In TOEFL Speaking and Writing, paraphrasing is very important. Even if a response in these sections is grammatical and easy to understand, it will still receive a very low score if the test-taker copies a lot of the language from the passages or audio tracks. This is especially true for TOEFL writing tasks, when you can see the text that you need to summarize while you write, so it’s very tempting to copy the wording.
“Echoing” words you read or hear, repeating them with minimal changes, is something you can easily do without even realizing it. In less formal, non-academic English use, it can be natural and acceptable to imitate words you’ve just heard or read—but this is definitely not OK in the academic English on the TOEFL exam. To avoid this common TOEFL mistake, it’s important to practice paraphrasing during TOEFL prep. And it’s good build mental habits that help you to paraphrase things easily. You want true paraphrasing to come very naturally to you on test day.
As you look over the activity below, remember that paraphrasing is more than just someone else’s words and saying them differently. In the broadest sense, paraphrasing is about understanding that there are many different ways to say the same thing. In a good paraphrase, you choose a new way of saying something that personally works for you. In this way, you don’t just restate a piece of information—you put it in your preferred words, making the information your own.
Think of paraphrases as learning tool that allows you to understand ideas more fully, in your own thoughts and words. To see how this works, I’m going to show you some lines from a TOEFL Integrated Speaking passage, followed by several different paraphrases of the same original information. (The passage is one for Speaking Task 3, and it comes from page 23 of TOEFL Quick Prep Volume 1.)
SCULPTURE COURSES TO BE DISCONTINUED
University administrators announced yesterday that the sculpture program, a division of the art department, will be eliminated. “The main reason is a lack of student interest,” reported one administrator. “Although the number of art students has increased, fewer and fewer art majors are taking sculpture classes.” Furthermore, the department’s only sculpture professor is retiring this year. “Given the art department’s limited budget,” the administrator explained, “it just doesn’t make sense to hire a new full-time professor to teach sculpture for only a handful of students.”
TOEFL Speaking Task 3 reading passages like this one are ideal for paraphrasing practice. This is because the information in a Task 3 passage needs to be shortened into a very brief summary that you can easily recall and restate when you start speaking. This kind of shortened restatement requires sharp paraphrasing skills. Let’s look at three of my own possible paraphrases of this 85 word article:
The university will discontinue the sculpture program. Administrators say students simply don’t have much interest in sculpture anymore, and the one sculpture professor in the art department is about to retire anyway.
University officials have announced that the sculpture program will be cancelled. They cite declining student interest as one of the main reasons for the cancellation. Another issue is a lack of instructors; the only teacher of sculpture courses will be retiring shortly. Finally, the art department doesn’t have enough money for more sculpture classes.
The school’s sculpture classes are all about to be permanently removed from the art department’s offerings, as students are no longer interested in sculpture, the only sculpture professor is leaving, and there is not enough funding to keep offering these courses.
The art department at the university is getting more and more students, but at the same time, fewer and fewer students are enrolling in sculpture classes. Because students are no longer interested in sculpture and because the sculpture professor is retiring, school administrators decided to cancel the sculpture program.
The fun thing about human language is that there are almost infinite ways to say anything. I could probably come up with at least ten more paraphrases of the passage, easily. There’s a lot of different directions you can go with a paraphrase! Just remember the two important rules for TOEFL paraphrasing: make the new statement shorter, and try to use as few of the original words as possible.
As you go through my paraphrases, you may find reasons to criticize the four different approaches I took above. You might feel I left out an important idea, included an unnecessary detail, or made a paraphrase too long or too short. If you can find fault in my re-wording of the passage, good! The example paraphrases above should help you think about how you would paraphrase something, if you did the activity yourself.
On your own, try making multiple paraphrases of text or dialogue from a TOEFL practice material. Do this multiple-paraphrase exercise for other samples English writing and speech too. Think about which of your multiple paraphrases would work best for you if you were sitting for the actual exam. Aim for the paraphrases that are efficiently short and capture your true thoughts on the info you’ve just taken in.