In preparing for the TOEFL exam, you may not think much about plagiarism, and to be honest that is not surprising because plagiarism usually isn’t much of a problem here. However, there are some ways in which plagiarism can occur in TOEFL and as it is a very serious issue, it is worth explaining what it means and how to avoid it.
Put simply, plagiarism is the theft of another person’s ideas or words. Even though this is considered normal and acceptable in some cultures, it is a huge problem in academic English and in some countries it is even treated as a crime. Committing an act of plagiarism in the United States or Australia, for example, can result in expulsion from a university or even the loss of your job. Many people view the theft of ideas and words in the same way as others view the theft of money or property.
Plagiarism usually occurs when someone finds a piece of writing online or in a book and then copies it into their own work, often as part of a school or university project. Because you don’t have access to books or websites during the TOEFL test, this is not really a concern. However, you should still take precautions and be aware so that you don’t do anything like this.
Plagiarism in TOEFL
Although there is no opportunity to consult a book or website during the test, you do still encounter some other people’s words. In every part of the TOEFL test, you will read or hear work that was written by other people. These are the people who actually created the exam, and you need to remember that you cannot just copy their words as your own. This may sound obvious, but lots of TOEFL test takers actually do try to use these words in their own language. For the speaking and writing tests, you are required to produce your own English and it is not acceptable to copy anyone else, so you must not take any words from the prompts that you may be given.
It is quite common for TOEFL candidates to listen to or read the prompt in the test and then attempt to incorporate it into their own answer. In their own mind, they probably think that because they have used this language themselves, it is now their work. However, the important thing is that they did not create it. It would be hard to consider this as plagiarism in the sense of a traditional theft, but it certainly is not their own unique work. As such, the examiners cannot look at this and grade it highly.
You must remember that the TOEFL exam is a test of your English. It is not a test of the examiner’s English. Everyone knows that the examiners can speak English perfectly, which is why they are writing an exam like this. If you repeat too many of their words, you will be given the lowest possible mark for your score. It is the same as saying nothing, basically, because the examiner cannot judge your English on what someone else produced.
For this reason, you must attempt to avoid repeating too many words from the question or the prompt that you are given in the exam. To do this, you must use your paraphrasing skills and change the words that are provided into completely new ones. Knowing lots of synonyms is helpful for this purpose. Whenever you reference someone else’s idea, you must also use reported speech so that you don’t just claim responsibility for their idea as well. Even saying something like, “The speaker said that…” can help because it shows you are not stealing their idea, but reporting it responsibly.
In addition to plagiarism of the words and ideas given within the exam, TOEFL examiners occasionally encounter candidates who attempt to memorize answers. This means that they have gone into the test with some idea in their head and tried to repeat it. This is not very common because in TOEFL it is pretty much impossible to predict the questions you will be given, but some candidates still attempt it. They might memorize a hundred phrases related to different topics, for example, and then try to use them in the test. They think that this is clever, but actually it is not clever at all. TOEFL examiners deal with hundreds of candidates every single week and they immediately know when something is memorized. If the memorized phrase is in perfect English, it will probably have been stolen from somewhere else rather than made up by the student.
As such, this is a bad exam strategy. You should not memorize anything because it will definitely sound out of place in the test and more than likely the examiner will know that you are attempting this. Perhaps your language was good, but it will not have been given in the right context. But if they suspect you copied your words or ideas from somewhere else, then you will certainly be in trouble and they will give you a very low score.
The lesson to be learned from all of this is that plagiarism is wrong, and even similar issues to plagiarism should be avoided. Don’t copy from the question or from anywhere else, and don’t try to memorize answers that you or anyone else has produced. The TOEFL is a test of your English ability and copying from someone else will send a message to the examiner that you are a cheat or simply incapable of producing English sentences yourself. In either case, your grade would be extremely low.
You should spend all your time practicing your actual English skills so that you don’t need to rely on other people’s words in order to succeed. Then when you go into the exam, you will get the grade that you deserve according to your own abilities. In addition to this, you can work on building your paraphrasing skills and learning how to use reported speech so that you can reference other people in an honest and reasonable way.