TOEFL Independent Writing Practice: Step by Step

Practice makes perfect they say, and no less is true for the TOEFL exam! However, if you don’t even know where to start, we’ve got you covered with this step-by-step guide to TOEFL independent writing practice.

TOEFL Independent Writing Practice
We’ve got you covered! Follow these steps when you approach the TOEFL Independent Writing. 

TOEFL Independent Writing Practice Step #1: Get yourself organized.

Before you have a crack at writing an essay, there are some important things you need to know:

  • The Independent Writing task will be timed. You will have 30 minutes to complete it, so you should practice with the same restriction. At first, this may be difficult, but that’s what practice is for, right?
  • The TOEFL iBT is given on a computer, so make sure you practice typing and not handwriting!
  • Although there is no strict word limit for your essay, you should aim to write more than 300 words. Don’t plan to write too much, or else you might not save yourself enough time to edit your work.

Next, have a look at the TOEFL Independent Writing Rubric.

Let’s aim high, and look at the requirements to get a ‘5’ (the maximum score):

  • Effectively addresses the topic and task
  • Is well organised and developed with clear explanations, examples and details
  • Displays logical progression and coherence
  • Consistently correct use of language, sentence structure, word choice and grammar though may have minor errors

By the way, you can fill out the form below to download a free TOEFL ‘independent writing’ essay sample!


TOEFL Independent Writing Practice Step #2: Analyze the question

Ok, so you have your timer setup, you’ve picked out a question, and you have your word processor open. Now, it’s time to analyze the question. This step is crucial; if you start writing off-topic then you could lose major points!

Once the timer starts, take a minute to figure out: What is the topic and what is the task?

First of all, you’ll need to identify keywords from the question. You might want to take down a few words on your scratch pad, just to remember.

Let’s look at some example questions:

1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? There is nothing that young people can teach older people. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position

2. Some high schools require all students to wear school uniforms. Other high schools permit students to decide what to wear to school. Which of these two school policies do you think is better? Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

3. What discovery in the last 100 years has been most beneficial for people in your country? Use specific reasons and examples to support your choice.

4. You have the opportunity to visit a foreign country for two weeks. Which country would you like to visit? Use specific reasons and details to explain your choice.

5. Some people believe that the best way of learning about life is by listening to the advice of family and friends. Other people believe that the best way of learning about life is through personal experience. Compare the advantages of these two different ways of learning about life. Which do you think is preferable? Use specific examples to support your preference.

*The above examples were found in this link

Click to View Question Summary


In (1), you are asked to choose a side (agree or disagree) and support your opinion.

In (2), you are asked to explain a preference between two options.

In (3), you are asked to think about one example and explain why it is the best/ most important.

In (4), you are asked to illustrate a hypothetical situation and explain your choice.

In (5), you are asked to compare two different situations and explain your preference

TOEFL Independent Writing Practice Step # 3 Structure your essay

Once you know what you are being asked to do, you should take another 1-2 minutes to plan the structure of your essay, and brainstorm some examples that you will use to support your ideas.

Some important things to remember about the structure of your essay:

  • Always, always, always have an introduction and conclusion! Your introduction should include some general statement about the topic, a sentence addressing the question, and finally, your thesis statement. This is where you will provide the main point of the essay so that the reader knows what will come next.
  • Your conclusion should include a restatement of your thesis statement from the intro and a summary sentence. Do not introduce any new information in your conclusion!
  • Decide how many body paragraphs you will have, and what you will put in each. As mentioned above, there’s no strict guideline here, but two body paragraphs is usually a safe bet. If you are explaining a preference or explaining why you agree/disagree, you want to think of two major reasons to support your opinion. Explain and provide support for each reason in its own body paragraph. You could also partially agree, and write one paragraph about each side.
  • For a comparison essay (example 5) you’ll want to choose your preference first, then provide a couple reasons why. In each body paragraph, you will explain a reason for your preference while comparing evidence from both situations.

TOEFL Independent Writing Practice Step #4 Write and edit your essay

Now it’s time for the main task: actually writing your essay!

Some things to consider while writing:

  • Do I provide sufficient explanations and examples?
  • Do you use a variety of vocabulary?
  • Do you use a variety of sentence structures?
  • Do you have correct spelling/grammar?

 TOEFL Independent Writing Practice Step #5 Assess your skills

If you are on your own for practice, start by having a look at the TOEFL Independent Writing Rubric and try to assess yourself. Also, have a look at some sample answers and compare to your own writing. Are you using similar vocabulary? Is your essay structured similarly?

Self-assessment is hard though, and you might find you’re not even aware of your own errors. You may want to try typing your answer into a word processor with English enabled to check for basic spelling/grammar errors. Another great tool is the Grammarly app (you can attach it to your browser). It won’t catch all errors, but it’s a start!

You should also consider seeking professional help. Having a native English speaker read and edit your writing may help you to recognize errors you weren’t even aware of. By signing up for E2Language.com, we can assess your writing and give you detailed, personal feedback.

TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice
Back to the drawing board, don’t be afraid to start with afresh with these steps. Please see the summary of steps below. 

There you have it, TOEFL takers! Five important steps to get started with your own TOEFL Independent Writing practice:

  1. Get yourself organized
  2. Analyze the question
  3. Structure your essay
  4. Write and edit your essay
  5. Assess your skills

Remember to practice lots and practice often, and soon that ‘5’ score won’t seem so far away!

Where did you go wrong on the TOEFL Integrated Writing? Find this useful template for approaching the How to Improve Your TOEFL Integrated Writing 

Is your TOEFL exam fast approaching? Try this reading this article on TOEFL Tips and Tricks

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Written by Meaghan. 

How to Improve Your TOEFL Integrated Writing Score

There is an expression in Portuguese, which translates as “Complaining with your belly full”. I got 115/120 in the TOEFL iBT, so I should be grateful and count my blessings! Still, I was not entirely happy with my 26/30 in the TOEFL writing, but I was extra annoyed to discover that it was my TOEFL integrated writing skills that had let me down.

I’d love to share what I wrote with you, but without being able to look over my actual essay, I’m going to have to speculate on what went wrong for me.

TOEFL integrated writing
Poor TOEFL integrated writing score? Huh … even for a native speaker!

What is involved in the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task?

In this task, you have to read a short passage then listen to a lecturer addressing all of the topics you have just read about. The lecturer may be agreeing or disagreeing with the passage.

I’m not allowed to go into any specifics about the TOEFL integrated writing task I encountered in my own TOEFL iBT – I have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the ETS, as will you come test day – but I can say that Jamal and I had a short, uncomplicated passage to read on a people from ancient history and proof of their origins. The writer had proposed three pieces of evidence as to why it was clear that these people had come from elsewhere.

We then heard a lecture by a woman who was negating all of the evidence we had read about. It was very clear what she was referring to as her counter-arguments followed the same order as the written piece.

TOEFL Integrated Writing
So, what went wrong then?

By the way, you can fill out the form below to download a free TOEFL ‘independent writing’ essay sample!


Where did I go wrong on the TOEFL integrated writing task?

I am going to use the marking rubric used by the ETS to suggest reasons for my relatively poor showing in the integrated writing section of the TOEFL iBT and what you should do to get a better mark.

‘An important idea or ideas may be missing, unclear, or inaccurate’

  • Make your notes accurate and to the point.
  • You have got to blend the template that I’ll give you in this blog post with the notes you’ll be making while you listen/read during the test.

‘There may be unclarity (sic.) in how the lecture and the reading passage are related’

  • This is irritating: ‘unclarity’ is a made-up word. Suggested synonyms for the ETS to use in future include obscurity or lack of clarity.
  • Be blatant about the connections between the two elements about which you are writing.
  • There will be links between the topics covered in the lecture and the passage, so be sure to write about those.
  • Don’t write a long, rambling introduction or conclusion. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I suspect this may have been my main problem. Perhaps the introduction and conclusion were a bit over-the-top.

‘Grammatical mistakes or vague/incorrect uses of words may make the writing difficult to understand’

  • This one leaves me stumped, to be honest. Maybe I suffered a mini-stroke and didn’t realise… or maybe I just used complex sentence structure and should have kept it simple!

Below is a very useful template to follow when you’re confronted with an integrated writing task where the lecture contradicts the passage, such as the one I was faced with in my TOEFL iBT. Where I have used XXX or YYY, use specific information taken from either the passage or the lecture.

While the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that (YYY). There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.

 

First, while the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture implies that (YYY).

 

Next, the lecture mentions that (YYY). However, this contradicts the claim of the passage, that (XXX).

 

Finally, while the passage stated (XXX), the lecture says that (YYY).

To flesh this out, your essay would read something like this:

While the passage stated that hamburgers are one of the healthiest sources of protein in the world, the lecturer did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that hamburgers are high in unhealthy fat and are often even carcinogenic. There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.

First, while the passage stated that hamburgers were invented in Hamburg in northern Germany by servants of the king who were unsure what they could make with unexpected quantities of ground beef, the lecture implies that it was nineteenth-century German immigrants to the United States who first brought this foodstuff to prominence.

Next, the passage mentions that hamburgers were widely consumed by the Confederate Army during the US civil war in unprecedented quantities. However, this contradict the claim in the lecture that fresh meat was scarce during that conflict and many soldiers’ diets were entirely bereft of meat for the duration of their service.

Finally, while the passage stated that hamburgers are today considered the height of fine-dining by many across the world, the lecturer says that, although they are very popular, one would not find the world’s best restaurants selling them on their menus.

Do you need help preparing for the TOEFL integrated writing task? We’re here to help! 

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Written by Colin David.