TOEFL Independent Speaking and Writing Tip: Keep your words clear and precise

To score high on the independent speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL exam, you will need to develop the skill of using words that are easy to understand, do not have multiple interpretations, and exactly describe your ideas.

Using clear and precise words can be especially useful as you learn to frame your thesis and topic sentences. The more precise the words you use, the easier it will be for you to organize and develop your speaking and writing responses. In the following article, you will see examples of thesis statements for speaking and writing prompts that contain unclear and precise language.

Speaking Prompt 1: If you were to move to another city, which city would you choose.

Unclear thesis: If I had to move to a new city, I would move to Dallas, Texas because it is an interesting and fun place to live.

“Interesting” and “fun” are unclear words with many meanings, so it would not next to impossible to organize your speaking tasks around those two key points.

Clear Thesis: Dallas offers vast employment and educational opportunities, so I would like to move there.

“Employment” and “educational opportunities” are precise words around which you could organize your response. It would be very easy to provide examples for both of these reasons.

Speaking Prompt 2: What time do you prefer to take classes: in the morning, afternoon, or evening?

Unclear thesis: When I am at school, classes in the morning are easier and better for me, so I would definitely prefer to take classes at that time.

It is a disaster to use “easier” and “better” as supporting reasons because these words are unclear and imprecise. It would be next to impossible to organize your response around those key points.

Clear Thesis: Taking classes in the morning frees up my afternoon schedule and better fits my sleep routine since I am an early bird, which is why I like taking classes during that time.

“Better fits my sleep routine” and “frees up my morning schedule” are specific reasons why morning classes are preferred. Using specific reasons such as these makes it easier for you to provide reasons in your response.

Writing Prompt 3: In addition to their specialized classes in their major, students should also be required to take general education classes in a university. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Give reasons to support your opinion.

Unclear thesis: I agree that students should be required to take general education classes. I have several reasons to support my point of view.

“I have several reasons….” is perhaps the most often memorized sentence used for independent speaking and writing tasks, but it does nothing to coherently organize your responses.

Clear Thesis:General education classes should be mandatory inasmuch as they help students decide on a major and give these pupils a more well-rounded educational experience.

“Helping students…on a major” and  “a more well-rounded…experience” are specific enough to organize two body paragraphs with relevant supporting details.

Writing Prompt 4: The automobile and the airplane are important inventions of the 20th century. Both of these inventions have had an important effect on our lives. Choose another invention that you think is important. Give specific reasons for your choice.

Unclear thesis: Another invention that has had an important effect on society is the smart phone due to its useful nature.

It already problematic to have “important” in the sentence, but at least that word comes from the writing prompt. However, adding the word “useful” is too broad of a word for a thesis.

Clear Thesis: Smart phones have cameras for videos and pictures, GPS navigation systems, and downloadable applications, so they are important inventions in the 21st century.

Instead of mentioning “useful,” the writer uses a three point thesis to explain that smart phones have” cameras,” “GPS navigation systems,” and many “downloadable apps.”  Developing these three reasons and providing specific supporting details will be relatively easy to do because the ideas are so clear and precise.

Improving vocabulary = Improving writing and speaking

1. Through reading extensively for 45 minutes daily and by studying vocabulary, you will be able to improve your English so that you use more precise, clear vocabulary in your speaking and writing. Download the following 1,700 vocabulary list if you want to start learning these words today:

2. Generally, avoid the following words in your TOEFL speaking and writing tasks, particularly when you framing the thesis and topic sentences: best, better, boring, difficult, easy, excellent, fair, fun, good, hard, extremely, interesting, really, very, terrible, unfair.

This is NOT a comprehensive list by any means, but I listed these words so you can get a general idea of which words will not work in thesis and topic sentences of your speaking and writing tasks.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,