TOEFL Students

11 tips and tricks to get a high score in the TOEFL Written Expression section

Are you planning to take the Paper Based TOEFL exam?

 dreading the Written Expression section?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! 

For many people, ection is the scariest part of all the TOEFL sections! 

Indeed, the number of twists and turns and special exceptions in the English grammatical universe can make anyone shiver…

Simply said, this section seems to deliberately be invented to make you fail miserably. 

So, what’s the deal? 

Let’s learn about the Written Section together, shall we?

What in the world is TOEFL written expression?

The written expression part of TOEFL Structure is designed to test your knowledge of the correct way to express yourself in written English.

In each question, you are given one sentence with four choices consisting of underlined words or a group of words.

You will have to identify which of these underlined words makes the sentence incorrect.

It looks like this: 

The surface conditions on the planet Mars are the more like the Earth’s than are

                           A                                                B                            C

   those of any other planet in the solar system.

Now, let’s get to the tips and tricks you need to get a high score in TOEFL written expression!

1. countable or uncountable nouns?

Most of the time,

Pay close attention to the underlined nouns (if any) and ask yourself these questions: 

Does it need an ‘-s’ ?

Is that the right quantifier? 

Maybe you’re already familiar with normal uncountable nouns such as: 

air, water, sugar, sand, meat, juice, rain, etc. 

Here is the list of ‘surprisingly’ uncountable nouns (especially for Indonesians and many non-native speakers): 

money, work, homework, experience, weather, furniture, equipment, etc. 

Remember: uncountable nouns don’t have a plural form, so if you see any of the words above with an additional ‘-s’, be suspicious, like, very! 

The next thing is the quantifiers. Here’s the list of the quantifiers for countable vs uncountable nouns. 

Countable nounsmanynumber of(a) fewfewer  several Uncountable nounsmuch amount of(a) littleless
Both (a) lot ofsomeanymore

2. articles or no articles? 

β€œWith β€˜a’ or Without  β€˜a’ – that is the question that can make or break your TOEFL test score.”

To simplify, here’s the rule of thumb: 

A singular countable noun CANNOT stand on its own. 

It must be accompanied by either an article (a, an, the) or a pronoun (my, your, that, this, etc). 

Look at this sentence: 

Elephant is big animal. 

Big problem. 

There are 2 singular countable nouns in that sentence. And there’s nothing that precedes them. 

Here are some possible correct versions of the sentence above: 

An elephant is a big animal. 

The elephant is a big animal.

My elephant is a big animal. 

That elephant is a big animal.

  • or – make them plural nouns: 

Elephants are big animals. 


You’re welcome. 

3. Subject + Verb agreement

In an English sentence, the subject has to ‘in agreement with” the verb. 

Which means: 

Plural subject + plural verb

Singular subject + singular verb

It can be clearly seen in these sample sentences (pay attention to the subjects and verbs): 

Plural subject + plural verbSingular subject + singular verb
We are doctors.He is a doctor.
They take the bus to school.She takes the bus to school
The cats were not here last night.The cat was not here last night.
My parents have gone to Japan.My mother has gone to Japan.

4. Be careful with double subjects or verbs – or – no subject or verb

While we’re on it (the subject and verb deal), this is the next rule to memorise: 

  • There is only 1 subject and 1 verb in 1 clause. 
  • There is ALWAYS 1 subject and 1 verb in 1 clause.

So, if you see: 

  • A clause with 2 subjects or 2 verbs
  • A clause with a missing subject or verb

Be suspicious!


  1. Accidentally, dropped a glass on the floor. (missing the subject)
  2. The car broken and left on the road. (missing the verb)
  3. The plane from New York the passengers have arrived. (double subjects)
  4. The judges are agree with the jury. (double verbs)

5. Active vs Passive 

Active and passive sentences have very different formats. 

Here are the different formats of active vs passive sentences: 

Active sentencesPassive sentences
Present simple
S + V1S + is/am/are + V3
I    eat   an apple everyday.An apple is eaten every day.
Past simple
S + V2S + was/were + V3
I    ate the apple yesterday.The apple was eaten yesterday.
Future simple
S + will + V0S + will be + V3
I will eat the apple.The apple will be eaten.
Present Perfect
S + have/has + V3S   + have/has been  + V3
I have eaten the apple.The apple has been eaten.
Modals verbs
S + modal + V0S + modal + be + V3
I can eat the apple.The apple can be eaten.

Tip: Always check the meaning of the sentence. Whether it has an active or  passive meaning. 

6. Modals + V0

This is a very simple point. Whenever you see a modal, make sure that it is followed by V0. 

V0 is the basic verb or infinitive. 

Now what are modal verbs?

Here’s the list:

Modal verbsV0
cancouldmustshouldshallmaymightneed tohave toought towill would eatX (not: eats, ate, eaten. Eating, to eat)
goX (not: goes, went, gone, going, to go)
beX (not: is, am, are, was, were, been, being, to be)

So, if you see an underlined modal verb followed by any other forms of verbs apart from V0, be suspicious!

7. 95% of to + V0

Same with modal verbs, if you see a “to” which is followed by a verb, make sure that it’s a V0, because 95% of possibilities, it is!

Check these examples: 

She’d like to book a flight to Washington. 

The scientists wanted to conduct an experiment. 

Now, I did say 95%, did I? Because in 5% of the cases (which is a very little chance indeed) the “to” functions as a preposition which has to be followed by a gerund/V-ing. 

Here are the examples of that 5% possibilities:

I am looking forward to hearing from you again. 

A lot of time is dedicated to managing the resource assets. 

8. preposition + gerund/V-ing

Another easy rule to remember is, whenever you see a preposition, it can only be followed by one of these three: 

  1. a gerund / V-ing
  2. nouns or noun phrases
  3. wh-words 

What is a preposition? Here are the list of English prepositions:

prepositionsgerunds / v-ing
in onofforfromatunderabovebetweenamong offtowardintotobehindnearacrossbeneathinsidethroughworkingdoinggoingopeningdelivering
nouns/noun phrases
my carthe sitting rooma mirrorthe box next to the cupboard

Watch out for any prepositions! 

9. adjectives vs adverbs

Adjectives are used to describe nouns. 

Adverbs are used to describe verbs (well, not always. There are tons of different uses of adverbs, but, I promised to keep it as simple and as painless for you, so, let’s ignore the other uses for the moment, shall we?). 

Most of the time, adverbs are simply adjectives + -ly. 

But that’s not always the case. Typical. 

Let’s look at these examples when to use adverbs and adjectives:

adjectives adverbs 
The dancer is beautiful. She is a beautiful dancer. 
His movements were very swift
She dances beautifully

He moved swiftly to the right. 

However, there are adverbs that look exactly like or are totally different from the adjective forms. 

Take a look at this table: 

adjectives adverbs 
His car is super fast.
The surface of the table is very hard
She is always late for class.  

They are good people. 
He drives very fast. (not: fastly)
The staff worked really hard to finish the project. (not: hardly)
She came late again this morning. (not: lately)
I am doing well, thank you. (not: goodly)

10. Parallel structures

Parallel structures mean, the words/phrases before and after conjunctions are the same type of words/phrases. 

For example: 

 noun / noun phrase and noun / noun phrase

adjective or adjective

verb but verb 

Let’s see the sample sentences: 

noun and/or/but noun Last night, we ate tomato soup, baked potato,salmon and pudding.Would you like tea or coffee? 
adjective and/or/but adjectiveThe movie was very ridiculous and boring, but the ending was quite satisfying. 
adverb and/or/but adverbShe dances beautifully and gracefully. 
verb and/or/but verbShe hikes, jogs or rides her bicycle whenever she can. 

So, if you see a sentence with different types of word before and after a conjunction, be suspicious!

11. another, other, others, the other(s)

This is actually still the continuation of countable vs uncountable nouns. 

But since they appear A LOT in the TOEFL test, let’s refresh your memory from the first chapter a bit. 

Another is followed by a singular countable noun ONLY. 

Do you have another dress

Another point to consider is the way people tend to buy things online.

Other can be followed by plural or uncountable nouns

Other students did not get very high scores. 

The submarine cleaned up ruins and other debris on the ocean floor. 

Others and the others are NOT followed by ANY nouns.

Others can only follow the leader’s decision.

Their uniforms do not have the same patterns with the others.

The other can be followed by ANY nouns.

The other half of the class voted to remove the class prefect. 

Let’s consider the other point of view

Next steps

Are you confused about how to maximize your TOEFL score?

Preparing for the TOEFL test can be overwhelming. It feels like there’s too much to learn in too little time. You search for tips and tricks on the internet & you watch YouTube videos. But, they just don’t seem to help. In fact, they make you even more confused.

This is because most courses teach TOEFL the wrong way. They give you useless exercises that waste your time and don’t give you the right strategies that work,

As a result, you end up feeling more confused and stressed and unprepared to take your test.

Well, it doesn’t have to be this way!

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IELC Managing Director