You only have thirty minutes to write an essay that showcases your awesome English skills.
But you’re paralyzed with anxiety, thinking “what if I make a huge mistake?”
You know what’s more important than avoiding major mistakes?
Knowing the best tips, tricks and strategies for TOEFL Independent Writing section success.
Writing while being timed is not a very natural activity.
I mean, when else do you have to race against a clock to finish an essay?
This is a challenging task even for native English speakers.
Needless to say, many TOEFL takers feel that this is the most intimidating part of the exam.
We totally understand what you’re feeling, and we have a way to help.
My goal today is to give you all the information you’ll need to succeed with the TOEFL Independent Writing section.
Why Practice TOEFL Writing?
The simple answer? You want a better score.
This isn’t the only reason to practice TOEFL writing though. If you’re taking the TOEFL, it’s probably because you want to go to a university in another country.
The TOEFL is based on a lot of the things that foreign learners struggle with. Studying for the TOEFL will prepare you for university abroad. If you can get a high score on the TOEFL, it likely means you’re more prepared for the university environment where teachers will ask you to discuss or write about unfamiliar topics all the time.
Top Mistakes English Students Make on the TOEFL (and Why I Know)
As a former TOEFL rater, I read hundreds of essays per week.
I saw the same mistakes over and over again.
Mistakes do matter, so I’m going to share the most frequent ones with you before we get started.
The first one is to apologize to your rater for your English skills. We know you’re not a native speaker, so do not apologize to us. You’ll lower our expectations of the rest of your writing, which can only make things worse.
Another is to freeze up and write down almost nothing. Some ideas are better than no ideas. Don’t try to be perfect when the clock is ticking.
One more thing: remember that there’s also an Integrated Writing Section of the TOEFL which is completely different. In that section, your opinions and ideas should not be included, so make sure to study for that section separately.
10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section
There are some ways you can improve your score by using some basic strategies. Today, I’ll share them with you, along with ways that you can practice them. Some of these things will probably surprise you because they might be different from what your English teacher taught you in school — but just stay with me! I know what I’m talking about here, and I won’t guide you down the wrong path.
1. Practice timed writing before the day of the test.
Preparing an essay for English class and writing on the day of the TOEFL are completely different experiences. With an essay for class, you have tons of time to formulate your ideas and write them down carefully.
When a timer is involved, things change. You need to think fast, write fast and correct writing fast. You must practice this, especially if you aren’t good at typing on a computer keyboard. Choose a topic and set a timer for thirty minutes. Try to spend the entire 30 minutes writing, without stopping.
When the timer is finished, read your writing carefully to see how you did. How was your grammar? How many sentences could you write?
Do this several times per week. Lots of practice can really help you improve on the TOEFL. With practice, you’ll be able to think about ideas faster and type your responses out more quickly.
Eventually, you’ll want to take a complete TOEFL practice exam—it’s the only way to be fully prepared for the TOEFL. When you’re ready, take a TOEFL practice exam on BestMyTest. You’ll get a real score and a full review of your writing from a TOEFL certified teacher.
2. Think quality, not quantity.
Shorter, well-written responses are fine. Many of the responses that receive scores of 4 or 5 are only one paragraph long. On the other hand, many longer responses receive only a 2 or a 3. If you use transitions and clear language, you can fit all of your reasons and details into one smooth paragraph. That will really impress your rater.
If the response is too long, you’ll be in a rush and you won’t be able to check your grammar and vocabulary. You also might repeat yourself or include irrelevant specifics. Of course, don’t make your response so short that you can’t show off your ability to make a good argument.
3. Learn some basic sentence patterns that you can use comfortably.
TOEFL raters look at your ability to make different types of sentences. Create your own toolbox of different types of English connectors, such as “but,” “however,” and “although.” Practice writing sentences and use them in your TOEFL response. If you only use simple short sentences, your response won’t receive a high score. You don’t need to be a grammar expert, but you do need to show sentence variety.
4. Learn the common types of TOEFL prompts.
You won’t have a choice of your topic on the day of the TOEFL exam.
The topic will be a complete surprise.
However, Educational Testing Services (the makers of the TOEFL) publish sample topics on their website. If you study these, you can be more prepared.
Look for keywords that are repeated over and over in the prompts, like “prefer” or “oppose,” and make sure you understand their meanings and how to respond to the questions they’re asking.
Ask yourself: “Should I make a choice? Agree or disagree?”
Once you notice these patterns, they’re be easier to identify and respond to correctly on the day of the exam.
5. Have (or Fake) an Opinion.
Don’t say that you don’t have an opinion.
This is an argumentative essay. In many cultures, people don’t express their opinions directly — but you’ve got to do it on the TOEFL Independent Essay.
If it’s new for you to have an opinion and express it strongly, practice. When you read something or listen to something, think: “Do I agree or disagree? Do I support or oppose this decision?”
Have coffee with another ESL student and practice discussing current events. Talking about your opinions will make it easier to write about them. On the day of the TOEFL, choose the side you can argue best, even if it’s not your true opinion. If you don’t have an opinion on the TOEFL topic, invent one!
6. Brainstorm before you start your response.
It’s good to make a little plan before you start writing your TOEFL response. Don’t immediately start writing.
Instead, take 1-3 minutes to decide what you’ll write about and think about some reasons and examples. Again, usually you’ll have to choose between two opposite arguments. That means it’s useful to quickly brainstorm both sides and see which one you have the most reasons and details for, even if you truly think differently.
7. Write a basic thesis statement.
This is the first thing your rater will see, so you should make a clear and grammatically-correct sentence that states the main idea of your response. You don’t need an introductory paragraph, but you should definitely write a thesis statement. This can be borrowed mostly from the prompt itself.
For example, if your prompt says, “In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students. Do you think this is a good idea?” I can write “I think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students” or “I don’t think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students.” Simply take the words from the original prompt and create a strong opinion sentence. The rest of your essay will be built around this sentence which strongly and clearly states your opinion on the topic.
As you’re looking at sample TOEFL prompts, practice writing a thesis statement like this for each one.
On the day of the exam, your topic will probably be different from any sample topics you’ve looked at. Even so, the topics will probably be very similar overall. You don’t need to have much specific knowledge on any topic to succeed. It should be easy to write the thesis statement if you’ve already studied and practiced how to write.
8. Give specific reasons and details.
Every TOEFL prompt asks for specific reasons and details.
One reason a response receives a higher or lower score is because of the number of reasons and examples they can give.
To get the highest scores, you’ll need three different, well-written reasons along with specific details. When you do your timed practices at home, be sure to practice doing this.
Many students have trouble thinking of specific examples, but it’s an important part of good writing. You can also practice brainstorming or planning reasons even if you don’t write a complete response. You shouldn’t use statistics because you won’t be able to research during the exam. Instead, practice using experiences or facts from your general knowledge to support your thesis statements.
9. Stay on topic.
Unfortunately, you can’t choose or change your topic. Write only about the topic that’s given to you by the exam.
Keep in mind: TOEFL raters are always looking for pre-made essays. Some students will memorize essays before the TOEFL exam and use them instead of writing on their own. Therefore, one of the lowest scores students can receive is for missing the topic. Writing about a different topic is an easy way to get a low score. I don’t recommend trying to memorize an essay.
Honest, dedicated practice is much more useful and effective.
If there are unfamiliar words in the prompt, use context to guess their meanings. Try your best to write about the exact topic given to you. Don’t include sentences that don’t connect to your thesis statement — these irrelevant sentences will lower your score.
10. Edit your response if you have time.
Even native speakers make small mistakes in their writing, but if we read our essays again we can find our mistakes. Try to save the last 1-3 minutes for fixing your errors. Of course, the more grammar you learn the better you’ll become at fixing and avoiding errors as you write, but anyone can identify small mistakes in typing (typos) that would bring the score down.
That’s all we’ve got for now. Just keep practicing until next time, and good luck!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for more ways to practice for the TOEFL, try FluentU.
It’s a really useful study tool, but it’s also a lot of fun.
FluentU lets you learn real English. It teaches you with popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials.
If you want to watch it, FluentU’s probably got it.
FluentU makes it simple to watch native English videos. It has interactive captions. Tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.
Tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:
FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.
Videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples for the word you’re learning. This way, you’re not just practicing listening. You’re also learning the grammar and vocabulary in the videos. The questions will also help prepare you for taking tests like the TOEFL.
FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.
The most interesting part? FluentU knows the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends you examples and videos based on those words. You have a 100% personalized experience. This means you know exactly what you need to work on, and can study more efficiently.
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The Writing section can be the most daunting section of the TOEFL. You’ll have 50 minutes to write two complete essays that must meet multiple requirements and show a strong grasp of English. Knowing what graders are looking for and reviewing TOEFL Writing samples can go a long way towards helping you get a high score on this section.
This guide will go over both of the TOEFL Writing tasks, explain how they’re graded, go over a high-scoring TOEFL Writing sample for each essay type, and end with TOEFL Writing examples for you to analyze.
The TOEFL Writing Section
The TOEFL Writing section is 50 minutes long (broken into two parts) and contains two tasks: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. It’s the fourth and final section of the exam. You’ll type both essays on the computer. The next two sections will explain the format and requirements of each of the writing tasks as well as how they will be scored.
TOEFL Integrated Writing Task
The Integrated Writing task requires you to use listening, reading, and writing skills. For this task, you’ll have three minutes to read a short passage, then you’ll listen to a short (approximately two-minute long) audio clip of a speaker discussing the same topic the written passage covers.
You’ll have 20 minutes to plan and write a response that references both of these sources in order to answer the question. You won’t discuss your own opinion. During the writing time, you’ll be able to look at the written passage again, but you won’t be able to re-hear the audio clip. You’ll be able to take notes while you listen to it though. The suggested response length for this task is 150-225 words.
For this essay, you’ll be graded on the quality of your writing as well as how well your response represents the main points of the audio clip and written passage and how they relate to each other. Each essay receives a score from 0-5. For both essay types, you can check out the complete rubric used for official grading. Below are key points from the Integrated Writing rubric. (You can view complete rubric for both essays here.)
TOEFL Independent Writing Task
For the Independent Writing task, you’ll have receive a question on a particular topic or issue. You’ll have 30 minutes to plan and write a response to that topic that explains your opinion on it. You’ll need to give reasons that support your decision. It’s recommended that your response to this task be at least 300 words.
You’ll be graded on how well you develop your ideas, how well your essay is organized, and how accurately you use English to express your ideas.
Top-Scoring TOEFL Integrated Writing Sample
Below is an official TOEFL Integrated Writing sample question and as well as an essay response that received a score of 5. It includes a written passage, the transcript of a conversation (which would be an audio recording on the actual TOEFL, and the essay prompt. After the prompt is an example of a top-scoring essay. You can read the essay in full, then read our comments on what exactly about this essay gives it a top score.
Integrated Writing Example Prompt
You have three minutes to read the following passage and take notes.In many organizations, perhaps the best way to approach certain new projects is to assemble a group of people into a team. Having a team of people attack a project offers several advantages. First of all, a group of people has a wider range of knowledge, expertise, and skills than any single individual is likely to possess. Also, because of the numbers of people involved and the greater resources they possess, a group can work more quickly in response to the task assigned to it and can come up with highly creative solutions to problems and issues. Sometimes these creative solutions come about because a group is more likely to make risky decisions that an individual might not undertake. This is because the group spreads responsibility for a decision to all the members and thus no single individual can be held accountable if the decision turns out to be wrong.
Taking part in a group process can be very rewarding for members of the team. Team members who have a voice in making a decision will no doubt feel better about carrying out the work that is entailed by that decision than they might doing work that is imposed on them by others. Also, the individual team member has a much better chance to “shine,” to get his or her contributions and ideas not only recognized but recognized as highly significant, because a team’s overall results can be more far-reaching and have greater impact than what might have otherwise been possible for the person to accomplish or contribute working alone.
Now listen to part of a lecture on the topic you just read about.
(Professor) Now I want to tell you about what one company found when it decided that it would turn over some of its new projects to teams of people, and make the team responsible for planning the projects and getting the work done. After about six months, the company took a look at how well the teams performed. On virtually every team, some members got almost a “free ride” … they didn’t contribute much at all, but if their team did a good job, they nevertheless benefited from the recognition the team got. And what about group members who worked especially well and who provided a lot of insight on problems and issues? Well…the recognition for a job well done went to the group as a whole, no names were named. So it won’t surprise you to learn that when the real contributors were asked how they felt about the group process, their attitude was just the opposite of what the reading predicts. Another finding was that some projects just didn’t move very quickly. Why? Because it took so long to reach consensus…it took many, many meetings to build the agreement among group members about how they would move the project along. On the other hand, there were other instances where one or two people managed to become very influential over what their group did. Sometimes when those influencers said “That will never work” about an idea the group was developing, the idea was quickly dropped instead of being further discussed. And then there was another occasion when a couple influencers convinced the group that a plan of theirs was “highly creative.” And even though some members tried to warn the rest of the group that the project was moving in directions that might not work, they were basically ignored by other group members. Can you guess the ending to *this* story? When the project failed, the blame was placed on all the members of the group.
You have 20 minutes to plan and write your response. Your response will be judged on the basis of the quality of your writing and on how well your response presents the points in the lecture and their relationship to the reading passage. Typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words.
Summarize the points made in the lecture you just heard, explaining how they cast doubt on points made in the reading.
TOEFL Integrated Writing Sample Essay
The lecturer talks about research conducted by a firm that used the group system to handle their work. He says that the theory stated in the passage was very different and somewhat inaccurate when compared to what happened for real.
First, some members got free rides. That is, some didn’t work hard but gotrecognition for the success nontheless. This also indicates that people who worked hard was not given recognition they should have got. In other words, they weren’t given the oppotunity to “shine”. This derectly contradicts what the passage indicates.
Second, groups were slow in progress. The passage says that groups are nore responsive than individuals because of the number of people involved and their aggregated resources. However, the speaker talks about how the firm found out that groups were slower than individuals in dicision making. Groups needed more time for meetings, which are neccesary procceedures in decision making. This was another part where experience contradicted theory.
Third, influetial people might emerge, and lead the group towards glory or failure. If the influent people are going in the right direction there would be no problem. But in cases where they go in the wrong direction, there is nobody that has enough influence to counter the decision made. In other words, the group might turn into a dictatorship, with the influential party as the leader, and might be less flexible in thinking. They might become one-sided, and thus fail to succeed.
TOEFL Writing Sample Analysis
There are three key things this TOEFL example essay does that results in its high score:
- Clearly presents main points
- Contrasts lecture and reading points
- Few grammatical/spelling errors
This essay clearly organizes the three main points made in the lecture, which is what the first part of the prompt asked for. (“Summarize the points made in the lecture you just heard.”) There is one paragraph for each point, and the point is clearly stated within the first sentence of the paragraph followed by specific details from the lecture. This organization makes it easy to follow the writer’s thinking and see that they understood the lecture.
Additionally, the essay clearly contrasts points made in the lecture with points made in the reading. Each main paragraph includes an example of how the two are different, and the writer makes these differences clear by using words and phrases such as “however” and “this directly contradicts.” Stating these differences answers the second part of the prompt (“explain how they cast doubt on points made in the reading”) and shows that the writer understood both the lecture and reading well enough to differentiate between the two.
Finally, there are only a few minor spelling and grammar errors, the most noticeable of which is the incorrect use of the word “influent” in the final paragraph (it should be “influential”), and they do not detract from the meaning of the essay. This writer shows a strong grasp of the English language, a key TOEFL skill.
This essay shows that the writer understood the main points of both the lecture and the reading well enough to both describe them and contrast them. That, along with the relatively few mechanical errors, gives the essay a top score.
Top-Scoring Independent TOEFL Writing Sample
Below is an official Independent Writing prompt and top-scoring sample essay. Beneath the essay we analyze what about the essay resulted in it receiving a top score.
Independent Writing Example Prompt
DirectionsRead the question below. You have 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise your essay. Typically, an effective essay will contain a minimum of 300 words.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Independent TOEFL Writing Sample Essay
the traditional virtue of telling the truth in all situations is increasingly doubted by many in today’s world. many believe that telling the truth is not always the best policy when dealing with people. moreover, the line of a “truth” is becoming more and more vague. this essay will explore the importance of telling the truth in relationships between people.
we all understand that often the truth is offending and may not be a very nice thing to both hear or say. lies or white lies often have their advantages. the manipulation of white lies is the most obvious the business world. how many times have we heard that some product is “the finest” or “the cheapest”? how many times have we heard that products have such and such “magical functions”? advertising is about persuasion, and many would agree that if a company is to tell the absolute truth about it’s products, no one would be interested in even having a look at the products.
the same logic applies to human relationships. if your friend had worn a newly purchased dress on her birthday and energetically asked you if it was a worthy buy, would you freely express your opinion that you had never seen a dress as the one she’s currently wearing? and spoil her birthday? unarguably, hiding(entirely or particially) the truth in some situations can be quite handy indeed. confrontations and disputes can seemingly be avoided.
however, there is always the risk factor of the truth emerging sooner or later when telling an untruth. the basic trust in any relationships(businessman/customer, friends, parents/children) will be blotched, and would have an impact on the future relationship between both parties. the story of the “the boy who cried wolf” fully illustrates the consequenes of telling untruths. no one will believe you when you’re telling the truth. your word will have no weighting.
in addition, another “bad factor” of telling untruths is that you have absolutely no control over when the truth(of previous untruths) will emerge. untruths breed pain in both parties: tears when the truth is uncovered after a period of time; fear and the burden of sharing a “secret”. in the long run, it seems that hiding the truth is not beneficial to either party.
everyone hates betrayal. even if it is the trend to occasionally hide the truth in relationships, it is strongly recommended that not to follow that trend as the risk and the consequences of the truth unfolded overwhelms the minimal advantages one can derive from not telling the truth. afterall, it is understood that relationships are founded on “trust” which goes hand in hand with “truth”. indeed telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship between people. always.
TOEFL Writing Sample Analysis
There are three key things this essay does that results in its high score, and each is explained in more detail below.
- Is well organized
- Uses specific examples
- Few grammatical/spelling errors
The essay, like the first one, is well organized. The writer’s position is clear within the first few sentences, and the rest of the essay elaborates on that position. Each paragraph begins with a new major point that is then explained. This logical flow of ideas is easy for readers to follow and shows that the writer knows how to set up a clear argument.
Another reason the essay received a top score is because the writer used specific examples to make her point. By using specific examples, such as a friend buying a new outfit and asking your opinion and phrases businesses use to sell products, the writer makes her argument stronger and more concrete.
Finally, despite the lack of capitalization throughout the essay, there are few spelling and grammatical errors, and the ones that do exist don’t detract from the meaning of the essay or make it confusing to understand. This shows a strong command of English and the ability to write in-depth essays that are clear and get their point across.
Where to Find More TOEFL Writing Samples
Below are a list of other places, official and unofficial, where you can find TOEFL Writing examples. You can use these examples to get a better idea of what a high-scoring essay looks like and what graders are looking for on the Writing section.
Official resources are always the best to use since you can be sure the essay prompts are accurate and the sample essays were accurately scored.
TOEFL iBT Writing Sample Responses
This resource contains several sample essays (including the two sample responses used above). The essays from on this site received different scores as well as analysis of why they received the score they did. This can be helpful if you want more information on, say, what differentiates an essay that got a “5” from an essay that got a “4”.
TOEFL iBT Test Questions
This is a complete practice TOEFL, but it does include several sample essays along with score explanations so you can get a more in-depth look at how and why different essays received the scores they did.
There are numerous unofficial TOEFL writing samples out there, of varying quality. Below are two of the best.
This site has several dozen sample essays for both the Integrated and Independent Writing topics. There’s no scoring analysis, but you do get a good variety of essay topics and essay samples so that you can get a sense of how to approach different essay prompts.
Good Luck TOEFL
Good Luck TOEFL has seven sample Independent Writing essays (no Integrated Writing). There’s no scoring analysis, but the essays and prompts are similar to official TOEFL essay topics.
Review: Analyzing TOEFL Writing Examples
Writing can be a particularly tricky TOEFL section, and seeing TOEFL Writing samples can go a long way to helping you feel more confident. For TOEFL Writing, you’ll need to write two essays, the Integrated Writing Task and the Independent Writing Task. Looking over the rubrics for both these essays and understanding what graders will be looking for can help you understand what to include in your own essays.
Both essays are scored on a scale of 0-5. Top-scoring essays generally need to have good organization, specific examples, answer the prompt completely, and minor spelling and grammar errors. It can also be useful to review other TOEFL writing samples to get a better idea of what a great TOEFL essay looks like.
Looking for more information on the TOEFL Writing section? Learn all the tips you need to know in order to ace TOEFL Writing!
Want more tips on how to prepare for TOEFL Writing questions?Check out our guide to the best ways to practice for TOEFL Writing!
Looking for a great TOEFL prep book? A good prep book can be the most important study tool you use, and we have information on all the best TOEFL prep books you should consider.