Forming simple present verbs is — well — simple. You use the base form of the verb, and modify the verb depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. (Either by adding /s/, or making other changes, in the case of irregular verbs.)
However, when it comes to actual use, simple present is anything but simple. In my post on present tenses, I list the 4 different uses of simple present. One of these uses is the expression of timeless facts. This is seen in sentences like “The sun sets in the west,” or “Hawaii lies in the Pacific Ocean.” Mastering this use of simple present can really help you in TOEFL writing and speaking.
In both the writing and speaking sections of the TOEFL, test-takers must listen to audio, read passages, and summarize the information. In academic English, these kinds of summaries use reporting verbs. Reporting verbs are used to quote or paraphrase information taken from another source. Common TOEFL reporting verbs include “claim,” “state,” “say,” “assert,” “refute,” and so on. Reporting verbs reference sources that can be accessed at any time and cannot be changed or rewritten. Because of this, they express a kind of timeless fact, expressed in simple present tense.
As a general example, you could reference a biology textbook passage about the life cycle of a butterfly. You could say “the textbook states that caterpillars turn into butterflies.” However, in academic writing, you shouldn’t say that the textbook stated something, even though the textbook is written in the past. You shouldn’t say the textbook is stating something either, even if you are looking at the textbook in the “real” present as you reference it.
Now, let’s look at some examples from actual TOEFL materials. TOEFL Writing Task 1 requires you to reference information from a reading passage. Suppose you are paraphrasing a TOEFL reading passage about the careers of professors (as seen in The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, Practice Test 2). Make sure you use a reporting verb, and keep it in simple present tense. A written paraphrase might look like this: “The article claims that university professors benefit from appearing on TV.” In Task 1, test-takers also reference an audio lecture related to the reading. Here, perhaps you could write “however, the lecturer asserts that television appearances do not really help professors.”
Simple present tense reporting verbs are similarly important in TOEFL Speaking Tasks 3 through 6. Here, you’ll summarize reading and audio in speech instead of writing. You might say something like “The article reports that more exercise machines will be added to the campus gym.” (A summary of information from Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio, Test 5, Speaking Task 3.) When paraphrasing an audio conversation on the speaking test, you could make say “The male student disagrees with the student association’s decision.” (This is paraphrased from a sample transcript on ETS’ official website.)
The proper use of reporting verbs is a powerful tool when you paraphrase or summarize information. Keeping your reporting verbs in simple present tense on the TOEFL can improve the quality of your answers and raise your score. This grammar knowledge will continue to help you in the English-language academic courses you’ll enroll in after you pass.