Jane Birkenhead, October 19 2022


There are many myths associated with the TOEFL exam. Some myths have been repeated so much that people don't even know where they come from anymore.

Here are two definitions of myth:
A myth is a commonly believed but false idea (Cambridge Dictionary).
A myth is something that people wrongly believe to be true (Macmillan Dictionary).

I find these myths frustrating because they mislead students. Part of my job as a TOEFL teacher is to help students understand why these myths are untrue. So I decided to keep track of the ones that I hear and explain exactly why they are untrue.

As I collect more myths, I'll put the newest ones at the top.

TOEFL Myth #5

"If you have 4 reading passages, there is a 95% chance that the first one is the extra one. Skip the first passage, and do the others carefully."

Please don't do this!

This is complete nonsense. No one knows where the extra passage is placed - that’s the whole idea. 

ETS says this on their website about the extra questions:

"Extra test questions
Your test may include extra questions in the Reading Section that don't count toward your score. These questions help ETS to:
  • make test scores comparable across administrations
  • determine how these questions function under actual testing conditions."

You must treat all 4 passages equally, and answer the questions as if they are being scored.

TOEFL Myth #4

“I know I need to do the TOEFL exam many times before I get my scores. That’s what everyone says”.

This is completely wrong! And it’s also incredibly sad and frustrating that so many people believe this.

It’s perfectly possible to reach your target scores on your 1st attempt at the exam if you are properly prepared.

TOEFL is an English proficiency test so it tests how well you can use English. If you’ve done practice tests and exceeded your target scores, then you have a very good chance of reaching them in the exam.

If you haven’t reached your target scores in practice tests, then you probably need a little longer to prepare before you’ll reach them in the exam. It’s that straightforward.

It’s not a matter of doing the exam several times before you are ‘allowed’ to pass. Please don’t believe anyone who says that.

TOEFL Myth #3

"Pronouns aren't included in word counts." 

This is one of the crazier myths that I've heard!

First, don't be obsessed about word counts. They are guidelines to give you an idea of the length of a response to aim for in speaking and writing. 

They are NOT absolute and there are many other factors involved in grading.

Second, pronouns are really important in language and of course they are included in word counts. Too many students avoid using pronouns but they help to make your language natural and fluent. 

If you need to revise your use of pronouns, then this British Council article is a good starting point.

TOEFL Myth #2

"Grammar isn’t important in TOEFL."

This is a myth that I've heard from many students. One student even told me that she heard this from another tutor. 

Correction, grammar is really important in TOEFL.

In both the speaking and writing sections, TOEFL raters assess Language Use. That includes grammar and vocabulary.

In the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test (6th Edition), it gives this information about how Language Use is assessed in speaking and writing:

In Speaking
How effectively does the test taker use grammar and vocabulary to convey ideas? Raters determine the test taker’s ability to control both basic and more complex language structures and to use appropriate vocabulary (p. 21).
In Writing
Writing ... is scored on the ... appropriate and precise use of grammar and vocabulary (p. 22).

This is part of the scoring criteria, and confirms that grammar is really important in TOEFL. 

TOEFL Myth #1

"You can't use contractions in your speaking responses."

Yes, you can. Not only that, you should!

Contractions help your speech to sound natural and fluent. They are used all the time in spoken English. If you watch really good period dramas from about 200 years ago, you'll hear people speaking without using contractions. That kind of language now sounds unnatural and stilted.

Contractions are very much a part of  modern English and you should use them too. 

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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