What is the most common mistake among TOEFL students?

To all my lovely TOEFL students: There is a difficult, but important, lesson to learn.
YOU CAN’T AVOID GRAMMAR IF YOU WANT TO GET YOUR GOAL SCORE ON TOEFL.
I know. Grammar is BORING.  It’s confusing, and it’s difficult.
It is also imperative if you want to pass TOEFL.

When I ask students how much they study grammar, they often admit they do not study it at all. That’s like trying to learn to play an instrument without studying the notes, or trying to learn statistics without learning the formulas.

So what should you do?  To begin with, you should buy what I think is the best grammar book for TOEFL students. It’s called ENGLISH GRAMMAR IN USE by R. Murphy.  Make sure you get the INTERMEDIATE level book.

But, this blog post is about the most common mistake in TOEFL students. So… what is it?

BY FAR THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE I HEAR AS A TOEFL TEACHER IS SUBJECT VERB AGREEMENTS IN THE SIMPLE PRESENT! 
THESE ARE THE CORRECT SUBJECT AND VERB AGREEMENTS:
I say
You say
He says
She says
They say
We say
It says
The student says….  The professor thinks… The woman believes…. 
Etc. 
This seems easy, right? You learned this years ago, right?  Guess what! 
Even my most advanced students have trouble with this.  These mistakes are much more common in speaking than in writing.

REMEMBER, IF THE SUBJECT IS SINGULAR, YOU MUST PUT AN “S” ON THE VERB.
This is the biggest mistake during the speaking section.  Many students say, “The man think… the woman believe… The professor say….” 
You must say “The man thinks…. The woman believes…. The professor says…” and so on.
MORE EXAMPLES:
The lecture PROVIDES two examples….(not the lecture provide)
WHEN A MOVIE COMES OUT,  (not when a movie come out)
IF THE PROFESSOR WANTS TO ASSIGN A PAPER, (not if the professor want)
READ THESE OUT LOUD TO PRACTICE:

That MAKES a difference,. 
The skunk is a mammal that LIVES in North America. 
Squirrels HIDE their nuts in many holes. 
If my friend CUTS back her calories, she will lose weight.
As the project PROGRESSES, the client expects more services. 
When a wolf APPROACHES the skunk, it sprays a liquid. 
In the morning, my husband DRINKS tea.
The professor SAYS that the student can come back later. 

The community NEEDS more people to help with the fundraiser.
The students NEED to buy the book before the semester begins.
Because there ARE a lot of speeches, the ceremony IS long and uncomfortable. 

The body structure of the turtle DOESN’T allow predators to get at its vital organs. 
The man and his son DON’T spend a lot of time together. (The man and his son are two people, therefore it is a plural subject – this is called a compound subject– it is considered plural)
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A COMPOUND SUBJECT:
One of the problems the earth faces is that carbon dioxide and methane
DON’T allow radiation to escape the atmosphere. 

A lot of students also make mistakes with the negative. Students say “The man don’t,” However, you must say “The man doesn’t.”  For example, “The man says he doesn’t like the idea proposed in the article.”
Some students also say “The student don’t….” However, you must say, “The student doesn’t.. For example, “The student doesn’t think the proposal will work.”

This even applies to non-humans that are singular, and in TOEFL, the most common are “the university” or “the college” or “the program.”  For example, you must say “The university doesn’t offer private classes.” Here are more examples:
“The program offers free tutoring for new students.”
“The college plans to build a new student center next semester.” 
“The university gives scholarships to students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.” 

Again, I know this seems basic, but it’s the #1 problem.  I promise you — after all, I have been teaching TOEFL for over eleven years. I notice patterns! 

ALSO REMEMBER: EVERYTHING, EVERYONE, EVERY, EACH,  NOBODY, AND SOMEBODY ARE SINGULAR.
Everything is great.
Everyone is here.
Nobody likes John. 
Everyone knows about Papa John’s pizza. 
Each student has problems with this particular professor. 
Every table has good lighting.
Every student enjoys the reading assignment. 
Everybody loves Raymond. 
Nobody uses the bicycles that are parked outside.

There are also COLLECTIVE nouns, which are singular.
Examples:
The colony consists of baby ants.
The audience claps every time she sings. 
The crew is prepared to leave immediately. 
The public doesn’t want to accept the new mayor. 
The public likes the plan to open a new park. 
The species moves from one area to another. 
Everyone has a problem with this professor. 
Everybody eats outside on the grass under the trees.  
Everything is going very well. 
The team wins every game. 
The audience is listening to the speaker carefully.
The group moves slowly through the desert. 
The army invades the smallest cities first. 
For more information about collective nouns, use this link:
https://www.gingersoftware.com/content/grammar-rules/nouns/collective-nouns/

Another huge mistake is the use of HAS vs. HAVE.
If the subject is singular, use HAS.
The man has a problem.
The woman has a solution.
Jennifer has the textbook. 
The professor has many appointments he needs to take care of. 

When you say “THERE IS “ or “THERE ARE “ it must match with the subject.
There are many details on the website. (Not “There is many details on the website.”)
There are many predators in the forest, but the most dangerous is the lion. (Not “There is…”)

If the subject is plural, or “I” use HAVE.

The women have many books.
The professors have a lot of students.
The children have toys that they enjoy.
The students have a lot of homework.
I have many interesting books. 
People in the city have many interesting things to do. 

I know this seems basic, but guess what — it’s the #1 thing I correct in speaking AND in writing. This happens with students at ALL LEVELS. 

Here are more complex rules, from the Purdue Owl website:

1. When the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and, use a plural verb.
She and her friends are at the fair.
2. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, use a singular verb.
The book or the pen is in the drawer.
3. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer the verb.
The boy or his friends run every day.
His friends or the boy runs every day.
4. Doesn’t is a contraction of does not and should be used only with a singular subject. Don’t is a contraction of do not and should be used only with a plural subject. The exception to this rule appears in the case of the first person and second person pronouns I and you. With these pronouns, the contraction don’t should be used.
He doesn’t like it.
They don’t like it.
5. Do not be misled by a phrase that comes between the subject and the verb. The verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase.
One of the boxes is open.
The people who listen to that music are few.
The team captain, as well as his players, is anxious.
The book, including all the chapters in the first section, is boring.
The woman with all the dogs walks down my street.
6. The words each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one are singular and require a singular verb.
Each of these hot dogs is juicy.
Everybody knows Mr. Jones.
Either is correct.
7. Nouns such as civics, mathematics, dollars, measles, and news require singular verbs.
The news is on at six.
Note: The word dollars is a special case. When talking about an amount of money, it requires a singular verb, but when referring to the dollars themselves, a plural verb is required.
Five dollars is a lot of money.
Dollars are often used instead of rubles in Russia.
8. Nouns such as scissors, tweezers, trousers, pants, shorts, glasses, and shears require plural verbs. (There are two parts to these things.)
These scissors are dull.
Those trousers are made of wool.
Those pants are ugly.
These glasses are a strong prescription because I have poor eyesight.
My sunglasses are in the dresser.
These shorts are too small for me.

9. In sentences beginning with “there is” or “there are,” the subject follows the verb. Since “there” is not the subject, the verb agrees with what follows.
There are many questions.
There is a question.
10. Collective nouns are words that imply more than one person but that are considered singular and take a singular verb, such as group, team, committee, class, and family.
The team runs during practice.
The committee decides how to proceed.
The family has a long history.
My family has never been able to agree.
The crew is preparing to dock the ship.
This sentence is referring to the individual efforts of each crew member. The Gregg Reference Manual provides excellent explanations of subject-verb agreement (section 10: 1001).
11. Expressions such as with, together with, including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well do not change the number of the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb is too.
The President, accompanied by his wife, is traveling to India.
All of the books, including yours, are in that box.