The Writing Section is the fourth and final section of the TOEFL exam. The goal of the Writing Section is to test how well you can write in English, especially your ability to structure arguments and your knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary.
We will tell you what to expect in the Writing Section, how to write a perfect essay, and how to practice before the TOEFL exam. This guide will give you everything you need to know to master the TOEFL Writing Section.
What to Expect in the TOEFL Writing Section
There are only two questions or “tasks” in the Writing Section of the TOEFL. These are known as the Integrated Writing Task and the Independent Writing Task.
For the TOEFL Integrated Writing, you will have to also use your reading and listening skills before you start writing. First you have to read a passage of approximately 250-300 words. You will then have to listen to a lecture about the topic from the passage you have just read. This lecture 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.
For the TOEFL Independent Writing, you will be given a question relating to a topic which asks for your opinion. You will have 30 minutes to plan and write your opinion on the topic, including providing reasons for your opinion.
It can be difficult and stressful trying to write two complete essays in just 50 minutes. It is important to have good writing skills for both tasks, and excellent reading and listening skills for the first task. Because of the time constraint, it is best to have a plan for how to structure your essays beforehand. Luckily, we can tell you just what that perfect essay should look like.
What a Perfect TOEFL Essay Looks Like
In order to master the TOEFL Writing Section on test day, and get that perfect score, you need to know how to properly structure your two Writing Tasks. You will be graded on how well you construct your essays.
Generally speaking, each of your TOEFL essays should be four to five paragraphs long.
In the first paragraph, the introduction, you first need to restate the topic of your essay. In the integrated task, this is the topic of the reading and listening passages. In the independent task, this is the topic from the question and your position on that topic. Don’t copy word for word from the questions or reading passage. You should paraphrase instead. Then, in each of your introductions, you need to state the main arguments. In the independent task, these will be two of your main arguments that support your position on the topic. In the integrated task, this will be the three main arguments of the author, and the three main counterarguments of the lecturer. You should not discuss your own thoughts or opinions on the topic in the integrated writing task.
Next, you will need to write two or three body paragraphs. These body paragraphs will be where you explain your arguments with supporting details. Each body paragraph should only contain one argument.
For example, the first body paragraph of the integrated writing task will restate the author’s first main argument and the lecturer’s first counterargument. Then your second body paragraph will cover the second main argument and counterargument. And finally, the third body paragraph for the third main argument and counterargument. You will then need to elaborate on the author’s and lecturer’s arguments from information from the reading and listening passages in each paragraph. You will be able to see the text of the reading passage while you write your essay, but you only get to hear the lecture once. Therefore, it is important to take good notes.
In the independent writing task, you will probably only have time to give two fully supported arguments, so you will likely only have two body paragraphs – one for each. In each paragraph, restate your main argument, and then give supporting reasons for this argument. The best way to do this is to tell a personal story that elaborates or explains your position.
Finally, you should write a conclusion paragraph that summarizes the main topic and the main arguments. If you run short on time, the conclusion is not necessarily needed in the integrated essay.
Here is a breakdown of the structure of your essay (note that your essay should not be in bullet points, but must have fully written sentences and paragraphs):
• Paragraph 1 (Introduction) = restate the main topic and state main arguments
• Paragraph 2 (Body 1) = restate 1st main argument with supporting details
• Paragraph 3 (Body 2) = restate 2nd main argument with supporting details
• Paragraph 4 (Body 3) Integrated only = restate 3rd main argument with supporting details
• Paragraph 5 (Conclusion) Independent only = summarize the main topic and arguments
A good structure is not all you need in the TOEFL Writing Section. You also need to use good grammar and vocabulary. Next, we will tell you just how to write your TOEFL Essays.
How to Write Your TOEFL Essays
When writing your TOEFL essays, you must use the right grammatical structures and vocabulary. First let’s talk about the grammar you want to use in the TOEFL Writing Task. One important tip is to make sure you use the correct verb tenses. This differs in the two writing tasks.
In the Integrated Writing task, you will be using a lot of the present tense – simple and continuous – in your essay. For example, “the author is saying…” or “the author states…”, “the lecturer disagrees with…” or “the lecturer is offering an alternative theory.” Then, depending on the topic, you will refer to the supporting details in either the present, past or future tenses. For example, if the topic is about a historical phenomenon, then use the past. If it is talking about an ongoing debate in academia, for instance, use the present. If it about some predictions on the use of new technology, use the future. Refer to the tenses used in the reading and listening passages as a guide for the tenses you should use for the supporting details.
In the Independent Writing Task, you will need to flow between the present tense and past tense correctly. For one, you will state your position on a given topic using the present simple. For example, “I strongly believe…” or “I completely agree….” Then, when you start writing about your arguments and your supporting reasons, you should use a personal experience from your past. This means you need to know the difference between the simple and continuous past, and the difference between the present perfect and the past perfect. Remember to use the simple past for something that has already happened and is finished and use the past continuous to talk about something that has happened over a period of time in the past and is finished. Use the present perfect for something that started in the past and continues into the present and use the past perfect for something that happened before a time in the past.
There are some other ways to grammatically enrich both of your TOEFL essays:
• Use Conditionals – Especially in the independent essay, you can use the three kinds of conditional sentences to add complexity to your writing. Use conditionals to talk about things you will/would do or would have done if something happens/happened. For example, “If I had known about this fact 5 years ago, I would have done something differently.”
• Use Gerunds – Gerunds can be used to enhance your verb tenses, such as “I had been doing it for a long time,” instead of, “I had done it for a long time.” They can also be used as the subject or the object of your sentences. “Exercising is important for your health,” or “Everyone knows the importance of exercising.”
• Don’t use the Passive Voice – You want your arguments to be strong and passionate, so don’t use the passive voice in your essays. Instead of saying, “it was explained by the scientists,” say instead “the scientists explained it.”
Next, let’s discuss vocabulary. TOEFL test takers often think they need to use large, long, elaborate words in the Writing section. However, this approach can be dangerous. The best thing to do is to use words you are confident with in terms of the meaning and the spelling. There is no spell check function to help you in the TOEFL exam, so if you are writing and you’re not sure how to spell a certain word, don’t use it. Think of a synonym that you can spell correctly instead. Also, save time at the end for editing and proofreading your essays.
That being said, there are some basic words that should be avoided in the exam. Be prepared beforehand to come up with other words you can use instead of:
• To do
• To say
• To think
Finally, when it comes to vocabulary, English students, and even native English speakers, often mix up similar sounding or spelt words. The words that they mix up depends on the individual, but here are some frequently mixed up words that appear in the TOEFL Writing Section:
• though – through – thorough
• affect – effect
• opinion – option
• quiet – quite – quit
• accept – except
• acquire – inquire
The best way to get familiar with the grammar structures and vocabulary that you should use in the TOEFL Writing Section is to practice.
How to Practice for the TOEFL Writing Section
When preparing for the TOEFL Writing Section, it is important to practice, practice, practice. The more you practice writing before taking the TOEFL, the more confident you will be with your writing skills on test day. There are many TOEFL Writing Section practice tests out there that you can use to practice your structure, grammar and vocabulary skills.
Not only should you write practice essays, but you should also review your essays afterwards to see where you went wrong. Revising and reflecting on how you did is the best way to improve. If you need someone to look at your practice writing, we have a team of TOEFL-trained teachers waiting to grade your sample Integrated and Independent Writing tasks. Not only will they correct your mistakes, but you will also get detailed comments and an estimated score. Click here for more information.