Writing TOEFL Essays

When preparing for the TOEFL Writing Section, students often ask: Can my essay be too long? We all know an essay that is too short is a problem, but does writing more guarantee a good score? The short answer: No.

Clearly a shorter essay is problematic and could lead to a low score because it does not contain enough details. However, this does not mean that a longer essay automatically includes enough details. There are two ways that students tend to go wrong when writing longer essays.

1. Writing Without Planning or Editing
For one, students who write longer essay are typically forgetting important steps they should be taking on the TOEFL Writing Section. What this tends to look like is: The student reads the question, starts writing and then doesn’t stop until the time runs out. This leads to a long essay that will probably get a low score. Why you may ask?

First, for both tasks, students should spend some time preparing and planning what they will write in the first few minutes of the exam rather than just jumping right in. One thing that test takers are graded on is your ability to properly structure and clarify your answer in an academic essay. So, we recommend taking 1-3 minutes in the beginning to outline your essays.

Secondly, TOEFL test takers should need some time after writing their essay to go back and proofread their essay. Writing and writing until you are out of time can leave your essay riddled with errors that could be corrected with just a few minutes of editing at the end. You are also graded for grammar and spelling, so the best way to catch your mistakes is to spend a minute or two at the end proofreading your essay.

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2. Forgetting the question
The other mistake students can make when they try to write longer essays, is that they tend to forget the question. For the Integrated Writing the question asks test takers to summarize the points made in the lecture. When students try to write too much, they often end up writing more about the author’s main points from the reading and run out of time to talk about the listening passage. The author’s main points should be mentioned, but most of your time should be spent talking about the lecturer’s counterpoints, with his or her supporting reasons.

On the Independent Writing, when students try to write very long essays, they have a tendency to 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. 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 so that you don’t forget the question.

So, how long should your essay be? The TOEFL recommends that the Integrated Writing Task be 150-225 words, and the Independent Writing Task be 250-300 words. However, we recommend: 250-300 words on the Integrated Writing Task and 350-400 words Independent Writing Task.

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