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essay writing

When writing either your independent or integrated TOEFL essay, keep in mind there are certain words that will make your writing come across as more academic and intelligent.  Coherence is essential for getting a high score on the writing section. Often times there are specific words you can try to incorporate in your essay that will make your essay easier to read.

Perhaps the most difficult thing on the integrated essay is connecting ideas. After all, you are connecting ideas from both a reading passage and an academic lecture.  As we know, sometimes the information from both sources is contradictory and sometimes similar.  Several hints and corresponding words for your integrated essay would be:

1)    Always tell the reader where your information is coming from. For instance, is the information you are comparing or contrasting from the reading or listening?  It’s important the grader knows that you know which is which.  When presenting information from either, keep in mind you should add some variety to your citations.

“According to the lecture…”

“The reading states…”

“According to the speaker/lecturer….”

“The reading made the point that….”

Remember to alternate how you quote your sources. Otherwise your essays can get repetitive and come across as not very sophisticated.

2)    When showing examples, keep in mind variety is also key. After all, examples are the bulk of your information. So when presenting them in your essay, don’t forget to “mix it up.”  Here are some ways you can do so, with many more options out there.

“For instance…”

“As an example…”

“In addition…”


Using variety in your integrated essay with how you cite your sources and give your examples will make for more interesting reading and can only help you attain the highest TOEFL score possible.

As many TOEFL-bound students may know, ETS gives 30 minutes to plan, write and edit the independent essay.  Sometimes, test-takers jump right into the writing portion of the essay and forgo the “planning stage” altogether.  Planning, or outlining your independent essay, is crucial to giving you the basic information to write your essay effectively.  How do you outline an essay?  It involves the following steps.

Brainstorming involves you writing down all the possible ideas, stream-of-consciousness that enter your mind in regards to the given topic.  Take a look at the following example of brainstorming on an independent writing TOEFL topic:

TOPIC: Do you believe students should be required to wear school uniforms?  Why or why not?  Use details and examples in your explanation.

BRAINSTORMING (2-3 minutes)

- disagree

- inhibits creativity

- middle school: black pants, white shirt, uncomfortable

- hated wearing uniforms as a child

- university – no uniforms

- more fun with sense of style – discovery

- open environment/accepting

- freedom of choice good for education

The above was written in about 2 minutes on the given topic in regards to wearing school uniforms.  Again, this step is called brainstorming and is free association with the given topic.  After the brainstorming stage, you should go directly to the outlining stage, which should take a little less time.

Outlining requires you to take information from the brainstorming stage and organize it into the skeleton of your essay.  This outline will be the blueprint, so to speak, for your independent TOEFL essay.

OUTLINE (1-2 minutes)

-       thesis: disagree with uniforms

-       1st point: inhibits creativity (personal example from middle school and how my creativity suffered due to a strict uniform policy)

-       In general, students were not as happy and often times, their artwork was dismal and depressing because they were not allowed to experiment with color in their wardrobe

-       2nd point: increases an open mind (personal example: during university, there was no dress code and this made people more accepting of others and their sense of style). In general, this was good for education and allowed us to approach one another with an open mind.

Having the above outline will come in handy when actually sitting at your keyboard and typing out a 300-400-word essay.  Not only does the outline help you work faster, but it also helps the overall organization of your essay.  Remember – in addition to supporting points and examples, TOEFL writing section graders also judge organization and coherence.

Advice: Practice at home outline essays from various TOEFL independent writing topics.  You’ll be surprised how easy it can be to do in 5 minutes and how useful it will prove itself during your test!