Page 3 - Writing Study Guide for the TOEFL Test

Other Writing Practice Strategies

There are lots of things to consider before taking the TOEFL Writing section. Here are a few strategies to help you improve your score.

Dealing with a Time Limit When Writing

Practice answering sample TOEFL tasks within a time limit and the correct word count that you will encounter on test day. There are many sources of practice. It may be difficult at first, but with practice and the use of specific techniques, you’ll be writing under the time limit, giving you time to proofread and modify your responses, if needed.

Planning an Essay

A good way to have a thorough and concise essay response is to have a good plan. You cannot know what you will write about ahead of time, so don’t make any pre-test essays and memorize them. Scorers are trained to watch out for these kinds of answers, so to avoid a score of 0, don’t do it. Instead, once the test starts, map out your answers quickly. On your note paper, jot down the paragraph headings that you anticipate using. Take good notes during the integrated section and map out your paragraphs. A three- to five-paragraph essay is usually sufficient and will demonstrate to the scorers that you have good language and writing skills.


If you can type 35 words per minute, then you should be able to finish each task relatively early. This provides the opportunity to re-read your response, proofreading for spelling, grammar, and mechanical mistakes (punctuation and capitalization). It’s also a good time to check that your content is complete, concise, has good transitions, and you have done what the task has asked of you.

Read Professional Essays

If you want to know how to write an essay, look at examples of essays that have been written correctly. Look at professional essays and TOEFL examples. You can find professional essays in professional journals and online. Notice the structure, the use of transitions, and how the writer uses supporting statements and details to relay an opinion or argument.

Specific Techniques

Earlier, we discussed several elements that a TOEFL scorer will look for when evaluating your written responses. Let’s review them again and go over their importance in your responses.

Necessary Notes

Notes are necessary. You need to write down the points that relate to what you will write. You will not hear the listening part of the integrated writing task, so good notes are essential here. There is no need for long notes, just elements that will help you in organizing your answer.

Starting Strong

Starting strong will give you a “leg up” in your response. You need to answer the task by beginning your response with a good, strong thesis statement, or the main idea of what you are writing about. The thesis statement will also help you control the ideas within the essay. It’s not just a topic; it reflects an opinion or judgment that you have made.

Active Analysis

Some test takers think that restating the task or restating the information from the reading passage will give you a good head start on the writing. This is false. Scorers are trained to detect this and you will get a lower score because the scorer wants to see what you can do, not how well you copy from the reading passage.

Keeping this in mind, you should actively analyze your response. What does this mean? Before, during, and after you write your response, you should be analyzing or looking out for the elements that we have mentioned in this study guide to make certain that you have fulfilled all the requirements needed for a higher score.

Paraphrasing Practice

During the Writing section of the TOEFL test, you may be asked to paraphrase. You should know what that means. Paraphrasing is not copying words from the reading passage. Paraphrasing is a special skill that will give the scorer a good idea of your language ability. Here is some general advice about paraphrasing, including a few methods:

  • Read the passage several times. There is normally about a 2–3 minute time limit to read the passage in the integrated task. Try to understand it as a whole, rather than just pausing to jot down ideas and phrases. Then look away from the original and rewrite the text in your own words.

  • Think what “your own words” would be if you had to tell someone who is not familiar with the subject. That’s paraphrasing.

  • You can use direct quotations from the original within your paraphrase, and you don’t need to change or put quotation marks around parts that are shared language.

Synonym Search

Your word choice paints a picture for the reader, so what you write is critical to how the reader visualizes what you wrote. You need to use a variety of words. Sometimes we get “stuck” on a word and then we find that we’ve used that word several times in our writing. Broadening your vocabulary with synonym searches will help you paint a more vibrant picture to the reader/scorer. Let’s look at appropriate synonym searches for one writing task.

During the independent task, you might be asked to list important qualities of a teacher, and you are asked to give reasons and details. We learned earlier that a good response will have at least three supporting reasons. First, we need to find several different ways to say important. Additionally, we know that we will probably write three paragraphs, so we’ll need to transition the paragraphs with additional information. How do we not use the word and at the beginning of each paragraph?

While you won’t have time to do these searches during the test, you can get ahead of the game by conducting a variety of them during practice writing. For the above imagined task, you can do a synonym search for important. Upon searching, we find that we can use the synonyms essential, key, main, critical, and principal. We also find synonyms for the transitional word and. They are moreover, furthermore, additionally, in addition to, and along with. Using these tools, you’re ready to write!

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