TOEFL Tuesday: All About TOEFL Vocabulary

Welcome back to TOEFL Tuesday!

Vocabulary is helpful for all four sections of the TOEFL (reading, listening, speaking, and writing), so it’s important to study! But where should you find that new vocabulary? What is helpful for the TOEFL, specifically?


Academic Vocabulary

The TOEFL is mainly a test of academic English. The reading section is all about passages from university textbooks; the majority of the listening section is about lectures; about half of writing and speaking are based on similarly academic texts or lectures.

That’s why knowing more formal, academic words is a huge help. Informal vocabulary, such as phrasal verbs, can also be useful for the TOEFL, but it’s less important and more general. Continue studying any informal vocabulary, of course, but focus your studies on academic words in particular. (For a list of the most important TOEFL Vocabulary words, be sure to download our TOEFL Vocab PDF.)

Words from TOEFL Questions

Here are three words that you almost definitely will see on your TOEFL:

  • (to) infer
  • (to be) essential
  • (to) cast

I say you will see them on your test not because those words will be in the texts or lectures, but because they’ll be in the questions.

(to) Infer

This word is related to “imply.” If you imply information, then you don’t say it directly, but I understand the information anyway. Similarly, if I infer information, then I understand information from your statement, even if the information was not specifically said.

For example, if I’m going camping this weekend, and my friend asks me “Is your tent waterproof?” I can infer that my friend expects rain, because my friend implied that it would rain.

You will see this word in both the reading and listening sections, in inference questions.

(to be) Essential

This word is so common, you probably know it already. “Essential” means “needed” or “necessary.” An essential part is a part that you must have. It’s not only important—it’s more than important.

For example, water is essential for life on Earth. Without water, there would be no life.

You will see this word in paraphrase questions in the reading section.

(to) Cast

This word has many different meanings, but the meaning that’s important for the TOEFL is related to an old meaning: “to throw.” But it’s not used literally. Instead, you might see the phrase “cast doubt on.” And in that phrase, “cast” means something like “create.” If you “cast doubt,” then you create a reason to doubt another statement.

Specifically, on the TOEFL, you might see this word in the integrated essay question. You will first read a text, then hear a lecture about the same topic. The professor will usually talk about three reasons why the text was wrong (rarely does the professor agree with the text). You then will have to write an essay about how the professor casts doubt on the text.

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  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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