TOEFL Writing and Speaking: Variety in Vocabulary

One of the difficult tasks students face in both the writing and speaking sections of the TOEFL exam is to display a rich variety of vocabulary.  In fact, the scoring rubrics from both the writing and speaking sections specifically mention terms like «effective use of vocabulary» and «appropriate word choice» as criteria in evaluating a student’s work.  However, far too often, when under pressure, the only adjectives that a student can find are “good” and “bad”.  So what I’d like to offer in this blog entry are some possible alternatives for some of the most typical adjectives, as well as alternative possibilities for the useful verbs “increase” and “decrease”.  Please note that many of these are not perfect synonyms and there are important differences both in use and intensity between the typical word and the alternatives.  Still, by taking risks with these words while practicing and receiving appropriate feedback, you can develop a nice repertoire of vocabulary that can impress on the day of the TOEFL exam.  Many thanks to the people from American English at State which is where I took much of this material from before adapting it.  Check out their very helpful Facebook page here:


Unusual:  odd, peculiar, strange, uncommon, weird, atypical, unique, idiosyncratic

Nice:  delightful, pleasurable, lovely, agreeable, pleasant, enjoyable, amusing

Interesting:  engrossing, absorbing, enthralling, riveting, compelling, intriguing, fascinating, captivating, engaging

Bad:  terrible, abominable, atrocious, abhorrent, dreadful, loathsome, despicable, horrible, horrendous, awful

Good:  stupendous, excellent, impressive, first-rate, perfect, brilliant, sensational, tremendous, outstanding, superb, great

Happy:  cheerful, glad, content, pleased, delighted, joyful, elated, lighthearted, thrilled

Boring:  dull, uneventful, dry, stale, uninteresting, monotonous, mind-numbing, repetitive, tedious

Brave:  courageous, heroic, fearless, dauntless, gallant, gutsy, valiant, bold


Increasedouble, soar, peak, improve, triple, rise, recover, jump, gain, rocket, surge, escalate, expand, spread

Decreasedecline, fall, drop, plummet, halve, reduce, shrink, dwindle, subside