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Using Idioms on the TOEFL

Using Idioms on the TOEFL

In a language, almost any language, ideas are delivered in many different ways than direct wordings and expressions. For example, using the phrase “a piece of cake” can be used to demonstrate that something is or was easy. Or it can be used to refer to a piece of cake. Another example is a coin having two sides, which can literally refer to a coin having two sides or the idiom which refers to how a story, just like a coin, can have two sides to it. As you may have noticed, the idiom meaning is, most of the time, irrelevant to the expression. You will find terms like these in the English language quite often, from daily conversations to academic settings. In this article, we’ll talk about the use of idioms in the TOEFL.

What is an idiom?

First of all, let’s define what idioms are. They are special words or phrases that have been given a different meaning than their literal common dictionary definition. Most of the time, idioms are phrases such as “piece of cake” (easy) or “pulling a fast one” (tricking someone), however sometimes, idioms can be just a single word. For example, a "lemon" can refer to a malfunctioned car. Idioms are not critical to understanding lectures and core conversation topics, however, they are used in both settings and so the question is, should you use idioms during the TOEFL?

Using idioms on the TOEFL, yes or no?

The answer is YES. However, there are conditions and limits on the use of idioms. Idioms can raise your Speaking and Writing scores if you are able to use them effectively, naturally and appropriately. On the other hand, they can hurt your scores if you use them wrong, especially when your mistakes make it difficult for graders to understand what you are trying to say. Idioms are kind of fun and will add variation to your answers. In TOEFL, showing variation demonstrates understanding and that help you score higher, but more important than variation is comprehension, so don't be a show-off and overuse the idioms because too many idioms in an answer will make your answer seem less natural and harder to understand.

As mentioned earlier, idioms are simply fun. They are the colorful parts of a language that show culture, beliefs, and traditions. A ‘couch potato' means someone that is lazy and just sits around the house all day.

Whenever you come across idioms that intrigue you, write it down. Make sure you check for the correct meaning of the idioms. They will be little treasures in your pocket that you can whisk out to use in appropriate situations in the TOEFL.

If idioms do not come naturally to you, just attack them like you normally do with normal vocabs. Choose a few common idioms, look up their meanings and memorize them. Remember that using idioms in the TOEFL can raise your scores. So it is worth the effort to learn a few idioms. Pick some that you like and master them. Be well prepared for the TOEFL.

Even though I keep saying that using idioms will help with the Speaking and Writing scores, remember that you have to use the idioms appropriately. If you ‘force’ your way squeezing an idiom into a sentence when it doesn’t belong, you will lose points. Using idioms or not, keep in mind that the overall flow and meaning of a Speaking and Writing prompt is always the top priority.

Where to find idoms?

There are a lot of places where you can find lists of idioms online. Here is a useful source: Idiom Page on ESLCafe. This list is specially built for ESL users so it is a very good place for you to start your idiom journey.

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