essential words for the toefl

Shortcut to a High Score: 30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test

Would you pack all of your clothes for a weekend trip to the beach in summer?

Of course not.

That’d be silly, because you’d only need three days of summer clothes.

Similarly, you don’t need to learn every single English word in the dictionary as you study for the TOEFL test.

A huge shortcut is to only study the words which are frequently used on the TOEFL test.

Learning the most essential words will help you increase your score.

So as you prepare for the TOEFL test, use our handy guide below to learn 30 frequently-used TOEFL test words.


Why Is Studying Vocabulary Important for the TOEFL Exam?

Just accept this fact now: The TOEFL will contain at least some words that you don’t know.

So, why study vocabulary?

Here’s why: As you study vocabulary words, each word will slowly become part of your working language. Think of this like a toolbox. Each word that you add becomes another tool that you can use for any task at hand.

Whether you are working on the TOEFL reading test, the TOEFL writing tasks, or just having a conversation with a neighbor, you have a toolbox of awesome words to choose from.

How to Study Vocabulary Words

First, know that it will take time (and many study sessions!) for these vocabulary words to become part of your English toolbox. Our goal is not for you to memorize each word, but to be able to recognize and use it in context (or, when it is around other words, like on the TOEFL test).

To do this, we have to study the word in context. Here’s an example, using the word “deli.”

Max couldn’t wait for his class to end, because he was so hungry! He quickly packed up his books, said goodbye to his teacher and walked across the street to the deli. He ordered a turkey sandwich and chips, paid the cashier, and sat down to enjoy his lunch.

Can you guess what a deli is?

Even if you’ve never looked it up in a dictionary, I’d bet you can guess that it’s a place that sells sandwiches. Now, let’s look at the definition:

Deli (noun): food typically sold at a delicatessen, such as cold cuts, salads and pickles.

Pretty close, right? And even better, by studying the word in context, you can quickly add “deli” to the toolbox of words that you can use.

Here are few things you can do to study vocabulary words in context:

  • Create sentences with the vocabulary word. Remember, these should be fun and personal for you! Don’t be afraid to be silly or to tell a story. An in-context sentence will look like this, “The penguins hated the zoo. So, they planned their escape” instead of “The man escaped.”
  • Learn words with entertaining FluentU videos. FluentU is an online immersion platform that lets you learn English through real-world videos. The program’s unique Learn Mode, multimedia flashcards and personalized vocab lists are especially helpful for learning TOEFL vocabulary in context.

FluentU lets you learn real English. It teaches you with popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials.


FluentU makes it simple to watch native English videos. It has interactive captions. Tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


Tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:


Videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples of the word you’re learning. This way, you’re not just practicing listening. You’re also learning the grammar and vocabulary in the videos.


The most interesting part? FluentU knows the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends you examples and videos based on those words. You have a 100% personalized experience. This means you know exactly what you need to work on, and can study more efficiently.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store to access material on your Android and iOS devices.

  • Look for clues if you encounter a word you don’t know. As you are working on your TOEFL listening and reading skills, practice using context to understand new vocabulary words. What words around the vocabulary word can help you guess the meaning?

Free TOEFL Test Vocabulary Resources

Here’s a list of online vocabulary resources for you to use as you study TOEFL vocabulary.

  • — Bored of flashcards and heavy dictionaries? This site uses Flash Player to make vocabulary more interactive, bright and fun. Check out their “Context Games” section.
  • — Organized by topic, this site has tons of vocabulary tests that ask you to recognize the word in sentences, which is great for TOEFL practice. Try challenging yourself with some topics that you aren’t familiar with; you never know what topics you’ll find on the TOEFL.
  • 20-minute ESL Lessons  If you have 20 minutes, use them wisely on this site’s 20-minute vocabulary lessons. You’ll use audio and examples to study words in sentences. Note: You will need a dictionary to look up meanings of words for this one!

(Note: The Magoosh link below is an affiliate link, which means that we’ll receive compensation if you make a purchase on the Magoosh site. By purchasing through our affiliate link, you are supporting our ability to provide you with free language learning content—so, thank you!)


And there’s plenty more useful information where that came from.  has everything you need to get prepared for the TOEFL, including video lessons, practice questions with video explanations, study schedules to keep you moving forward and direct help via email. They even guarantee that your TOEFL score will improve by at least 20 points!

30 Essential Words for the TOEFL Test

Here are 30 words that you’ll probably see in the TOEFL test—in the prompts, passages, questions or listening sections.

1. Considerable

Considerable (adjective): large or great in size, distance or amount

Jeff ate a considerable amount of ice cream. He couldn’t decide between chocolate, mint or strawberry, so he bought some of each.

2. Interpret

Interpret (verb): to give the meaning of something

Once you learn English, you can interpret for your Chinese-speaking parents when you travel to New York.

3. Attitude

Attitude (noun): manner, feeling or position, sometimes with regard to a person or thing

My teacher has a friendly attitude; she always says hello to me, smiles and helps me study.

4. Estimate

Estimate (verb): to form an approximate judgment or opinion

I estimate that we will arrive around 5:00 p.m., if we don’t get lost!

5. Authority

Authority (noun): the power or right to control

The judge has the authority to decide the man’s punishment.

6. Demonstrate

Demonstrate (verb): to describe, explain or show by arguments or reasoning

I’ll demonstrate how to make cookies. First, we mix the ingredients, then we put it them in the oven to bake.

7. Proceed

Proceed (verb): to move or go forward

The marching band will proceed through the street for the parade.

8. Stable

Stable (adjective): not likely to fall or change suddenly

The bridge was old and falling apart; it didn’t seem very stable!

9. Contribute

Contribute (verb): to give, especially to a common cause

A generous man decided to contribute all of his savings to charity.

10. Risk

Risk (noun): chance of injury or loss

The risk of losing my purse at this music festival is high, so I’ll leave it at home.

11. Prior

Prior (adjective): preceding in time or order; previous

Prior to the Internet, students looked up vocabulary words in big, heavy dictionaries.

12. Shift

Shift (verb): to transfer, change or exchange

Maria felt the weather shift from warm to cool very quickly.

13. Benefit

Benefit (noun): something that is good; an advantage

One of the benefits of my job is that I get free snacks at work every day!

14. Impact

Impact (noun): influence, effect or striking of one thing against another

The oil spill had a terrible impact on the animals and their environment. 

15. Distribute

Distribute (verb): to divide or give out

The teacher distributed a test paper to each student.

16. Challenge

Challenge (verb): to call into question

The librarian challenged the idea that books are no longer important.

17. Evaluate

Evaluate (verb): to determine the value or significance

My teacher will evaluate my speaking ability during the test. I’m so nervous!

18. Former

Former (adjective): preceding in time, prior, earlier

My former boss helped me to get a new job.

19. Interfere

Interfere (verb): to come into opposition or conflict (one thing with another)

Megan’s new boyfriend interfered with her studies. She spent so much time with him that she didn’t have time to do her homework.

20. Issue

Issue (noun): a point, matter or dispute

The leaders disagreed on the issue of global warming.

21. Reinforce

Reinforce (verb): to strengthen; make more effective

Reinforced by a hot meal, I felt ready for the day.

22. Significantly

Significantly (adverb): in a great or important way

My cooking skills improved significantly after I took the cooking class.

23. Widespread

Widespread (adjective): found or distributed over a large area or group

There was widespread excitement in the school on the day of the concert!

24. Imply

Imply (verb): to suggest but not directly state

The angry look on my mother’s face implied that I was in big trouble.

25. Increase

Increase (verb): to become greater in size or quantity

The price of the movie ticket increased from $10 to $12.

26. Effective

Effective (adjective): successful at producing the desired result

The teacher was very effective; all of her students did well on the TOEFL!

27. Debate

Debate (verb): to argue about a subject, sometimes in a formal manner

My brother and I debated over what to eat for dinner. He wanted pizza, but I wanted sandwiches.

28. Sustain

Sustain (verb): to strengthen or support

The roof wasn’t able to sustain the weight of the heavy snow; it collapsed. 

29. Support

Support (verb): to agree with or approve

The man couldn’t decide which presidential candidate to support, so he read about each of them.

30. Measure

Measure (verb): calculate the size, amount or degree of something

The seamstress measured her fabric for the dress.


Keep practicing your vocabulary in context and adding words to your vocabulary toolbox. You’ll be glad you did on the day of the TOEFL test!

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