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Use Mental Floss for TOEFL Practice


What is Mental Floss? It’s website full of articles and videos. Many of the articles cover subjects vocabulary that are good for TOEFL practice.

If you use Mental Floss for TOEFL practice, you’ll want to focus more on the articles than the videos. It’s the articles that are the most TOEFL-like. (The videos are fun, but tend to feature interesting footage rather than TOEFL-style speech.)

Mental Floss has a maze of tagged subjects for its articles that never seems to end. Not every Mental Floss topic is suitable for the TOEFL–but a lot of them are. I’ve looked over the website and found quite a few TOEFL-like articles you’ll want to check out. These articles are categorized in a few different ways.

TOEFL Practice: Science

Mental Floss’s science tag is the most obvious category to check, since the TOEFL loves reading passages and lectures about the sciences. And Mental Floss has a mix of science subjects a lot like the ones on the exam.  Some of the most TOEFL-like science articles on the site cover subjects like the hunting habits of batsthe extinction of the dinosaurs, and the chemistry of coffee.

There are a few less TOEFL-like articles that are not quite as useful for TOEFL– covering subjects such as the science of hair and hairstyles or personal health tips, for instance. But these can be good lightfun reading for general English skills practice.

There are two other science-based article categories on Mental Floss— genetics and outer space. We’ll look at those next.

TOEFL Practice: Genetics

This scientific topic on Mental Floss is almost 100% TOEFL-like in terms of subject matter and vocabulary. While nothing on Mental Floss’s genetics web page (or the rest of the site) is exactly like what you’d see on the TOEFL, pretty much every genetics article either focuses on or at least touches on a topic that would fit in well on the exam. And TOEFL vocabulary is everywhere in the readings from this category.

I’d like to highlight a few articles that are especially TOEFL-like in this very useful category of Mental Floss articles. These readings on the genetic origins of domestic dogs and Scottish red deer are excellent for TOEFL practice. So is this passage on natural selection in farmed fish.

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TOEFL Practice: Space

Passages and lectures about planets, stars, and so on are common on the TOEFL. Mental Floss also has a set of space-related articles. Again, you have some very TOEFL-like stuff–a reading about early twentieth century astronomy and a study of weather conditions on the surface of Mars, to give two examples. And once more, we also see some less TOEFL-like supplemental reading practice– I particularly enjoyed this article about how to bake a cake that looks like the planet Jupiter.

TOEFL Practice: Animals

Animals and vocabulary related to animals come up on the TOEFL a lot. And Mental Floss has a tag for that! Here again, you’ll want to stick with the articles that have the most TOEFL-like language, such as this description of a species of salamander or this article about veterinary science. You can skip the other articles on subjects such as pet care and animal-shaped toys… or save them for a light-reading mental break.

TOEFL Practice: Oceans

Videos and pictures of the sea and the things in it look really cool. Mental Floss knows this, and they’ve filled their ocean articles with pictures and film clips. As a result, the ocean-related article son this website are a bit short on text. Still, these shorter passages often contain the same kinds of information and vocabulary you’d find in TOEFL readings and lectures about the ocean.

The article that accompanies this stunning video of a giant swarm of crabs is short but still TOEFL-like. The same goes for the text in Mental Floss’s collection of photos and fun facts about oysters. And the same can also be said for this historical look at ancient maps of the sea. Speaking of history, the next Mental Floss topic we’ll take a look at is….

TOEFL Practice: History

Mental Floss’s History category has some not-so-TOEFL-like articles on tourism (visiting historical places) and celebrity gossip (about famous people from past decades and centuries).

But there are also quite a few articles with vocabulary and subject matter similar to the TOEFL exam. There’s a nice TOEFL-like reading about units of measurement from past historical periods. And there are plenty of articles about past political leaders in the United States, a topic that’s a big TOEFL favorite. (In fact, both Magoosh TOEFL and Mental Floss have offer reading practice about American “founding father” Paul Revere!)

Mental Floss also has an additional separate history-related category of reading practice—war. War is not quite as TOEFL-like as other historical topics. But Mental Floss’s war articles are definitely useful for TOEFL practice. (We’ll look at this website’s articles on war and a few other less TOEFL-like but still good topics in part 3 of this series.)

TOEFL Practice: War

TOEFL passages focus very little on war. This is because ETS tries to make TOEFL topics culturally neutral. And wars–even old ones– can bring up strong cultural feelings.

I still recommend using Mental Floss’s articles about war as TOEFL reading practice. This website’s posts on war are the very scholarly and formal, with a tone that matches the TOEFL more closely than other Mental Floss articles. Additionally, these articles offer a lot of practice reading the past tense forms that are common in various historical narratives on the TOEFL.

For those who do have a historical interest in war, there are subcategories for World War I and World War II.

TOEFL Practice: Art

The arts are covered in the TOEFL, although TOEFL materials usually limit limit art content to the history of art. In contrast, Mental Floss’s art page focuses more on pop art and entertainment, or on art tutorials for people who want to learn how to draw.

Still, there is some TOEFL-relevant material in Mental Floss’s art section. This article about famed American mural painter Thomas Benton is of the most TOEFL-like Mental Floss art readings. But most of Mental Floss’s TOEFL-like art readings are hidden under a different category, which I’ll mention next….

TOEFL Practice: Architecture

Architecture is a topic that can definitely come up on the TOEFL. And the types of historical write-ups and art analyses you’ll find in TOEFL Reading are also present in many of the architecture articles on Mental Floss. Again, you’ll also find some content that is better for general reading practice and not TOEFL studies–write-ups on the homes of celebrities, tour guides for interesting landmarks, that sort of thing.

The takeaway

Bear in mind that the readings in Mental Floss are not identical to what you’d see on the TOEFL. Although the vocabulary and subject matter are often in line with the TOEFL exam, the writing style is less formal and more playful. But this entertaining tone can help you have fun and develop an interest in TOEFL topics during your TOEFL practice.

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