You want to get a high score on the TOEFL exam, right?
You can practice by doing exam-like tests, improving your vocabulary and working on your grammar.
Wait a minute, grammar? Really?
Yes! Grammar is an important part of your preparation for the TOEFL exam—more important than you might realize.
And that’s because it will help you in all four parts of the exam: speaking, writing, listening and reading.
Even more, practicing grammar makes you better at connecting words, which in turn helps you become more fluent.
Let me show you what I mean:
The first two exam sections–speaking and writing–are called productive skills because you actually produce your own sentences. Knowing grammar will help you build correct sentences so that you can accurately express your own ideas.
The last two sections–listening and reading–are called receptive skills because you need to understand the ideas other people are trying to express. If your knowledge of grammar is good, then you can understand these ideas faster and with less effort in the exam. This means you will make better use of your exam time, and achieve a higher score!
So even if grammar is not tested directly in any part of the TOEFL exam, understanding grammar rules will help you a lot in all of the four parts.
Now you may be wondering: Where do I start? Read on for some awesome tips for how to improve your grammar.
6 Bright Tips to Practice Grammar Effectively for the TOEFL Exam
1. Begin by Learning the Rules
Grammar rules are so important because they categorize (group) a lot of language situations and give you information you can then apply to many contexts (situations).
To know which rules to study, take a grammar diagnostic test to learn which topics are your weakest. This one offered by Oxford University Press is in British English, and has three versions: basic, intermediate and advanced. I recommend you start with the basic test and see how you do. The test could take up to 30 minutes to complete, as there are 100 questions.
It is worth the time, though, because at the end of the test it tells you the percentage of correct answers for each grammar category. This way, you can look for the lowest percent (i.e. 40% — modal verbs) and begin with those rules. You can also see all of the original questions, which ones you got wrong and the correct answers.
When you have picked a rule to start with, study the rule carefully and then read as many examples as you can.
Here is where you can study the rules:
GrammarBook.com —This site gives a detailed presentation of each grammar rule and it also has a section on punctuation rules. The examples given are simple sentences which are easy to understand, even for beginners and lower intermediate students.
British Council’s English Grammar site — This website is also very handy, as it gives you exercises right after the presentation of each rule. The explanations are quite thorough (complete), with multiple example sentences for each concept so you really understand them.
Edufind.com’s English Grammar Guide — This site is another very well structured and detailed resource you can use. It has eight categories: nouns, adjectives, adverbs, determiners, verbs & verb tenses, speech, punctuation and relative clauses. Additionally, it has a free grammar test which tests the rules in context.
“The Oxford Guide to English Grammar” — If you prefer working with books, you can use this guide, which is extremely detailed and free to download in PDF format. It is better for upper intermediate to advanced learners because it is more complex than the online resources.
All of these resources can be used by learners starting at the lower intermediate level, as the rules are clearly explained in simple language. It is a good idea to use different grammar websites when you want to review the rules.
After you have read a rule and its examples, the next step (and most important part) is to come up with your own examples, which we’ll show you how to do next.
2. Practice Each Rule One at a Time
To practice each grammar rule well, you will want to (a) create your own examples and (b) complete grammar exercises.
(a) Creating your own example sentences with each rule helps you really understand the rules before moving on to exercises. Look at the examples provided after the rules and then try to come up with your own sentences. Just to be sure you used the rules correctly in your own sentences, ask a teacher or native speaker to check them for you.
Then, include the grammar structure in your own writing tasks. When you write, you have time to think and plan, so this will be easier to do. The final part of creating your own examples is to use the grammar rule while speaking. This is a little bit more difficult, because you have almost no thinking time at all.
This half of your grammar practice will also help you in the speaking and writing portions of the exam, where you need to prove you can use complex grammar structures to accurately express your ideas.
(b) You should also do exercises with each rule after working with your own examples. You can use one or all of the resources below to do this:
British Council’s English Grammar site —This website tests your understanding of each rule right after you finish reading about it. It is convenient because you can always return to the rule if you are not sure about your answers.
English Grammar — This site has a separate practice section, so the exercises are not right next to the rules. However, it is very useful when you want to recap by practicing several rules at a time once you have finished reading about them. The more you practice, the faster you will be able to make best use of the rules on your own.
“Practice Makes Perfect English Grammar for ESL Learners” — They say that practice makes perfect, and that’s true when it comes to grammar. This book offers theory and practice in one place. It is very easy to use because each rule is introduced step by step. At the end of each section there is a review where all the rules are tested. You may feel that it is easier to return to the rules when using books, especially if you have your own highlighting system.
When you are done practicing a rule, don’t move on to a new rule until you feel you have really mastered the one you are working on. Remember the safest route: (1) understand the rule, (2) read examples, (3) create your own examples and (4) practice the rule by doing exercises. Then you can start over with a new rule.
3. When in Doubt, Always Return to the Rules
Practicing grammar is not always a smooth process. Expect to make mistakes, and to feel like you are right when an exercise says your answer is wrong. In this case, you need to go back to the rule and relearn it. You may want to read your own examples again and create some more examples.
If the rule or the exercise still doesn’t make sense, ask a teacher to explain it to you. If you don’t have access to a teacher, you can try contacting one online. If you have friends who are native English speakers, you may try asking them to help. However, if your friend didn’t study English grammar formally, they may not be able to help you.
Many native English speakers can’t explain grammatical concepts. Even more, some native English speakers use incorrect grammar in casual speech without realizing it is improper grammar. So just make sure your resources are reliable when returning to the grammar rules.
4. Learn from Your Favorite Mistakes
Do you feel disappointed when you make mistakes? Mistakes are actually a very important part of learning. Every time you make a mistake, you can see it as an opportunity to learn or relearn something.
So when you practice grammar rules, be sure to check your results on your own using the answer key. If you mark a question wrong, make sure you understand why it is wrong, and then practice that concept a bit more.
When you speak or write in English, on the other hand, you are usually not aware of your own mistakes. So you need to have someone listen to you speak and proofread your writing. You can ask a teacher or tutor to help with this.
After you have discovered your mistakes, don’t forget to record them so you can learn from them. Keep all of your mistakes together in one spot and read them regularly. This will prevent you from making the same mistakes over and over again. Every mistake gives you the opportunity to improve your grammar knowledge.
Many students have a mistake which they keep making again and again because at one point they learned a rule incorrectly or incompletely. So when you identify a mistake, that’s why you need to go back to step one and study the rules again.
5. Give Yourself Time
Learning grammar is a long-term objective, and generally the more rules you learn and practice, the better you get. The trick is to decide how much time you can spend each day on grammar. Be consistent and persistent.
If you only have a short time to prepare for your TOEFL exam, cover the basic areas first: the verbal tenses, nouns, articles, adjectives and adverbs. A good resource to start is this quick grammar section. You can then continue with more complex issues like relative clauses, conditional clauses, the subjunctive and the passive voice.
The most effective way to use your time until the exam is to make sure you follow up each rule by practice. Trying to cover a lot of theory without understanding how the rules work won’t help, because the TOEFL exam is very practical. It assesses your ability to use correct grammar in speaking and in writing—not your knowledge of the rules themselves.
I recommend studying rules in groups of five. You still learn just one rule at a time (learn rule, read examples, create sentences, do exercises), but after you have done this process for five rules, review by doing exercises with all the five rules. If you notice mistakes in a certain area, return to the rule and study it again from different sources.
The amount of time you spend on grammar every day depends on your initial level, the amount you plan to cover and, of course, your schedule. The best way to make sure you are on the right track is to check if you are making progress. Ask yourself these questions:
Am I making fewer mistakes?
Do I feel more confident when I speak and write?
Am I hesitating less when I speak?
Do I write faster?
Does my writing include more complex grammar structures?
6. Make Grammar Practice Fun
Finally, studying grammar can be more fun than books and exercises. You can use videos to help you understand the rules, and then practice in groups of friends. If you are part of an exam preparation class, you can ask people to study with you in pairs or in groups after classes. If you don’t know anyone else who’s studying for the TOEFL exam, you can look for other students online.
Whenever you study in groups, decide on some rules to follow. For example, you must only use English to communicate, nobody gets offended if they make mistakes or feel free to correct people if you notice a mistake.
One fun activity to do as a group is for everyone to suggest a grammar rule they want to practice. Then everyone has to create a grammar exercise to practice the rule they suggested, writing it on a piece of paper. Put all the sheets of paper into a box and let each person choose one (hopefully not their own). After doing the exercise, each student asks the person who created it to help check their answer.
Another fun grammar game you can play with more than one person involves adjectives and adverbs. Each person has to present another person in the group by using adjectives and adverbs. The others have to guess who they are talking about. For example: “She is self-contained (adjective) and reticent (adjective), but she can speak confidently (adverb) about politics.”
If you want to have fun on your own as you study grammar, you can also take a look at this English Interactive Grammar website that can help you test your knowledge of grammar in a fun and creative way.
The best part of studying grammar is that everything you learn stays with you—even after you take the TOEFL exam. Yes, grammar will help you a lot in the exam. But the exam is really just a way to evaluate your knowledge of English, and that knowledge is the most valuable thing. The trick is to practice, practice again and then practice some more.