In my many years of teaching TOEFL preparation courses, I found that there is one underlying skill that all my high-scoring students had in common – strong Academic vocabulary. Every section of the TOEFL test depends on it, directly or indirectly.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Reading
In the Reading section, you actually have to answer a number of questions directly related to vocabulary. You need to pick synonyms for particular words, in the given context. These questions make up more than 20% of all the questions in the Reading section. Knowing the most common or most widely used meaning of the word is often not enough. You need to know more than that – other possible meanings, word forms and collocations. If you have done some TOEFL Reading practice , you’ve probably already discovered that the correct answer choice (for the vocabulary questions) is rarely the one that seems most obvious or most familiar.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Listening
When it comes to the Listening section, the stronger your Academic vocabulary, the easier time you’ll have following and understanding the lectures. These academic materials make up two thirds of the section; out of six listening materials scored for you, only two are campus related conversations; the remaining four are actual, grade 12 level, lectures. Consequently, it’s impossible to score more than ten out of thirty points without the knowledge of the key terms.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Speaking
As for the Integrated Speaking, you will not only better understand the reading and listening prompts, but you’ll also be able to produce a higher scoring answer, if you can use the appropriate Academic vocabulary in your speech. Granted, the Academic Speaking questions make up only one third of the Speaking section, but that could mean the difference between scoring in low twenties , and getting more that 24 or 26 iBT points, which is a requirement for many Professionals in the Medical, Legal and some other fields.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Writing
The same goes for the Integrated Writing. Remember that, although you do have access to the reading prompt the entire time you are writing your Integrated Essay, it’s not a good idea to copy directly. Instead, you are encouraged to paraphrase the key points from this prompt whenever possible. The listening prompt is likely to be an even bigger challenge – you will only hear it once, and unless you can follow and take notes efficiently, as well as show your understanding of the key concepts in a well written Integrated Essay, it will be near impossible to score high in the Writing Section (as this essay counts for 1/2 of the section score)
Academic vocabulary – how to improve it
First of all, it’s important to understand that no vocabulary can be learned over night. It takes time, repetition and application to acquire new vocabulary. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen if you rely on memorizing vocabulary lists or if you study using resources that don’t provide in-depth understanding of the Academic vocabulary and a lot of practice in applying the newly acquired vocabulary to your speaking and writing. Learning vocabulary, especially Academic vocabulary, is a long process that requires a systematic approach, and that is something that a learner can do only with proper guidance. In other words, enlisting help from a qualified ESL teacher or tutor, will save you a lot of time, not to mention the frustration of trying out many books and sites (usually recommended by fellow test takers), only to find out that they don’t work for you.
Here is a site that offers some good practice for the Academic Vocabulary.
Professional ESL Test Prep also offers an offline ACADEMIC VOCABULARY MASTERCLASS. (follow the link to find out more)