Ibrahim, who has been taking online TOEFL lessons with a specific focus on improving his TOEFL writing score for the independent and integrated tasks, has taken the TOEFL exam three times, each time scoring 20-21 pts on the writing. After he submitted his first independent writing practice test online, his TOEFL iBT teacher quickly figured out Ibrahim’s weakness: his writing did not display syntactic variety.
But what is syntactic variety? Well, it is kind of like a baseball pitcher who only throws a fastball at every batter, for example, He does not adjust his pitches based on the batter’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing exactly what kind of pitch he will throw, the batter is able to hit a home run almost every time he comes to the plate. Like the baseball pitcher, Ibrahim only used simple sentence in his writing, and the writer could easily anticipate what he would do next. This results in his writing becoming monotonous, and, even worse, demonstrates to the TOEFL iBT human raters that Ibrahim has a limited range of sentence structures that he can use.
Armed with this knew insight, Ibrahim studied TOEFL Grammar lesson 1 which focused on sentence variety which was exactly the reason that his TOEFL writing score had been stuck in the mud. After studying the grammar lesson, Ibrahim then practiced exercises to help him become more comfortable creating compound, complex, and compound/complex sentence types. He also practiced using subject-verb inversions, fronted past and present participial phrases, and prepositional phrases of location.
Now it is time for Ibrahim to take another practice test to see if he has improved his syntactic variety. This time I think he will do much better!
|This article was written by Michael Buckhoff–co-founder and materials writer for Better TOEFL Scores and The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT, Composition and Linguistics Professor, TOEFL Specialist, ESL Master Instructor, and Placement and Testing Coordinator for California State University, San Bernardino.Follow more posts and videos from Michael at Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.