30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test


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 coldcuts, 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 where 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. Try FluentU’s free 15-day trial today!
  • 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?

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.

30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test
30 Essential Words to Know for the TOEFL Test

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 aperson 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

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 argumentsor 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!