In any language, having a rich vocabulary is a distinct advantage for academic, personal and professional success. In the case of the TOEFL iBT, having access to a large vocabulary will enable you to obtain a high score in every section – reading, listening, speaking and writing. From a long-term point of view, as well, research has shown that students who wish to pursue university studies may need up to 10,000 words.
For the TOEFL, you will want to concentrate on academic vocabulary as this is the main focus of the test. An excellent resource for this purpose is the Academic Word List (AWL), put together at the Victoria University of Wellington. They have identified 570 word families that are frequently used in academic texts.
There are many indirect strategies you can employ to enrich your vocabulary. You can read newspapers, magazines, textbooks, brochures, children’s books, and various types of literature. You can also listen to radio broadcasts, the news, interviews, documentaries, movies, conversations and audio books. If your intention is to improve your vocabulary, you will have to listen for new words, check their meaning, keep track of them in a vocabulary notebook and then try to use them in conversation or writing.
Better still, is to combine this strategy with a specific vocabulary building program. You can allot even a short time a day, from as little as a few minutes to up to 30 to 60 minutes, and if you work steadily, the results will be impressive. There are a great number of vocabulary books available for ESL students, as well as specific ones to prepare you for the TOEFL iBT.
To identify the best vocabulary textbook for your needs, visit the local library or bookstore and browse through the wide range of books available. If you are an auditory learner, you may prefer to use an audio vocabulary building program, which you can listen to while commuting, jogging, etc. Whatever you choose, find the book or program whose style and system appeals to you. You could also ask the librarian, your ESL teacher or a friend for recommendations, but let the final choice be yours. Building your vocabulary takes time and you need to find a system you are comfortable with and will use consistently.
One of the most recent publications in this area is Focus on Vocabulary by Diane and Norbert Schmitt. Intended for intermediate to advanced students, the book helps students to master vocabulary from the academic word list. It provides excerpts from college texts to enable students to reach a fuller understanding of new vocabulary in a variety of fields. This book is ideal if you are patient and have more time available to prepare for your test.
If you prefer to work on targeted vocabulary, without long reading passages, you will like McGraw Hill's 400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL. It covers a wide range of subject areas and each chapter can be completed in about half an hour.
Yet another general series, published by Longman, is ETS North Star Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT, which is available at Beginner, Intermediate, and Advancedlevels. Each chapter covers a different subject area and provides integrated and independent practice in reading, writing, listening and speaking.
In addition, many ESL websites offer a huge variety of vocabulary building games for all levels, which can provide you with additional practice.