What you can do to improve your vocabulary for the TOEFL exam?
Link your known vocabulary together in a strong chain.
In other words, you can learn some phrasal verbs!
Phrasal verbs are formed by linking one verb to another word (typically a preposition or an adverb). The result is a new expression that has a different meaning from the original verb.
They are very frequently used in English in both speaking and writing. According to the “Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English,” phrasal verbs occur:
- 1900 times per million words in fiction
- 1800 times per million words in conversation
- 1400 times per million words in newspapers
- 800 times per million words in academic writing
You will be doing academic writing for the TOEFL, so you can expect to see and use plenty of these handy verbs.
You may have heard that phrasal verbs are more informal, but this is not true for all of them. Not all phrasal verbs are created equal. Actually, like all words or expressions, they can be informal, formal or neutral.
Informal phrasal verbs are mainly used with people we know very well like close friends. Formal phrasal verbs can be used in situations that are more official, academic or professional. Neutral phrasal verbs can be used safely in almost all contexts.
How Phrasal Verbs Can Help You on the TOEFL Exam
Because phrasal verbs are used quite frequently in conversational English, understanding them will help you a lot on the listening and speaking sections of the TOEFL exam in which you listen to people talking to each other.
Most conversations on the TOEFL exam in both speaking and listening sections are between students discussing campus related topics. These conversations are generally neutral towards informal, so you may hear quite a few phrasal verbs.
You may want to use neutral to formal phrasal verbs in writing in both the independent and the integrated task and probably in speaking as well. You should avoid very informal ones as the general tone of the TOEFL exam is academic. That is why the phrasal verbs in the list we have here are suitable for both neutral and formal English.
A Few Rules for Using Phrasal Verbs Correctly
When you decide to use phrasal verbs in speaking or in writing, make sure you use them correctly.
Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable, depending on whether you can use other words between the verb and the particle. With separable phrasal verbs you can use other words between the verb and the particle, while with inseparable phrasal verbs you cannot insert other words between them.
Look the word up! (look upis a separable phrasal verb)
You should look into the matter. (look into is an inseparable phrasal verb)
Phrasal verbs can also be transitive or intransitive, depending on whether you can use an object with them. Transitive verbs take an object, while intransitive verbs cannot.
I made that story up. (story is the object of the phrasal verb made up)
My car broke down. (broke down is intransitive, it cannot take an object)
In the case of transitive verbs with really long objects, we can move the object between the verb and the particle if we replace the object with a shorter word. This is called shifting.
She made up a very funny story. (a very funny story is a long object)
She made a very funny story up. (correct, but the object is too long to comfortably place it between the verb and the particle)
She made it up. (we replace the object, a very funny story, with it and we can move it between the verb and the particle)
Now that you know these important rules, you can start learning some phrasal verbs!
30 Handy Phrasal Verbs to Help You Succeed on the TOEFL Exam
The following list contains 30 phrasal verbs that can be used as either neutral or formal words, so you can confidently use them in academic contexts like the TOEFL exam.
1. Account for
Meaning: To explain the reason for
Example: Increased pollution may account for climate change.
2. Adhere to
Example: You must adhere to the terms of the contract.
3. Allude to
Meaning: Mention in an indirect way
Example: She kept alluding to our agreement, but she didn’t want to reveal it.
4. Bring on
Meaning: To cause something bad to happen, especially illness
Example: His heart condition was brought on by his diet.
5. Bring up
Meaning: To start discussing a subject
Example: She brought the matter up very late so they didn’t have time to discuss it properly.
6. Come about
Meaning: To happen, especially by chance
Example: Increased unemployment has come about through automated production.
7. Cut back
Meaning: To reduce
Example: They are cutting back expenses.
8. Do without
Meaning: To succeed in living or working without
Example: We can do without help from you.
9. Embark on
Meaning: To start a new project or activity, usually one that will be difficult or take time
Example: After graduating from university, she embarked on a career in banking.
10. Follow through
Meaning: To continue doing something until it has been completed
Example: You will need to follow through with some reading if you want to master the subject.
11. Frown upon
Meaning: To not approve of something
Example: Failure to attend classes is frowned upon.
12. Get across
Meaning: To make people understand something
Example: The teacher managed to get across how important it was to attend lectures.
13. Get around
Meaning: To be heard by a lot of people
Example: News of his promotion got around very fast.
14. Get at
Meaning: To try to suggest something without saying it directly
Example: What are you getting at? Was my presentation too long?
15. Get back
Meaning: To start doing something again after not doing it for a period of time.
Example: Let’s get back to discussing how this happened.
16. Look forward to
Meaning: To feel happy about something that is going to happen
Example: I’m looking forward to meeting you later.
17. Look into
Meaning: To try to discover facts about something
Example: After several customers complained about late deliveries, they decided to look into the matter.
18. Make of
Meaning: To understand someone or something in a certain way
Example: What do you make of the teacher’s decision to shorten this course?
19. Map out
Meaning: To plan in detail how something will happen
Example: Her career was mapped out for her when she decided to take that job.
20. Meet up
Meaning: To come together with someone
Example: Let’s meet up and discuss how we are going to go about this project.
21. Narrow down
Meaning: To reduce the number of possibilities
Example: The detectives narrowed down the list of suspects to just two.
22. Put forward
Meaning: To suggest an idea, opinion so that it can be discussed
Example: The proposals were put forward last week, but the committee didn’t have time to discuss them.
23. Put off
Meaning: To delay doing something especially when you don’t want to do it
Example: Are you putting off writing that essay because you can’t concentrate right now?
24. Resort to
Meaning: To do something unpleasant in order to solve a problem
Example: We must resort to legal action of they don’t offer compensation.
25. Rule out
Meaning: To stop considering something as a possibility
Example: The CEO said that yearly bonuses can be ruled out in light of the financial crisis.
26. Run by
Meaning: To tell someone your ideas so they can give you their opinion
Example: I have a few ideas for tomorrow’s meeting. Can I run them by you?
27. Talk out of
Meaning: To persuade someone not to do something
Example: Her parents talked her out of living in a rented flat.
28. Think over
Meaning: To consider a problem carefully
Example: You should think it over before handing in your resignation.
29. Turn out
Meaning: To develop in a particular way
Example: The presentation turned out well, considering how little you prepared for it.
30. Verge on
Meaning: To almost be in a particular state
Example: His speech was so good, it was verging on genius.
Understanding and using phrasal verbs are great ways of making your English sound more natural and native-like.
Once you start using them on the TOEFL exam as well, you’ll start feeling more confident about your language level!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for more ways raise your TOEFL score, try FluentU.
It’s a really useful study tool, but it’s also a lot of fun.
FluentU lets you learn real English. It teaches you with popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials.
If you want to watch it, FluentU’s probably got it.
FluentU makes it simple to watch native English videos. It has interactive captions. Tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.
Tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:
FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.
Videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples for the word you’re learning. This way, you’re not just practicing listening. You’re also learning the grammar and vocabulary in the videos. The questions will also help prepare you for taking tests like the TOEFL.
FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.
The most interesting part? FluentU knows the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends you examples and videos based on those words. You have a 100% personalized experience. This means you know exactly what you need to work on, and can study more efficiently.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.
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The official TOEFL Writing rubrics talk about the importance of writing “coherently and accurately,” and avoiding “inaccuracy, vagueness, or imprecision.” They also mention the importance of using “syntactic variety” and “a range of vocabulary.”
All of these writing skills are closely linked to sentence variety—the writing of sentences using many different grammar structures. Your writing is much clearer if you treat each sentence as unique, using specific grammar and vocabulary that fits the exact meaning in the sentence.
If the types of words, phrases and grammar you know how to use are limited, then the meaning of your writing will be limited too. Certain kinds of ideas, ones outside of your grammar/vocabulary “comfort zone,” will be a lot harder to express. How can you express something if you literally can’t find the words?
The good news here is that you can learn how to find the words, phrases, and structure that you need in order to express yourself. Part of the trick here is to really study grammar and vocabulary. But you don’t want to just memorize wordlists and grammar rules. You also need to develop a sense of grammar and vocabulary. It’s important to make a connection in your mind between grammar, vocabulary and the expression of meaning.
That’s the whole reason that different verb tenses, different conditionals, different words with different connotations, etc…. exist. Use the variety found in the English language to express specific ideas clearly in writing. Master the use of language variety in your sentences, and your reader will always understand you, no matter what you’re trying to say.
Sentence variety sounds kind of challenging, doesn’t it? Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to master this complicated, useful writing skill.
I often have my students do a very basic writing exercise to improve their sentence variety. Here’s how it works: Write a short sentence. For TOEFL practice, use a short sentence that gives a brief, partial response to the TOEFL Independent Writing task—see a good list of example questions here. Once you’ve written this response sentence, rewrite the sentence and expand it. Add to it more and more until you have a nicely long and unique sentence.
This will help you practice more complex sentences. Here’s an example:
Starter question: Some people move out of their parents’ home and live independently as soon as they finish high school. Others prefer to continue living with their parents, even as adults. Which living arrangement do you think is best, and why?
Starter sentence: I prefer living independently.
Expansion 1: I prefer to live independently, because I think it’s better than living with parents.
Expansion 2: As an adult, living independently is preferable to living with parents, as living with parents does not provide as much freedom.
Notice that with each expansion of the sentence above, I also changed my choice of words and made the grammar a little bit different, a little more complex. That’s because the purpose of this exercise is to practice saying things in different ways and practice making longer sentences.
The trick here is to figure out a few different ways to say the same thing, so you can think of alternate, more varied sentences. This is called paraphrasing. Paraphrasing exercises help you become a better writer who can make more varied sentences. While paraphrasing is often done to rewrite someone else’s idea, it’s also good to practice paraphrasing with your own original sentences, as seen above.
This activity really only has three steps: Write a simple sentence, expand the simple sentence to make it more varied, and repeat sentence expansion as needed. Of course, if you expand the sentence too many times, it will get long, awkward, and hard to follow.
But during writing practice, making that mistake is OK, and can even be useful. By letting yourself sometimes overextend your sentences, you can learn how to make your sentences longer and more varied and learn when to stop expanding on a simple idea. In this way, you’ll gain the ability to vary your writing style just enough, without using overly complicated grammar or overly varied vocabulary that makes your meaning become less clear.
So have fun with this activity. Play with sentence structure. Experiment with it. Build on it.
And if you get bored with writing response sentences to the TOEFL Independent Writing task, do this exercise with any other kind of sentence you like—variety really is the spice of life!
This post was written by David Recine, TOEFL expert at Magoosh. For more help with your TOEFL preparation, check out Magoosh’s free eBook, TOEFL Writing Tips!