To Michael’s S.T.E.A.L.T.H. students,
You have probably realized that, when you complete speaking and writing practice tests, I evaluate you in terms of your use of both basic and advanced vocabulary and grammar usage. But what does this really mean? How is basic vacabulary and grammar different from their advanced counterparts.
If you have a a knowledge of basic vocabulary, you will be able to express basic ideas in a new language, which means it will be hard for you to support your generalizations with specific details if you do NOT have a more advanced vocabulary base. For example, if you are writing during a TOEFL iBT independent task, you may write a paragraph something like this.
Living with a roommate who is honest is good because he/she will not steal my things. I will be able to leave and do stuff without having to worry.
In contrast, if you have a knowledge of more advanced vocabulary, you will be able to more fully express your ideas in which case you may write a paragraph like this.
Living with a trustworthy roommate will make me more relaxed in that I will not be anxious that he/she will steal my gold necklace, my iPOd, or my Sony X box. In effect, I will be able to leave my belongings without having apprehension.
Having a knowledge of basic grammar will not demonstrate to iBT human raters that you have syntactic variety; instead, it will show them that you have limited English proficiency. Case in point, during a TOEFL iBT speaking task, if you speak in the following way, you will get a lower score:
My best friend is Kenneth. He is a teacher. I have known him for a long time. I think he is an important friend. We always help each other out in times of need. I will never forget him.
Using too many simple sentences consisting of single subjects and verbs, the speaker’s sentence style causes a lot of unnecessary pauses, thereby distracting his audience. And you know what that means, don’t you? A lower TOEFL speaking score.
Conversely, having knowledge of advanced grammar will allow you to display syntactic variety in both your speaking and writing TOEFL tasks. Therefore, let’s rewrite the previous group of sentences so that they are less choppy:
My best friend whom I have known for a long time is a teacher. He is an important friend, and we always help each other out in times of need. Therefore, I will never forget him.
In this example, the speaker is using three sentences instead of six, and displays syntactic variety by using complex, compound, and simple sentence styles.
Now that you have a little more instruction on how you are evaluated in terms of your grammar and language use, it is time for you to take a speaking and writng practice test. Keep these tips in mind, especially when completing TOEFL independent and integrated tasks. More often that not, non-native English speakers (you!) will have a more difficult time controlling their grammar and vocabulary when they are speaking, which is why I am giving you the following tip.
Some of my TOEFL students initially write out their speaking practice tests before recording them. Of course , you cannot do this when completing the speaking tasks on the actual TOEFL iBT, but writing out the speaking task will gradually help to acquire a more advanced vocabulary and grammar base. Soon enough, you will not need to write out the speaking tasks, for you will be able to naturally use the advanced vocabulary and synatactic variety that you have been practicing.
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Michael Buckhoff, founder, materials writer, and owner of “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT”
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