On the TOEFL, the Writing Section is the fourth and final section of the exam. Like the other sections of the exam, the Writing Section is 50 minutes long. During that time, you will have two tasks: 1) The Integrated Writing Task, and 2) The Independent Writing Task. You will have 20 minutes to complete the Integrated Writing first, and then 30 minutes to complete the Independent Writing.
The TOEFL recommends the following word lengths for each section:
Integrated Writing Task: 150-225 words
Independent Writing Task: 250-300 words
Most TOEFL experts agree, you need to write more than what the TOEFL exam suggests, but not too much more, so this leads to the question: How long should my essay be?
1. Integrated Writing
The first task on the TOEFL Writing Section is the Integrated Writing task. For the Integrated Writing, you will have to read a passage and listen to a lecture before writing your essay. The first part is the reading passage, which is approximately 250-300 words, and you get 3 minutes to read this passage. Next, you will listen to a lecture about the topic from passage you just read. This audio clip is typically 2-3 minutes long. Then you will have 20 minutes to write about the topic using information from both the reading and listening passages.
There is a lot of information that you need to cover from the passages in your Integrated essay, and not a lot of time to do it. We suggest you focus more of your essay on the main points and supporting details made in the audio clip to save some time. But, in order to adequately cover the main points and details, you need to write more than the recommended length.
We suggest your TOEFL Integrated Writing essay should be: 250-300 words.
Now notice that 250-300 words is the recommended length for the Independent Writing, for which you have 30 minutes to write. We are suggesting you write this much on the Integrated Writing, which you only have 20 minutes to write. It will be difficult to write more than 250-300 words on the Integrated essay in just 20 minutes. So, the important point for this essay is to use your time wisely, and again, focus your answer on what is talked about in the lecture.
2. Independent Writing
The second and final task on the TOEFL Writing Section is the Independent Writing. On this task, you will be given a question relating to a topic which asks for your opinion. You will have 30 minutes to plan and write about your opinion on the topic, including providing reasons for your opinion. The questions on the Independent Writing are usually one of the following types:
1) pick a side of a controversial argument,
2) state your preference between two or three conflicting options, or
3) explain why you agree or disagree with a given statement.
Because this task is much more open-ended, it is important on the Independent Writing not to lose track of what yourself. For one, only choose one of the options or sides of the argument to write about. Don’t try to write about both sides. Even if you don’t have a strong opinion on the topic, or if you could go either way on the topic, choose a side a stick to it. You should also outline the structure of your essay beforehand, so you have time to fully cover everything you need to write. A good Independent essay has at least two supporting reasons for your opinion that are fully developed in the body of the essay. These reasons should be explained and illustrated with personal life experiences. In order to do this, we recommend writing more than what the TOEFL suggests.
We suggest your TOEFL Independent Writing essay should be: 350-400 words.
Now in 30 minutes, it is possible to write way more than this recommended length, especially about a topic which you have strong opinions. You could probably write over 1000 words in 30 minutes if you were really passionate about it. But remember the TOEFL is not grading you on the length of your essay. The TOEFL is grading your vocabulary, grammatical sentence patterns and overall structure. So why try to get a perfect score with 1000 words, when you can easily get a perfect score with less than half that.