DO (And NOT DO) On the TOEFL Writing Section

Many agree, the Writing Section is the most difficult section of the TOEFL. However, if you follow these 7 rules on test day, you will be more prepared and are guaranteed to improve your TOEFL Writing score.

RULE #1 – Don’t Copy: Paraphrase

This rule applies to the Independent and, especially, the Integrated Writing tasks. On the Integrated Writing, you will be given a reading passage that you can refer to while writing your essay. It is critical that you do not plagiarize the reading passage. Make sure you paraphrase the points that the author makes in your essay without copying word-for-word.

On the Independent Writing, you will be given a specific question that you have to give your opinion about. In your answer, you should not copy the language of the question verbatim. Instead, rephrase the question in your answer.

Think about it, the testers are not there to find out how well you can copy, but rather to find out how good your English writing skills are. So remember, don’t copy the reading passage or questions!

RULE #2 – Take Good Notes

This rule is very important for the Integrated Writing, as you are expected to write about things from the reading and listening passages. The author of the reading passage will give 3 main points on a particular topic. The lecturer in the listening passage will give 3 conflicting main points and supporting reasons. You are expected to write about all of these main points, and the lecturer’s supporting reasons for his or her point in your essay. Therefore, it is critical that you make sure you understand the topic and main points by taking notes first.
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You will only hear it once, so TAKE NOTES ON THE LISTENING PASSAGE!

RULE #3 – Outline Your Essay First

This rule is particularly significant to the Independent Writing task. Students often think they don’t have enough time to bother with outlining, but this is a huge mistake. While 30 minutes doesn’t seem like much time, a large portion of your grade comes from the way you are able to structure and articulate your opinion, which is best done by following an outline.

So, in the first 2 to 3 minutes of your Independent Writing, you should outline you position on prompted question, two reasons for your position, and supporting information, preferably from a personal experience, for each of those reasons. You will find that writing your Independent essay is easier and will ultimately flow better by following an outline when you’re writing.

RULE #4 – Know When and Where to Talk About Your Opinion

The Integrated Writing task will never ask you for your opinion of the topic. This essay should only cover the main points of the author in the reading passage, and the lecturer’s contradictory main points with supporting details from the listening passages.

The Independent Writing task is when you are asked to talk about your opinion, but there are still some rules to follow here. Often these questions are designed for you to pick a side of a controversial argument, state your preference between two or three conflicting options, or explain why you agree or disagree with a given statement. It is important to ONLY choose one of the options or sides of the argument to write about. Don’t try to write about both sides.
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You are also expected to write passionately about your opinion. This means that even if you don’t have a strong position, or if you feel you could go either way on the topic, choose a side a stick to it. You should make sure your position is clear from the very beginning of your Independent essay.

RULE #5 – Don’t Forget the Question

This rule applies to both the Integrated and Independent Writing tasks. For the Integrated Writing, remember, the question asks you to summarize the points made in the lecture. Students often spend too much time in their essay talking about the author’s main points from the reading. This is probably because the reading passage is there for reference while writing.

But this task wants you to write about the lecture from the listening passage. Because the lecturer will always be talking about the same topic as the author, and most often is giving contradictory points to the author’s main points, this means the reading passage still needs to be talk about. However, MOST of your answer should consist of what the LECTURER says in the listening passage.

For the Independent Writing, one great pitfall that students have on this task is that they go off topic. The best way to stay focused on the question is to first clearly and passionately state you position in the first sentence or two of your introduction paragraph. Then, continue to refer back to this sentence from time to time while you are writing. This will help you to remember exactly what you are being asked.

RULE #6 –Proofread Your Answers and Use Vocabulary You Know How to Spell

On both essays, many students just want to be done once they finish writing, but this is a mistake. Points that would be taken off for silly spelling errors could be saved by spending a little extra time looking back through your essay. In fact, you should save the last minute or two of your time for proofreading and editing your work.

Also, don’t use words you don’t confidently know how to spell. Remember the TOEFL does not have spell check, so you are graded on your ability to spell. Therefore, if you are not sure how to spell a certain word, don’t use it. Think of a synonym that you can spell correctly.

RULE #7 – Vary Your Grammar

The final rule for both Writing tasks is to vary your grammar in your essays. It is expected of you on the TOEFL to demonstrate your knowledge of different grammar constructs. Try to use at least three different grammar variations in each of your writing tasks, especially the Independent Writing, in order to improve your TOEFL Writing score.

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