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The TOEFL iBT

Independent Writing Test

Of the three forms of the TOEFL® test, the most commonly given one is the TOEFL iBT™ (internet-based test). This test includes reading, writing, listening, and (interestingly enough) speaking.

The writing section of this test is divided into two sections:

  1. The integrated writing section (20 minutes)
  2. The independent writing section (30 minutes)

 

More information about the integrated writing section

The Independent Writing Section

Unlike the integrated writing section which incorporates three skills (reading, listening and writing), the independent writing section involves just one main skill: writing. On this section of the writing test, you will have 30 minutes to plan, write, and edit an essay of about four or five paragraphs in length (minimum of 300 words). The essay must be typed (not handwritten).

The The Planning Stage

First, take a few minutes (not more than five) to plan your essay. Do not try to write without a plan! Your writing will wander and be less focused without a good outline. Study the topic question to see what you will be writing about.

Sample TOEFL Essay Topics from ETS:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

First, decide if you agree or disagree with the statement that parents are the best teachers. Which position would be easier for you to write about? Choose that position, even if it’s not your own personal position. Then write three reasons why parents are or are not the best teachers.

POSITION: Parents make the best teachers.

  1. Know what their children are interested in
  2. Know their children’s goals
  3. Know what their children can’t do

Now, once you’ve jotted down your ideas, try to make the grammar of each idea as similar as possible. This is called parallelism. Add transitions, too, like “First,” “Second,” or “Next.” Then the topic sentences for your paragraphs will already be written.

  1. First, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s interests.
  2. Second, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s goals.
  3. Finally, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s
    limitations.

Now you’re nearly done planning your essay. All you need to do now is to decide on an example to support each of your points. All points must be supported by some kind of evidence. The evidence can come from your reading, your life experiences, your studies, or your observation. Have you ever learned something better from your parents than you did from a teacher? Have you read about other people who learned better from their parents? Add these examples right into your outline.

  1. First, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s interests.
    Example: Me–trouble with algebra, but dad’s explanation helped me.
  2. Second, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s goals.
    Example: My friend Mika–she knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her mom helped her choose the right classes and to study for them so she could realize her goals.
  3. Finally, parents make the best teachers because they know their children’s limitations.
    Example: My sister’s boy has Down syndrome, and she understands how much he can learn in one day.

You don’t have to write as much about the example as I did here–just jot down enough to help you remember the example. Now your plan is finished, and you’re ready to start writing a five-paragraph essay.

The Writing Stage

Try to write your essay in 20 minutes. This will leave you enough time to edit your work, which is important. The five-paragraph essay is the most common type to write for the TOEFL test because it works well. It is structured like this:

  1. First body paragraph (topic sentence, support, concluding statement)
  2. Second body paragraph (topic sentence, support, concluding statement)
  3. Third body paragraph (topic sentence, support, concluding statement)

Concluding paragraph

See “Essay Writing for Standardized Tests” for more information on how to write this type of essay.
Remember that the sentences in your outline will be the topic sentences for your essay. Write your examples clearly, and make sure ALL of your sentences help prove the point you’re trying to make. End each body paragraph with a good concluding statement.

The Editing Stage

During the last five minutes of the test, you should go back and edit your work. Do you see any misspelled words? Did you use any punctuation improperly? Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay. Leave a good impression with the grader!

Types of TOEFL Essay Questions

Below are the types of potential essay questions for the TOEFL iBT as well as an example of each.

AGREE/DISAGREE
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
HYPOTHETICAL
If you could change one important thing about your hometown, what would you change? Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.
PREFERENCE
Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.
DESCRIPTION/EXPLANATION
Describe a custom from your country that you would like people from other countries to adopt. Explain your choice, using specific reasons and examples.
COMPARE/CONTRAST
It is generally agreed that society benefits from the work of its members. Compare the contributions of artists to society with the contributions of scientists to society. Which type of contribution do you think is valued more by your society? Give specific reasons to support your answer.

Build Your Skills

Online writing classes like Time4Writing’s interactive writing and mechanics courses can be a tremendous help as you prepare for the TOEFL iBT. Time4Writing’s classes can help you develop your English writing and grammar skills in a variety of fun ways including interactive games and feedback from real teachers.

Games are another great way to strengthen your reading and writing abilities. You can work on building your English vocabulary by playing hundreds of free vocabulary games. Test your English slang and idiom ability. Work on homophones (words that sound the same) with some homophone games. All of these methods can help you develop the tools you need to succeed on the TOEFL iBT.

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