TOEFL Writing Techniques for the Independent Writing Task

In the TOEFL Writing Section, you are given two writing tasks. The Independent Writing task is the second task in the Writing Section and final task in the TOEFL Exam.

In the Independent Writing task, you are given 30 minutes to outline, write and edit an essay. This essay is based on your opinion from the question. Before you begin writing, it is important to understand what you are expected to do in this task.


The Independent Writing task question will typically be one of these three types: 1) Agree/Disagree, 2) Pick a Side, or 3) Pros/Cons. What you need to do in your essay depends on which type of question you get during the exam.

  1. Agree/Disagree

This question form is by far the most common type of questions in the TOEFL Independent Writing task. For this question type, you will usually be given a statement and then will be asked if you agree or disagree with that statement.

  1. Pick a Side

Also often called the “preference” question, this prompt is asking what you would prefer or choose. Most often the choices, typically two or three, are provided, but sometimes they are not.

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For the first two question types (Agree/Disagree and Pick a Side), you need to strongly express your opinion for one choice or side. This means that even if you don’t have a strong opinion on the topic(or if you could go either way on the choices), you still need to choose a side and stick to it for the purpose of the test. It is better for your score to pretend to be passionate about your position. Don’t try to write about both sides or choices.

  1. Pros/Cons

Finally, the rarer question type is where you have to write about both sides of a topic. This question will most often ask you to explain the advantages and disadvantages of a topic. Unlike the other two forms, you should cover both sides of this question equally. Make sure you use your time wisely and don’t dedicate too much of your essay writing about only one side because then your essay will not be well balanced.

Now that you know what you are expected to do in this task, you need to know how to spend time brainstorming and outlining your essay.


It is extremely important to spend the first few minutes of your time outlining your essay. 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. You will find that writing your Independent essay is easier and will ultimately flow better by following an outline when you’re writing. Your outline will be your guide as you are writing so that you don’t lose track of the question.

Your outline will depend on the kind of question you are asked. For the first two types of questions (Agree/Disagree and Pick a Side), you are advised to outline your two reasons for your opinion and two personal experiences, one for each reason. Your outline will follow a structure like this:



Reason 1 


Experience 1 


Reason 2 


Experience 2 


For the third question type (Pros/Cons), you are advised to outline the pros and cons of the topic from the question and one supporting reason based on a personal experience for each. Your outline will follow a structure like this:

Reason 1 


Experience 1 


Reason 1 


Experience 1 


When you do your outline, you should not write in full sentences. Instead, only write key words and use short-hand words or symbols. For example, instead of spelling out a long word, write only a few letters, such as information = info or technology = tech. Also, use symbols for words, such as: -> means cause, <-> means contrast or ^ means increase. Whatever short-hand words and symbols you use should make sense to you.

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The best structure for the Independent Writing Task is to write four paragraphs: an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.

The introduction paragraph should be short – only two to four sentences. In these sentences, you should introduce the topic, very clearly and passionately state your opinion (for Agree/Disagree and Pick a Side questions), and then state your two supporting reasons.

In the first body paragraph, you will write about your first supporting reason for your opinion (or the advantages for the third Pros/Cons question type). Then you should write 3 or 4 sentences telling a personal experience or anecdote to further explain your supporting reason. The last sentence of your body paragraph should be a conclusion sentence that links your personal experience to your overall opinion. The second body paragraph follows the same structure as the first body paragraph about your second supporting reason (or the disadvantages for the third Pros/Cons question type).

In the conclusion paragraph, write one or two sentences summarizing your opinion on the topic from the question and your two supporting reasons.

Here is a sample template of how your Independent essay should be structured:

Nowadays, (topic), plays an increasingly important role in people’s lives. I entirely agree that (your opinion on the topic). I feel strongly about this because (your first supporting reason) and (your second supporting reason).

First of all, (your first supporting reason). There was a time when (2-3 sentences about your personal experience). Based on that experience, I think that (your opinion).

Second, (your second supporting reason). When I was a child (2-3 sentences about your personal experience). Accordingly, I agree (your opinion).

To sum up, (your opinion) because (your first supporting reason). Additionally, (your second supporting reason).


In the Independent Writing task, it is important to show that you have excellent writing skills. In order to show these skills to the examiners, use complex grammatical structures and a wide range of vocabulary. Also use transitional words and phrases to give your essay a nice flow from one point to another.

While using complex grammar, vocabulary and transitional words is important, it is wasted if used incorrectly. Below are some writing techniques that are sure to improve your TOEFL independent essay.

  1. Grammar

To show off your grammar skills, use a variety of complex grammar structures in the Independent Writing task correctly. This means that it is important to know when to use the correct verb tense in your essay. Use the present tense (simple or continuous) to talk about general facts. Use the present perfect (simple or continuous) for something that started in the past and continues into the present. Use the past tense (simple and perfect) to talk about previous experiences, especially when supporting your reasons with personal past experiences. Also, use conditional sentences as much as possible to talk about things you will/would do or would have done if something happens or happened. And, don’t forget that with any tense it is important to make sure that the subject and verb agree. Singular subject should be used with singular verbs and plural subjects with plural verbs.

  1. Vocabulary

The Independent Writing task is also a great place to show off your vocabulary skills. However, make sure you use vocabulary you actually know. Sometimes students mix up similar words or try to use words they don’t fully understand in the TOEFL essays. You should only use vocabulary you are familiar and confident with, and that you are able to spell. There is no spell check function in the TOEFL test, so if you are not sure how to spell a certain word, don’t use it. Finally, save an extra minute or two at the end of your time to go back and read through your essay to correct any spelling mistakes.

  1. Transitions

A final technique to show off your writing skills, and add some sophistication to your writing, is to use transitional words and phrases. Conjunctions, such as and, but, or, so, because and connectors, such as therefore, moreover, however, can be a writer’s best friend. They allow you to smoothly express and connect your ideas in your essay. Try to use these transitional words and phrases as much as possible, and correctly, in the independent essay.

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