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 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 scratchpad, 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 at this link.
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
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 on 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.
There you have it, TOEFL takers! Five important steps to get started with your own TOEFL Independent Writing practice:
- Get yourself organized
- Analyze the question
- Structure your essay
- Write and edit your essay
- Assess your skills
Remember to practice lots and practice often, and soon that ‘5’ score won’t seem so far away!
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