TOEFL Students

6 Tips and Tricks to get a high score in the TOEFL Written Expression section

Many people struggle with the written expression part of the TOEFL test. So what is the written expression part about?

In our last article, we talked about how to tackle the multiple choice part of the TOEFL structure section. Actually, the written expression part is also a part of the structure section.

So in this article, we’re going to give you the tips, tricks and strategies to get a high score in the written expression part of TOEFL Structure!

So, let’s get ready to roll….

What happens in 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 make the sentence incorrect.

The questions look something like this:

Manufacturers may use (A)  food additives for preserving (B) to color, to flavor, or to fortify (C) foods (D)

Since A, C, D are grammatically correct, the answer is B.

(Hint: Remember we need to find the underlined word/words that make the sentence incorrect).

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

1. Be careful with countable and uncountable nouns

In English, some nouns are known as countable nouns. For example, pencil, cat, dog (you can count them).

Since you can count them, we use ‘numbers’ for countable nouns. For example: one pencil.

Uncountable nouns cannot be counted. They usually consist of liquids (water), gasses (air) and things with too many parts to count (sugar). 

Since they can’t be counted, we use ‘amount’ for uncountable nouns. For example, a little sugar.

Hint: uncountable nouns do not have a plural form. For example, you don’t say “please pass me the sugars”. 

Check out these sample sentences:

  1. The number of students taking this particular course is extraordinarily high.
  2. They borrowed a large amount of money from Tom.

You might be wondering, why is money uncountable? In English, you have to specify whether it’s a note, a coin, or a currency for it to be countable. For example (2 notes, 2 coins or 2 dollars). You don’t say ‘I have lots of moneys’. 

So, be careful when it comes to countable and uncountable nouns. Most of the time it is easy to differentiate but it’s a good idea to learn the difference between them!

The following table lists the key words that indicate whether a noun is countable or uncountable

For countable nounsFor uncountable nouns

Check out this sample question

Implosive consonants (A)  occur (B) in many different language (C), but they (D) are particularly common in American Indian and African languages.

Can you guess which one is the correct answer (the one that makes the sentence incorrect)? That’s right, it’s C!

‘Many’ indicates a countable noun, which needs a plural form. Therefore, it should be ‘languages’ instead of language.

2. Be careful with prepositions and prepositional phrases

There are so many different types of prepositions. Here are some samples:

One word prepositions:  ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’, ‘of’’

Two word prepositions: ‘according to’, ‘ahead of’, ‘as for’, ‘aside from’, ‘along with’.

Three word prepositions: ‘in search of’, ‘in spite of’, ‘on behalf of’.

Prepositions precede a noun. Be careful not to confuse prepositions with conjunctions, which join two nouns, verbs, adverbs or sentence parts. For example: ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘still’, ‘also’, ‘then’.

Let’s see if you can determine which part of the following sentence is wrong.

That singer became (A) instantly popular between (B) teenagers after (C) his debut on screen (D)

That’s right! The correct answer is B. Instead of ‘between’, it should be ‘among’.

3. Be careful of redundant words

‘Redundant’ means useless. So redundant words are words or phrases that express the same meaning and have no function.

Consider this sample question:

Irrigation is becoming increasingly (A)  important, significant (B), and costly (C) in desert countries (D).  

Can you guess which of these words doesn’t belong in the sentence?

That’s right, the answer is B!

‘important’ and ‘significant’ mean the same thing in this context, so there is no need to use ‘significant’.

4. Be careful with adjectives ending in -ing and -ed

Take a look at these sentences

Jane is boring (Jane membosankan)

Jane is bored (Jane bosan)

These two sentences have very different meanings!

The first sentence means that Jane is not an interesting person to be around.

The second sentence means that Jane is not interested in what she is doing at the moment.

An adjective that ends with -ing is used to describe the characteristic of a person, a thing or a situation whereas an adjective that ends with -ed is used to describe a feeling or an emotion.

Now, take a look at the sample question below and let’s see if you can find the word that doesn’t belong:

One of the least common phobias is aquaphobia, its sufferers are terrifying by bodies of water.

As usual, can you guess which of these words are incorrect? That’s right, it’s C! The answer should be ‘terrified’ (takut) not ‘terrifying’ (menakutkan).

5. Be careful of adjectives and adverbs

What’s the difference?

Adjectives describe a noun.

Example: Sam is a careful driver.

Adverbs describe a verb.

Example: Sam drove carefully

Adverbs can also describe adjectives

Example: The test was extremely difficult

Now, take a look at the sample question below:

Despite being thousands (A) of years old, Egyptian mummies are (B) incredible (C) well-preserved (D)

That’s right! The correct answer is C! It should be ‘incredibly’ not ‘incredible’.

6. Be careful with ubject verb agreement

Psssttt… this is the pitfall for many test takers so make sure you pay an extremely careful attention to this, okay?

What is meant by subject verb agreement?

It basically means that you have to be consistent when writing your sentences. That is, if your noun is singular, use a singular verb, and if your noun is plural, use a plural verb.


Mrs. Katherine (singular noun) teaches (singular verb) biology

The boys (plural noun) go (plural verb) to the gym three times a week

Hint: A plural verb does not have an S added to it

Take a look at a sample question below:

There is (A) several things you can do (B) to strengthen (C) your argument (D)

Can you guess the correct answer (the wrong word)? That’s right! It’s A! Several things indicate a plural noun, so it needs a plural verb, so it should be are instead of is.

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!

At IELC, we teach TOEFL the right way

At IELC, we know what it takes to succeed in the TOEFL test and we want to share our knowledge with you so you can succeed too! We know how to teach TOEFL the right way and that’s why we have the best track record in Indonesia for helping our students achieve their TOEFL targets.

We help you overcome your problem areas

We find your problem areas and help you overcome them with the right strategies and exercises.

We teach you test-taking psychology secrets so you know how to stay focused during the test.

We teach you essential vocabulary and grammar for the TOEFL writing and speaking modules so you can express yourself with clarity and confidence.

We teach you how to generate ideas and brainstorm and prepare for any topic that comes up.

Guidance from our expert TOEFL teachers

Our expert TOEFL teachers guide you along every step of the way so you can prepare it in a systematic way and be confident that you are prepared for the test.

As Indonesia’s #1 English campus, we offer great courses for kids, teens, and adults:

Whether it’s online or on campus, we will help you get the skills you need to achieve your target TOEFL score. Contact us today to get your FREE consultation and start your journey towards success in TOEFL today!


Anthony McCormick

IELC Managing Director