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Can You Lie on the TOEFL?

Last year, I taught a speech class for ESL students. In one assignment, my students had to give a speech defending their opinion on an important issue. One student met with me to show me the outline of her speech. She had an opinion, but she didn’t defend it very well. Instead, her outline focused mostly on the counter-arguments, the reasons people might disagree with her opinion. I suggested she rewrite her speech to support her true opinion.

When this student finally gave her speech in class, she surprised me. Instead of taking a lot of time to rewrite her outline, she simply lied. She said the counter-arguments were her opinion. She did this to save time, since she had already written all of the counter-arguments. Re-doing the whole speech to support her true opinion would have been a lot of work. I gave her a good grade. I was especially impressed that she was able to defend a view she disagreed with.

We’re all raised to believe that lying about important things is wrong. What you must remember is that your real opinion or true life circumstances are not important on the TOEFL. Like a university English teacher, the TOEFL (and the person who scores your TOEFL) does not need to hear or read the truth about your opinion or life. The TOEFL only needs to measure whether or not you can speak or write well. It’s OK to lie on the TOEFL.

Let me give you two examples of times when lying on the TOEFL may be a clever way to save time and get a good score. Here is a sample TOEFL Speaking Question 1:

“Talk about a city or town you have visited in the past. Explain what you liked most about the city and why. Include specific reasons and examples in your response.”

(Question taken from The Official TOEFL iBT Tests.)

Suppose you haven’t traveled to another city or town anytime recently. You might not be able to remember your trip well and prepare a good answer. For that matter, if you are young, perhaps still in high school, maybe you’ve never traveled to another city. (This is especially common for kids who live in really big cities, or in remote areas.) Or maybe you are just having trouble thinking of how to describe a city you recently visited.

In all of the above cases, it’s perfectly OK to lie. For this question, I would recommend describing your own town or city, but saying it’s a town or city you visited. You’ll be very familiar with your hometown and able to describe it well.

Similarly, you may get a question like this (another speaking question from The Official TOEFL iBT Tests):

“Some people enjoy watching movies or television in their spare time. Others prefer reading books or magazines. State which you prefer, and explain why.”

You could very easily have no strong opinion on this. In fact, many students could feel very distant from this question, because they don’t have time to watch or read things for fun. It’s OK, just make up an opinion that you feel you can easily defend.

Remember, the TOEFL is not looking for the truth about what you think or what your life is like. The TOEFL is only looking for your true English ability. Your true English ability will shine through if you focus on your speaking and writing, not on being cautiously honest about your thoughts. It’s perfectly OK to lie on TOEFL Speaking and Writing prompts. Lying in this way is not cheating. It’s practical, acceptable, and it can help you put your best English out there for scoring.


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2 Responses to Can You Lie on the TOEFL?

  1. TOEFL taker July 8, 2015 at 2:58 am #

    In 2007 I took TOEFL iBT and I was surprised to notice that people were starting the speaking section while I was still completing the listening. Well, putting the noise aside this has one main advantage for the test takers that happened not to be the first to start with the speaking (and particularly for me that time). They can easily overhear what others talk about and from this to guess the question itself. Then they can use the time between the end of the listening and the beginning of the speaking to structure their responses (at least for the first independent questions). It wouldn’t be wise to try this for the last 4 tasks since they are more complicated but for the independent tasks it might just work as it did for me back in 2007 🙂

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink July 10, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

      That’s an interesting strategy! It’s hard to practice, though, because most students won’t have the experience of talking in the crowded room until test day. So I don’t recommend relying on it too much. To other students: if you do hear the topic and can use the extra time, great. 🙂 But if not, don’t worry about it. Instead, learn to use the 15 seconds of preparation time as wisely as possible to prepare and structure your answer.

      And thank you for sharing that!

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