TOEFL Writing Section: Outlining Your Independent Essay

Posted on June 15, 2010 | Filed in TOEFL

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!

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