We are often asked whether or not spelling is important for TOEFL, and there is a simple answer: YES! But it’s a little more complex than that, so we should explain more.
In today’s article, I will talk a little about why spelling is so important for TOEFL and what you can do to improve your performance.
The importance of spelling
In written English, it is essential to be able to spell words correctly. After all, if you were not able to spell a word, the person reading your essay would have to guess at your meaning. This could make it difficult to understand what you are trying to say, and thus it would reduce the clarity of your work.
Obviously, it is not something you have to think about when you are talking with someone, and so it doesn’t matter at all for the speaking test, but in writing, it is important. It is also important whenever you have to write down an answer, such as in the reading and listening tests. If you heard something and wrote it down incorrectly, the examiner would mark your answer as wrong.
Sometimes it is understandable that you have made a mistake and the word may well have been difficult, but it is important to get it right because often there are words that are similar to each other but have different meanings. In such cases, a misspelling would result in the totally wrong meaning being imparted. Imagine you heard the word “transport” and you instead wrote “transparent.” It may share some of the same letters, but it is clearly not the same word.
Do I have to spell every word right?
You should aim to spell all the words correctly in the TOEFL exam, but it is actually not essential that you do. In the writing test, you can make a mistake and get a perfect score. You can even make two or three mistakes and get a perfect score.
Is that surprising?
Well, TOEFL is an English test and let’s face it – even native English speakers spell words wrong from time to time! In fact, even professional writers spell words wrongly sometimes. This is not usually because they don’t know the word, but because they have rushed into writing it and they have made a mistake.
This is actually called a “typo” in most situations, which comes from the verb “to type.” Despite this, we can write a “typo” with a pen or pencil. Nowadays, it just means a word that was spelling incorrectly because we wrote too quickly.
Still, you do have to be careful with it. When people are typing, they often hit “o” instead of “i” on the keyboard, meaning that sometimes people want to say “if” but they write “of.” In such cases, it would be possible that the examiner assumes you wrote the wrong word instead of the wrong letter. He might think that you lack the required knowledge of prepositions, and mark you down for a grammatical mistake.
Anyway, typos aside, the important thing is that you can make a few spelling mistakes, but you should not make too many. In addition, there are levels of spelling errors. For example, if you spelled an easy word like “house” or “school” incorrectly, it would be very different to misspelling a harder word like “nefarious” or “exponential.” The examiner would look at a difficult word and forgive the misspelling, particularly if you were only one letter away from being correct – and especially if you managed to use it in the right context and with the right grammar.
How to improve at spelling
Spelling is a notoriously difficult thing, as I have already alluded to. In English-speaking countries, people have to go through spelling tests as children and we hate it. It’s difficult to remember whether to write “friend” or “freind,” for example. However, you need to get it right eventually and so it is worth making the effort to practice it.
First of all, you should pay attention to the spelling of a word when you first learn it. When you acquire that new vocabulary, think about the meaning and pronunciation first (as these are most important) and then work on the spelling and grammar. Spelling is probably the least important part of it, but you still shouldn’t overlook it.
It’s worth writing new words a few times when you first learn them, but later on in your English practice you will start to “get a feel” for spelling. Often, adult native speakers learn new words and we just know how to spell them because they usually relate to the sound of the word. Of course, there are so many annoying silent letters in English, but much of the time it is predictable.
You might use certain mnemonics or rhymes to help you, and there are a few rules that go with spelling certain types of word. Above, I mentioned that some people spell “friend” incorrectly, but an easy way to remember it is that “the end of friend is end.” In other words, it ends with the letters E-N-D. That’s easy to remember!
There are online spelling tests that you can do, or you can test yourself with flash cards. You can also engage the services of a teacher or marker to look at your writing and provide you with some feedback. When you do make a mistake, don’t just correct it once. Keep on testing yourself with that word until you can get it right every single time.
Spelling is difficult, but practice will result in progress. You should keep on working at it until you can write with just one or two little errors. Don’t let you mistakes discourage you, but instead use them as steps for improvement.