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TOEFL Writing

Besides speaking, the other main way we communicate is through writing. If you attend a native English speaking university you will be writing many reports, essays and term papers. You won't get far if you can't get your assignments done. And using the Internet to borrow other people's work will only get you expelled. The TOEFL test Writing section isn't as challenging as writing a term paper, but you definitely have prove you know how to write a few paragraphs using proper grammar, and how to get your point across clearly and convincingly.

The IBT test Writing section has 2 tasks. 50 minutes is the total time allowed to complete the Writing section. Each of the questions is given a mark of 0-5. Your total score is then scaled to a value out of 30. For a decent score you must get at least 4 out of 5 for both writing tasks.

The only way you'll get scores of 4 or 5 is to practice your writing skills. However, you aren't expected to write a perfect essay for these 2 tasks as the amount of time given just doesn't allow it. Don't think that writing lots will get you a better grade than a shorter essay. If it has many spelling errors, has bad sentence structure, has poor grammar, goes off topic, doesn't express your thoughts clearly or doesn't give examples that support your reasons, you'll still bomb.

What score you get from 0-5 for your writing responses is based on a variety of factors: language use, organization, clarity, and development. Language use means how well you can use grammar and vocabulary. Do you use the same words over and over or have variety? Did you use the right word? How many spelling mistakes did you make? And don't use any slang or swearing. Do you use more than one kind of sentence strucure? Or are your sentences all basic like, "The banana in the basket is green." Development refers to how well you answered the question. Is your essay coherent? It should go from one idea to the next logically. It should be easy to understand, not confuse the grader to death. Your essay should provide reasons – more than one – with details or examples to support the reasons you give. Below is a guideline of what grade to expect for an essay for each of the 2 writing questions.

TOEFL Writing Grades:

Score Reasons for Score Reasons for Score
  Integrated Task Independent Task

  • Didn't write ANYTHING
  • Wrote an answer that was completely off topic
  • Copied entirely from the reading passage

  • Didn't write ANYTHING
  • Wrote an answer that was completely off topic
  • Didn't write in English

  • Badly organized
  • Very hard to understand
  • Little meaningful or relevant content from the talk
  • Only includes information from the reading passage

  • Badly organized
  • Very hard to understand
  • Little or no detail, very underdeveloped
  • Frequent and serious grammar errors

  • Some relevant content from the talk but with errors
  • Poorly represents the connections between the reading and talk
  • Frequent grammatical errors which makes it difficult to understand
  • Limited use of grammar and vocabulary

  • Organization is poor
  • Connections between points are unclear
  • Frequent grammar and structure errors
  • Inappropriate or underdeveloped explanations or details provided

  • Some relevant content from the talk but is imprecise or vague
  • Some key points from talk and/or reading are missing or wrong
  • Grammatical errors obscures the meaning at times
  • Limited range of grammar and vocabulary

  • Somewhat developed explanations and details
  • Limited range of structures and vocabulary
  • Progression and coherence, but unclear connections between ideas
  • Grammar and word choice errors obscure meaning at times

  • Contains important information from the talk and reading
  • All important information from the talk is accurate
  • Minor omissions or errors in connections between talk and reading
  • Minor language use errors that don't affect meaning

  • Relatively successful at responding to the topic
  • Generally well organized and well developed
  • Some redundancy, unrealted points or illogical connections
  • Variety of structure and good range of vocabulary
  • Noticeable errors but doesn't interfere with meaning

  • Successfully communicates all the key points from the talk
  • Accurately presents all the important information
  • Connections between talk and reading presented accuately
  • Well organized and easy to understand
  • Only minor grammatical errors

  • Well organized and coherent
  • Clearly represents it's ideas with detailed explanations
  • Logical progression throughout essay
  • Only minor grammatical errors
  • Wide range of sentence structure and vocabulary

TOEFL Writing Question 1: Integrated Task

Writing question 1 is similar to the second question of the second format in the Speaking section. The reading passage is longer and obviously you'll write, not speak, your response. To start, you will have 3 minutes to read a short text. The reading passage will become available again once you get to the question. You will then hear an academic talk on the same topic. You should take notes while listening since the talk will only be heard once.

Keep your headphones on as you will hear and see the question. The question asks about a relationship between the text and the talk. Using information from the reading passage and talk, answer the question as completely as you can. You will not be asked to give your opinion. You will have 20 minutes to write your essay, and you should write at least 150 words.

You are being tested on your ability to summarize and compare information from more than one source (the reading passage and the academic talk). You will need to summarize ideas from the academic talk and be able to explain how they relate in some way to points in the reading passage. Sometimes what you hear in the talk will go against what you have read rather than expanding and strengthening upon the topic.

Do NOT rely heavily on the reading passage to form your response. The whole point of this task is to be able to use information from both the listening and reading passages. You should also not copy chunks from the text to be part of your essay!

Sample prompts:

How does the information in the listening passage cast doubt on the information in the reading passage?
Compare and contrast the information in the passage you read with the information in the lecture that you heard.
Summarize the points made in the talk you just heard, explaining how they differ from the points made in the reading.

TOEFL Writing Question 2: Independent Task

For the second writing question, you are expected to write an essay based on your own personal experience and ideas. It's called an independent task because you alone are the source of the information you will use to write your response. There is no reading passage or talk to listen to, there's only the question prompt. You will be asked to express and support your opinion about a familiar topic or issue. Think of the wide range of topics you'd read in the daily news – politics, health, economy, business, education, the environment, social issues – any of these you might see as the topic for this question.

You will have 30 minutes to write your essay. Your essay should be at least 300 words long. Your introduction, the first paragraph, should clearly state your view and briefly mention the reasons you have to support it. The main part of the essay should give your reasons with details that support your opinion. The last paragraph should restate your view and summarize the reasons you gave to support it.

The three main factors that are used to grade this essay are development, organization and language use. Development is how much support do you give to your opinion. Did you give details, examples and reasons? Or did you write lots but fail to actually develop your ideas? For organization, does your essay make sense? Would a person understand what you are trying to convey or would they be confused? Language use covers grammar, spelling, vocabulary, word choice and sentence structure. How many errors did you make? Are the errors bad enough that the grader would have a hard time understanding what you mean? You also want to show a range of vocabulary and sentence types.

Sample prompts:

For business or personal communication, some people prefer e-mail, whereas others prefer the telephone. Compare these two choices. Which do you prefer? Support your answer with specific details.
Nowadays, food has become easier to cook or otherwise prepare for eating. Has this change improved the way people live? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? North Americans have become too dependent on the automobile for transportation.
When exercising, some people prefer to exercise indoors at a gym or sports center, and others prefer to exercise outdoors. Compare these two choices. Which do you prefer? Support your answer with specific details.

To do an actual question of this type, go to the writing sample in our IBT demo. Another one you can try is here, in our TOEFL Speaking and Writing Trainer demo.

To show Writing questions examples is a bit difficult. You can get a good feel for what the different types are like if you do all of our free mini-TOEFL tests. So be sure to check them out. You might even win yourself an iPod.

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