5 Common Mistakes in TOEFL Speaking and Writing

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

After evaluating many students’ TOEFL speaking and writing responses, I noticed a pattern of mistakes. Mistakes can be distracting to the flow of your essay. They can also jeopardize your pronunciation and grammar in your speaking. Break this mistake pattern!

Once you become aware of your particular mistake, you can correct it. Some mistakes will be easy to fix and some will take dedicated practice. Read about these 5 Common Mistakes. Are you making any of them?

1. An “i” means “i don’t care”

A lowercase “i” in formal academic writing is unacceptable. Basically what you are telling your TOEFL grader (or anyone else who happens to read your essay) is that you do not care about your essay. Moreover, you don’t care what TOEFL score you get. This lowercase “i” is really lazy. Take the time to capitalize. It does matter. Save the lowercase “i” for your text messaging.

2. Don’t use “about” after words like: Discusses, Mentions or Says

In Writing Task #1 you will summarize information from the reading and the lecture and you’ll often want to indicate what the reading mentions or what the lecture discusses. But remember, do not use the “about” preposition after these verbs.

mentions ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶

The reading mentions dogs.

discusses ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶

The reading discusses cats.

says ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶

The reading says that dogs are cute.

Notice "says" uses “that” and an independent clause follows. (In this case, the independent clause is ‘dogs are cute.')

You can also use “mentions” with that and an independent clause.

The reading mentions that dogs are loyal.

You CANNOT use “discusses” with that and follow it with an independent clause.

The reading d̶i̶s̶c̶u̶s̶s̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ cats are better than dogs.

The reading states that cats are better than dogs.

3. Pronounce your “s”

Pronounce your “s” after the verb when you are speaking in the 3rd Person. This might seem obvious, but it is very common to drop the “s” sound when speaking. Don’t let that happen to you.

He thinks.

She agrees.

The lecture talks about.

4. Remember that the Subject determines the Verb choice.

Many students make this mistake:

He don't want to do it.

Notice the correct sentences below.

He wants to do it.

Does he want to do it?

He doesn’t want to do it.

5. Watch out for non-count nouns!

In TOEFL, there are certain non-count nouns that may frequently show up in your speaking and writing. I’ve listed some of these typical TOEFL non-count nouns below.

Incorrect: He did m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶r̶e̶s̶e̶a̶r̶c̶h̶e̶s̶ He has m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶e̶q̶u̶i̶p̶m̶e̶n̶t̶s̶ There a̶r̶e̶ ̶e̶v̶i̶d̶e̶n̶c̶e̶s̶ She doesn't give m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶a̶d̶v̶i̶c̶e̶s̶


He did a lot of research.

He has a lot of equipment.

There is evidence.

She doesn't give much advice.

Note that we generally only use “much” for non-count nouns when the statement is negative. If it’s positive, we switch to “a lot of.” She gives a lot of advice.

When in doubt, use “a lot of” because it works for count nouns, non-count nouns and for positive and negative statements. “A lot of” works for everything!

One last piece of advice

My tip for avoiding these mistakes is to self-evaluate your work. Record your response to a TOEFL Speaking Task and then listen to it. Is there an “s” sound when you say, “He thinks”? Go back and re-read the Writing Task #1 you just wrote. Did you remember to write the letter “s” in “The lecture states”? Eliminate these common mistakes from your writing and speaking and you will be one step ahead of the game!

Subscribe for Free TOEFL Vocabulary Strategies .pdf