5 Steps to Learn Vocabulary

As you wade through your groups of lengthy vocabulary lists, do you feel overwhelmed, as if you forget your new words from your vocabulary list? Are there times when you are frustrated from seeing a word you know you have seen before, but you cannot for the life of you remember what the meaning is? Of course, you realize you have to learn select new vocabulary in English to expand your word base before you take the TOEFL iBT, but are you approaching the process so that you have a distinct advantage?

Perhaps you are now scratching your head and asking yourself what strategies are more useful to quickly acquire a more extensive language base so that you can use that vocabulary efficiently on the TOEFL exam. Or, maybe you know how to encounter new English words in your study sessions, and you have been made aware of those vocabulary by writing them in a journal list to refer to, but your memory fails to recall them when you are reviewing since you have not yet implemented a set strategy of how to recall them over time. Of course, certain ways of remembering work better than simply memorizing a word. Let’s examine five.

  1. Study your new word in context by learning in chunks. Don’t just study one new word alone.

If you write down a word by itself, you will not have the context of where the word may arise in the future, so it will be easily forgotten. In English, we never communicate using only one word. English is commonly communicated in phrases, groups of words or chunks. For instance, instead of memorizing the word “bail” on its own, write down and practice reviewing these phrases “bail her out of jail,” “bail my friend out of trouble,” “bail a company out of its problems” or “bail out a company from debt.” Instead of remembering the single verb “constrained,” recall the phrases “she constrained herself from talking much,” “the ropes constrained the goat” or “he felt constrained by rules.” Each word normally is in a common phrase, so when you remember the group of words that go with the new vocabulary you are trying to recall, you will ensure you will know how to use it accurately in context.


  1. Don’t just write them in a vocabulary notebook. Make those words more visible everywhere around you to interact with them.

Put the new words somewhere written down where you will see them as much as possible. For example, put them on poster paper a wall (in front of your desk,) write them in a notebook that you carry with you all the time, place them on your computer desktop screen (to see them repeatedly at a glance on the computer,) have them on your smartphone in a note-taking app to refer to them throughout the day during your downtime. In that way, you can review your new words much more often and recall them more easily than simply sitting down to memorize or review them at a study session.

     3. Don’t overlook using new words daily.

Make an organized effort to use some of the new words in context every day, either in writing or speaking. If you have a short term goal of learning X amount of new words per week, be sure to have another goal of reviewing your words consistently. Take time to attack words on your vocabulary list by selecting a group of ones to use in context daily. The more you attempt to use the new words, the more you have the possibility to retain the meaning of how to use those in the future.

     4. Don’t just focus on similar words, but examine opposites too.

When you encounter a new word choice, not only take down a synonym, but make sure you look up the opposite meaning as well and take note. If you have the synonym and antonym of the new word, it will build your contextual learning base. Your brain will enact a reference point of both extremes, so you can remember more quickly.

      5. Keep “like” words grouped together.

The brain makes connections with “like” ideas, so when you come across a new word and know the meaning is similar to another word, group those words together in your word list so that you can expand your memory of those synonyms.


If you enjoyed sharing this advice, read Effective Note-taking for TOEFL Success to score higher test results.



Transitions and Structure Create a Smooth Flowing TOEFL Essay

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One of the essential keys to a well-written essay is integrating transitions into your essay, whether that be the integrated task or the independent task on the writing section of the TOEFL exam. Transitions and transitional phrases are words or groups of words that connect ideas between or within sentences. When you write a paragraph, you should present ideas that flow; consequently, connector words or phrases are useful to make the paragraph cohesive. By inserting smooth connections, ideas can relate more logically so that no gaps exist. If you are able to connect your thoughts in a manner which leads the reader through your essay, you will effectively paint a clearer argument. For this reason, though you may already have presented a strong argument and supporting details, your opinion, reasons, examples and support need to also connect with transitions in order to make your persuasion seem stronger to any reader. Proper selection of transitions makes your written passage much more enticing to read

Moreover, you will need to decide which transition word or phrase to use in a particular spot in your writing. So, examine your essay overall. Look at the organization. When you give ideas that build on one another in the same way, use ‘like meaning’ transitions. If you have presented ideas which are opposing, then you would insert transitional phrases that are contrasting meaning. Sequential words also help to delineate the organization of time in paragraphs and keep sentences in clear order.

Sample transitions

SEQUENTIAL WORDS–First, at first, initially, first of all, in the first place, second, secondly, in addition, as well, next, later, after that, now, recently, at the same time,

EXAMPLE WORDS: for instance, for example, to illustrate, to exemplify, to demonstrate, to show,

EMPHASIS WORDS–in particular, specifically, even, especially, in fact, no doubt, doubtless

LIKE WORDS–similarly, like, as, likewise, in the same way, in addition, plus

CONTRAST WORDS—but, yet, however, nevertheless, yet, still, on the other hand, despite, although, though, even though, while, whereas

CONCLUSION WORDS–In conclusion, in summary, lastly, consequently, finally, hence, therefore, thus

Sentences example without a transition and with transitions

  • I built a house. It was one story. [no transition]
  • For instance, I built a house; initially, it was one story. [two transitions for smooth flowing logic]

Not only are transitions vital to your writing on the TOEFL, but also a solid structure makes your essay more convincing to the reader. The structure of an essay commences with an introduction, an initial paragraph which starts off with catching the attention of the reader with a lead-on on the topic. For instance, you begin with a general statement or question on the topic to entice a reader. The introduction moves from general to more specific: at the end of the introductory paragraph, in the last sentence, you state your thesis statement. A thesis is the main idea of your essay. Whatever main purpose you have (your argument,) you would mention that viewpoint to control the thesis and add your reasons why.

To follow the introduction, you would have a body of a few paragraphs which explain the support of your reasons why. In this way, your reasons each have concrete examples and details, which become more and more detailed to make a convincing argument. Each body paragraph follows a similar structure. You begin with a transition to refer back to the previous paragraph or move forward to a new idea. Thus, your writing will not jump from one idea to the next without logical reasoning. The first topic sentence of each body paragraph contains a controlling idea and one reason, which refers back to one reason stated in the thesis in the introduction. After proposing your reason, you give an example or evidence to support the topic. Following an example, you can include numerous details, which become more concrete as you move through the body paragraph. Those ideas support the argument, reason and example. If you wish to conclude the body paragraph, you may want to rephrase the topic sentence in other words to emphasize the point you are making.

The final part of the structure of an essay is to restate your thesis and express why that is important. In that concluding paragraph, you would start with an ending transition such as “In conclusion,” or “In summary,” or “To sum up.” One of those transitions smooths your writing so that moving from the body to the conclusion is not jumpy. To follow would be a short summary of your opinion and the reasons paraphrased with new word choice. Your concluding line should end strong. It would be a recommendation or suggestion on topic or a universal call to action. Be sure not to introduce new ideas in the conclusion or that would weaken the ending.

Of course, by using both the proper transitions in the correct location within your writing and by organizing your essay structure according to the standard set above, you can impact the reader positively. He/she will be able to readily comprehend your argumentative viewpoint and capture supporting points clearly to give you a better TOEFL writing score.

If you liked this post, try reading the article Writing a TOEFL Independent Essay with a Story as an Example.