TOEFL Essay – How to Pass the Exam

TOEFL exam is an international exam in English that is recognized all over the world. If you are a foreign student planning to enroll in some college in the USA or other English-speaking countries, you must pass this exam. Its results are mandatory for your application.

To get into college, you’ll need a minimum score of 90 out of 120. However, it is the floor marker, and many institutions set higher standards. As competitiveness is fierce, you should aim for the maximum score.

The TOEFL exam consists of four blocks, each dedicated to the essential skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. As for the preparations, not all candidates pay equal attention to all these aspects. Some of them focus on reading, listening, and speaking. Writing gets less attention, that is incorrect – it is a critical part that you can’t afford to fail.

TOEFL Essay – What Is It and When You Face It

The last TOEFL section that is the “Writing” test consisting of two parts: 

  1. The integrated writing task.
  2. The independent writing task.

To pass this exam section, you’ll need to compose two separate essays according to the requirements.

The integrated writing task

This section is the test of several skills – reading, listening, writing. You read a short text fragment, then listen to the audio clip dedicated to the same theme. Note that it won’t double the contents of the written text. Reading will take 3 minutes, and listening takes 2 minutes.

After that, you’ll get a question on the contents. Basing on the information from these two sources, you’ll have to write a short essay. You’ll have 20 minutes to compose this essay, and the size is about 150-225 words. Here, you need only to provide the information, but not your judgments or opinions.

The independent writing task

The second section of the writing test is also an essay. Unlike the previous one, you’ll need to show your opinion on some matter. This task is more complicated, as you must formulate the statements and provide arguments to support them. Besides, this essay is longer – it should be 300 words minimum. To complete it, you’ll have only 30 minutes.

Thus, the total duration of the writing exam is 50 minutes for the planning and writing of two short essays.

Goals and criteria of the TOEFL essay writing tasks

The complex writing TOEFL exam has several goals. It is not only about testing your writing skills and grammar. In general, it refers to the following abilities:

  • Absorb and process the information.
  • Analyze and summarize the data.
  • Expose your opinions on the matter in written form.
  • Persuade and support your thoughts by evidence.

You don’t need to write extensive essays. The core requirement is to write excellent pieces with proper exposition, arguments, and evidence. The score will depend on several factors:

  • The correctness of the answer (for the integrated task);
  • The logical connections in your essays;
  • The quality of the text – it should be easy to read and understand;
  • Usage of extra evidence like facts, dates, stats numbers;
  • Your grammar skills – the structure of the sentences;
  • Your vocabulary – the word choices, the presence of synonyms, understanding of the words’ meanings.

How to Prepare to the TOEFL Writing Exam

First of all, refer to reliable resources. Official publishers present guides for you to find recommendations on time management, outlining, as well as helpful writing tips.

Besides, there are resources dedicated to TOEFL essays on the Web. You’ll get familiar with the successful and failed pieces and their analysis. This way, you can get a clear understanding of what to stress and what to avoid while doing these essays.

However, the most efficient help is practice. You should write essays daily and train writing and analytical skills. Besides, it lets you improve the speed of writing. This factor can be critical for doing essays on-time.

You won’t know your topic or prompt before the exam, but you can refer to items from the past tests. Use them for training.

Some TOEFL essay topic suggestions

As a rule, the essay prompts for independent writing tasks are questions. You have to agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasons. Let’s consider some of the suggestions:

  1. Do you agree to let some corporation build a new factory in your neighborhood?
  2. Will you agree to follow the colleague’s decision on doing a project if your opinion is the opposite?
  3. Do you agree that we always have to ask for other people’s advice before making important decisions?
  4. Do you agree that learning from experts is better than independent studies?
  5. Would you agree to let the franchise open a large shopping center in your district? 
  6. Do you agree that traditional libraries should be replaced by electronic ones?
  7. Do you prefer eating at home or in the restaurant? Explain your reasons.
  8. Would you like to live in a large city or in the village? Why?
  9. Do you support discussions in the classroom? Give your reasons.
  10. Do you consider the environmental protection programs valid? Explain why.

The Structure of the TOEFL Essay

As the TOEFL writing exam implies that you write two short essays, you have to be super-concise. The structure is essential for this task. The short piece has the traditional three-parts build – the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion.

  • Introduction is the first paragraph. It should present the central theme and idea of the piece. It is a very significant element, as it should attract attention and explain what this text is about and why you consider the views necessary. The last component of the Introduction is the thesis statement.
  • The thesis statement is an integral part of the essay. It includes the main argument and plays a pivotal role. You should not make it complicated – it is better to formulate it directly. As your time is limited, you won’t have to elaborate on complicated statements.
  • The Body consists of two or three paragraphs. There, you explain your thesis by offering claims and showing arguments in their favor. It is the most substantial part of the essay. 
  • The Conclusion is the last paragraph. You summarize your previous arguments and relate them to the thesis statement. The task is to make sure that you’ve proved your opinion.

To develop the structure and logical connections, you should make an essay outline. Many candidates tend to skip this stage, as it takes time, while you are under a strict deadline. However, it is better to spend a couple of minutes on planning. Further, it will make the other works faster. Would you like to rewrite the essay after finding some logical gaps in the middle of the process? You avoid this with a good outline.

It can look as follows:

Section 1.

  • Introduction (draft a couple of words).
  • The thesis statement – your leading ides.

Section 2.

  • Your argument to support the idea.
  • Some more reasoning on the matter.
  • Evidence (some fact or citation).

Section 3.

  • Another argument to support the idea.
  • The look from a different angle or your response to the opposite point of view.

Section 4.

  • Conclusion – the summary of arguments and the thesis restatement.

This scheme is excellent for organizing your thoughts. Note the conjunctive words – they will stress the logical connections. With their help, you also ensure the smooth progress from one element (idea) to the next one. It is called the text flow, and if you have it sound – it is a great plus.

The Writing Process of the TOEFL Essays

The exam is always massive stress for even the best-prepared candidates. However, proper training makes this job more manageable. It is why all guidelines recommend writing essays of the TOEFL format daily – you exercise the elements and make them routine.

  • For the integrated task, you should make notes while reading and listening. You won’t have an opportunity to refer to these materials again, so you need to remember the key points. Pay attention to details, reasoning, and examples mentioned in those passages. 
  • For the independent task, define your position clearly, pick the arguments up, and consider reliable evidence for your ideas.
  • Make an outline! It can take about 5 minutes, but it will be paid off.

Grammar requirements

Writing test is that section where all gaps in grammar are apparent. They will affect the quality of your essay and negatively influence the overall score. During the preparations for the TOEFL exam, you need to focus on English grammar. Doing regular exercises is the most efficient practice.

  • You can use complex sentences and tenses if you are sure of using them correctly. Otherwise, it’s better to stick to simple tenses. The risk of making mistakes is sufficient, and the price of an error is too high.
  • Pay attention to using gerunds. It is a tricky case with many complications. It might be better to play safe and simplify the form.
  • Avoid passive voice. Though it is one of the academic writing style markers, an active voice is preferable for all essays.  

Vocabulary requirements

When your vocabulary is robust, it gives you an advantage. So, when it’s better to use simple forms in grammar, the approach is opposite with vocabulary. Of course, you should not make it over-complicated, but it would be a failed strategy to rely on flat and over-used words. Poor vocabulary will reduce the score even if your ideas and grammar structures are decent.

  • Read as much as possible and note the new words. Learn their meanings and examine their contexts. Include these words into grammar exercises to train their regular usage.
  • Make a list of the most often English words in your active vocabulary. Then refer to the thesaurus to find their synonyms. Here, you should also be very careful about the context. Expressions should not be too rare and sophisticated, but they should stress the shades of meanings and emotions.
  • Ensure that you understand the meanings of all words. Never use “vague” terms, as the word’s misuse is a severe error that can cost you much. Learn the concepts and their contexts, and train yourself to use them. If you have the slightest doubt – replace the word with another variant.

The TOEFL exam is tough and challenging, but its results have significant value. The high TOEFL score is a strong argument for the college or job application. You may spend weeks and months on preparations, but it will be a valuable resource investment in self-development.

Of course, if you need more assistance with writing the TOEFL essays – our qualified tutors will be glad to help you.

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