies that throughout your essay, you should not have too much difficulty using grammar to express your ideas.
To understand sentence variety requires that you regularly use four types of sentence structures and understand reasons for their respective uses.

1. Simple Sentence: Consists of an independent clause, which has one subject and one verb.

  • Example: We had all bonded through the experience.
  • Use: To emphasize important information.

2. Compound: Consists of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (i.e., and, or, yet, so, for, but).

  • Example: I had grown quite close to these strangers over the last few days, but I had become incredibly fond of my drama companions.
  • Use: To join two equally important ideas that are not important enough to stand as their own separate sentences.

3. Complex: Consists of an independent clause and a dependent clause (i.e., adjective , adverb, or noun clause).

  • Example: We were the elite, the student leaders who were hand picked from the various church schools to guide others into worship.
  • Use: To join an independent idea (i.e., “the elite”) with a supporting idea that isn’t important enough to stand as its own sentence (i.e., “who were handpicked…”).

4. Compound_complex: Consists of a compound and a complex sentence combination.

  • Example: I saw the man who was riding the bicycle, and he told me that his watch had been stolen.
  • Use: To join two equally important ideas (i.e., “I saw the man, he told me…” that are not important enough to stand as their own separate sentences with a supporting idea (i.e., “who was riding…”) that isn’t important enough to stand as its own sentence.

As you can see, having good basic sentence structure in speaking and writing requires that you avoid a choppy sentence style, which means using too many consecutive short simple sentences. Instead, it is important to use a variety of sentences, both long and short, in your writing. Generally, writers uses longer sentences to combine ideas which are not important enough to stand alone. They use short sentences to emphasize important ideas that can stand alone.

Choppy sentence style: The house is 2150 square feet. It has a pool and spa. There are four bedrooms in the house.

Revised: The house which has a pool and spa is 2150 square feet and has four bedrooms in the house.

Grammar and Integrated Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT
On the integrated writing section of the TOEFL iBT, ETS asserts that “occasional language errors that are present do not result in innacurate or imprecise presentation of content or connections.” Moreover, like the integrated speaking section of the TOEFL iBT, you can have some errors as long as they do not obscure meaning.

To illustrate the importance of making accurate or precise connections, suppose you read a passage about The Critical Period Theory of Second Language Acquisition, and you listen to a passage about why this theory might be as valid as some researchers think. Your sentence structure and use of connectors will need to show that the listening passage disagrees with the information in the reading passage, especially if you are asked, “How is the information in the listening passage related to the information in the reading passage?” To answer this question, you could construct a sentence such as the following: The topic of the reading passage is The Critical Period Theory of Second Language Acquisition, but the listening passage casts doubt on that theory by questioning its validity. The use of the word “but” and “casts doubt” accurately and precisely connects the two sources together.

For more information, go here:

Michael Buckhoff’s “7 Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT

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