TOEFL Synonym Questions (State of the art)

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  • TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language
  • 80 multiple-choice synonym questions; 4 choices per question
  • TOEFL questions available from Thomas Landauer
  • introduced in Landauer and Dumais (1997) as a way of evaluating algorithms for measuring degree of similarity between two words
  • subsequently used by many other researchers

Sample question

Stem: levied
Choices: (a) imposed
(b) believed
(c) requested
(d) correlated
Solution: (a) imposed

Table of results

Algorithm Reference for algorithm Reference for experiment Type Correct 95% confidence
RES Resnik (1995) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Hybrid 20.31% 12.89–31.83%
LC Leacock and Chodrow (1998) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Lexicon-based 21.88% 13.91–33.21%
LIN Lin (1998) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Hybrid 24.06% 15.99–35.94%
Random Random guessing 1 / 4 = 25.00% Random 25.00% 15.99–35.94%
JC Jiang and Conrath (1997) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Hybrid 25.00% 15.99–35.94%
LSA Landauer and Dumais (1997) Landauer and Dumais (1997) Corpus-based 64.38% 52.90–74.80%
Human Average non-English US college applicant Landauer and Dumais (1997) Human 64.50% 53.01–74.88%
DS Pado and Lapata (2007) Pado and Lapata (2007) Corpus-based 73.00% 62.72-82.96%
PMI-IR Turney (2001) Turney (2001) Corpus-based 73.75% 62.72–82.96%
HSO Hirst and St.-Onge (1998) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Lexicon-based 77.91% 68.17–87.11%
JS Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Jarmasz and Szpakowicz (2003) Lexicon-based 78.75% 68.17–87.11%
PMI-IR Terra and Clarke (2003) Terra and Clarke (2003) Corpus-based 81.25% 70.97–89.11%
CWO Ruiz-Casado et al. (2005) Ruiz-Casado et al. (2005) Web-based 82.55% 72.38–90.09%
PPMIC Bullinaria and Levy (2006) Bullinaria and Levy (2006) Corpus-based 85.00% 75.26-92.00%
GLSA Matveeva et al. (2005) Matveeva et al. (2005) Corpus-based 86.25% 76.73-92.93%
LSA Rapp (2003) Rapp (2003) Corpus-based 92.50% 84.39-97.20%
PR Turney et al. (2003) Turney et al. (2003) Hybrid 97.50% 91.26–99.70%

Explanation of table

  • Algorithm = name of algorithm
  • Reference for algorithm = where to find out more about given algorithm
  • Reference for experiment = where to find out more about evaluation of given algorithm with TOEFL questions
  • Type = general type of algorithm: corpus-based, lexicon-based, hybrid
  • Correct = percent of 80 questions that given algorithm answered correctly
  • 95% confidence = confidence interval calculated using Binomial Exact Test
  • table rows sorted in order of increasing percent correct
  • several WordNet-based similarity measures are implemented in Ted Pedersen's WordNet::Similarity package
  • LSA = Latent Semantic Analysis
  • PMI-IR = Pointwise Mutual Information - Information Retrieval
  • PR = Product Rule
  • PPMIC = Positive Pointwise Mutual Information with Cosine
  • GLSA = Generalized Latent Semantic Analysis
  • CWO = Context Window Overlapping
  • DS = Dependency Space


  • the performance of a corpus-based algorithm depends on the corpus, so the difference in performance between two corpus-based systems may be due to the different corpora, rather than the different algorithms
  • the TOEFL questions include nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but some of the WordNet-based algorithms were only designed to work with nouns


Bullinaria, J.A., and Levy, J.P. (2006). Extracting semantic representations from word co-occurrence statistics: A computational study. To appear in Behavior Research Methods, 38.

Hirst, G., and St-Onge, D. (1998). Lexical chains as representation of context for the detection and correction of malapropisms. In C. Fellbaum (ed.), WordNet: An Electronic Lexical Database. Cambridge: MIT Press, 305-332.

Jarmasz, M., and Szpakowicz, S. (2003). Roget’s thesaurus and semantic similarity, Proceedings of the International Conference on Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing (RANLP-03), Borovets, Bulgaria, September, pp. 212-219.

Jiang, J.J., and Conrath, D.W. (1997). Semantic similarity based on corpus statistics and lexical taxonomy. Proceedings of the International Conference on Research in Computational Linguistics, Taiwan.

Landauer, T.K., and Dumais, S.T. (1997). A solution to Plato's problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of the acquisition, induction, and representation of knowledge. Psychological Review, 104(2):211–240.

Leacock, C., and Chodorow, M. (1998). Combining local context and WordNet similarity for word sense identification. In C. Fellbaum (ed.), WordNet: An Electronic Lexical Database. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 265-283.

Lin, D. (1998). An information-theoretic definition of similarity. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML-98), Madison, WI, pp. 296-304.

Matveeva, I., Levow, G., Farahat, A., and Royer, C. (2005). Generalized latent semantic analysis for term representation. Proceedings of the International Conference on Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing (RANLP-05), Borovets, Bulgaria.

S. Pado and M. Lapata. Dependency-based construction of semantic space models. Computational Linguistics, 33(2), 161-199.

Rapp, R. (2003). Word sense discovery based on sense descriptor dissimilarity. Proceedings of the Ninth Machine Translation Summit, pp. 315-322.

Resnik, P. (1995). Using information content to evaluate semantic similarity. Proceedings of the 14th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-95), Montreal, pp. 448-453.

Ruiz-Casado, M., Alfonseca, E. and Castells, P. (2005) Using context-window overlapping in Synonym Discovery and Ontology Extension. Proceedings of the International Conference Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing (RANLP-2005), Borovets, Bulgaria.

Terra, E., and Clarke, C.L.A. (2003). Frequency estimates for statistical word similarity measures. Proceedings of the Human Language Technology and North American Chapter of Association of Computational Linguistics Conference 2003 (HLT/NAACL 2003), pp. 244–251.

Turney, P.D. (2001). Mining the Web for synonyms: PMI-IR versus LSA on TOEFL. Proceedings of the Twelfth European Conference on Machine Learning (ECML-2001), Freiburg, Germany, pp. 491-502.

Turney, P.D., Littman, M.L., Bigham, J., and Shnayder, V. (2003). Combining independent modules to solve multiple-choice synonym and analogy problems. Proceedings of the International Conference on Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing (RANLP-03), Borovets, Bulgaria, pp. 482-489.

See also