Do you ever feel that your performance on the TOEFL® or IELTS test ‘depends on the topic’? If topics you know about and are interested in come up, you get a higher score, but when you get unfamiliar or boring topics, your score goes down.
Well, a lot of students complain about this, so it seems that having some knowledge about the common TOEFL®/IELTS topics can affect your score. Of course, the makers of TOEFL®and the makers of IELTS would argue that you don’t need any specialist knowledge of any topic to perform well in the tests. However, it certainly makes things quicker and easier and gives you more confidence if you know something about the topics in the test you’re taking.
In some cases, you can even answer questions without reading or listening. Here are a couple of examples of reading questions from the TOEFL® Official Guide (5th Edition) that I answered correctly without reading a word of the texts. Take a look at this one – can you get the correct answer?
Topic: Politics/History (from Practice Test 1, The Official Guide to the TOEFL® Test, Fifth Edition, p. 226)
3. The author mentions “bankers and investors” in the passage as an example of which of the following?
A. The Democratic Party’s main source of support
B. The people the Democrats claimed were unfairly becoming rich
C. The people most interested in a return to a simple agrarian republic
D. One of the groups in favor of Andrew Jackson’s presidency
If you know anything about US politics, and the history of the Democratic and Republican parties, you can assume that “bankers and investors” are unlikely to support the Democratic party. I don’t know anything about Andrew Jackson (I’m not American, so have never studied American presidents!), but I assume he’s a Democrat because it seems this question is focusing on the Democratic party. So this means A and D are unlikely to be correct. Using common sense, it’s pretty obvious that bankers would not support a return to a ‘simple agrarian republic’, so the correct answer must be B.
Now try this one:
Topic: Geography (from Practice Test 1, The Official Guide to the TOEFL® Test, Fifth Edition, p. 240)
6. According to paragraph 3, one cause of mountain formation is the
A. effect of climatic change on sea level
B. slowing down of volcanic activity
C. force of Earth’s crustal plates hitting each other
D. replacement of sedimentary rock with volcanic rock
I haven’t studied geography since I was 15, but I’m pretty sure that the only option that makes any sense is C.
Now of course, answering questions without reading/listening is not always possible, and you shouldn’t imagine that becoming an expert in a wide range of subject areas is guaranteed to get you a high score in TOEFL and IELTS. Your English study and test preparation are still absolutely essential.
However, increasing your background knowledge about the common TOEFL and IELTS topics can really help you to answer questions more quickly and give you more confidence. In the Speaking and Writing sections, you’ll be able to think of ideas and opinions much more quickly and easily to give better answers.
This is why our new Essential English course is topic-based – to help you improve your English study and test skills while increasing your background knowledge. If you’d like more information, why not come to a free demonstration lesson of the Essential English course? I’d be happy to let you experience a lesson, and to answer any questions you have about English or test preparation.
You can register for a free demonstration lesson here on these dates in April:
Saturday 6th April, 14:30-16:00
Saturday 13th April, 15:00-16:30
Saturday 27th April, 15:00-16:30
*Before coming to the demonstration lesson, take a look at the following sentence – it has some common Japanese learner mistakes. Can you spot them?
‘Overtime working can have a bad effect to workers’ mental.’
After the demonstration lesson, I’ll explain what the mistakes are, and how to express this idea using natural, high level English.
See you soon!
Mike Thundercliffe, Manager Curriculum and Instruction, Agos Japan
For more information about English study, please visit the Essential English home page here.