Idiomaticity and TOEFL Writing

What is idiomaticity and TOEFL writing? Understanding what this means, and making your writing more idiomatic will help you to score higher on the writing section of the TOEFL iBT.

Idiomaticity and TOEFL writing

What does idiomaticity and TOEFL writing mean?

Idiomaticity refers to words and vocabulary chunks that exist in everyday conversation and writing. Put another way, if your writing reads as if a native-speaker competent in academic writing wrote it, then you will have idiomaticity in your TOEFL writing.

  • Example idiomatic word: Indeed, I had a surreal experience last summer when I visited my friend in Algeria.
  • Example idiomatic lexical chunk: By and large, the speaker contends that the author’s belief about the universe is flawed.

“Indeed,” “surreal,” and “by and large” are words and phrases that are commonly used by native speaker writers.

What do examples of unidiomatic writing look like?

To help you understand unidiomatic language, I will include examples from one of my TOEFL students. Right now, she is scoring between 22-24 pts on her practice tests according to ETS’s Writing Rubrics: TOEFL iBT® Test — Independent Writing Rubrics ( In addition, I will include a revision of some of her sentences so that her writing is more natural or idiomatic.

  • Unnatural: To illustrate, when I was medical student, the main role is to follow resident doctors’ orders.
  • Revised: To illustrate, when I was a medical student, I primarily followed the resident doctors’ orders.
  • Unnatural: A team working in one cooperation consists of a leader and team members.
  • Revised: A team working in unison consists of a leader and team members.
  • Unnatural: First of all, a follower works limited to one’s responsibility, while a leader’s work covers variety ones of team members.
  • Revised: First of all, followers are only responsible for themselves, while leaders concern themselves more with the team members.
  • Unnatural: I believe that people who leads us should use the money in our basic needs on Earth for some reasons which are the uncertainty of another livable place in the outer space and the necessity to put the Earth in priority.
  • Revised: Our leaders should allocate money for Earth’s basic needs because of the uncertainty of other habitable planets and the necessity to prioritize Earth’s environmental challenges.

After reading the revised corrections to the unnatural sentences, you can learn some important editing tips:

  • You should use the most precise words possible to express your ideas. Avoid translating ideas from your first language into English.
  • Avoid clunky sentences by removing the “be” verb and reducing dependent clauses to phrases.
  • Eliminate filler words such as “it is my opinion that…”

How do I improve my idiomaticity in TOEFL writing?

As you can see from the examples, unnatural words, sentences, and grammar are common among students who are preparing for the TOEFL exam.  How do you improve in this area?” you may wonder.  Consider adding some of these suggestions to your study plan:

  • Spend 45 minutes daily listening to documentaries, news programs, and science shows. Take notes as you listen and then write 250-word summaries.  In addition, use your notes to speak 60-second summaries.
  • Spend another 60 minutes a day reading newspapers, magazines, and books. Similarly, using your notes, write and speak about the most important points of the reading passages.
  • Download my 200+ page vocabulary list and learn the words like your life depended on it.
  • Use my inexpensive TOEFL Speaking and Writing Feedback Service for two months. Your goal is to complete at least 30 writing practice tests as you use this service. During the third month, sign up for two 60-minute TOEFL Private Lessons via Zoom with me per week. During each lesson, I will correct all of your errors and unnatural expressions. Then I will refer you to practice exercises to help you improve your writing.

Good luck!


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