How to write for the TOEFL

Preparing for the writing section of the TOEFL is one of the easiest ways to improve your score on the exam. Correct organization will give you as many points as correct grammar. This is because American university students have to write many essays, and using a standard form makes it easier for professors to correct them. Remember that TOEFL is not a test of English, but a test of how well you will perform in an English speaking academic environment.

The first step is to read the question carefully and try to think of three reasons why your answer is true. It is important to remember that this part of the test is about if you know how to write a paper and not what you think personally. So before you decide if you agree or disagree, you have to think which option will be easiest to write about and support with reasons and examples.

The reasons should be vague. You will describe them in the Body of the paper.  Here is a list of possible reasons that you could use for a questions that asks you to state what you think is best and to defend it. For example:

  • Easier
  • Cheaper
  • Healthier
  • More efficient
  • Quicker
  • Safer
  • More fun
  • More interesting
  • More educational
  • Cleaner

If it is a Compare and Contrast question, you could simply combine them with the opposites of these reasons. For example:

  • More difficult
  • More expensive
  • Not as healthy
  • Not as efficient
  • Slower
  • More dangerous
  • Less fun
  • Less interesting
  • Less educational
  • Dirtier

(REMEMBER! If you memorize a list of reasons before the test you wouldn’t have to waste time trying to think of one and can use that time for writing.)

Once you have the three reasons you are ready to begin writing.  Your composition should have three parts: the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion. Paragraphs in English should have at least three sentences. It is important here to remember that you will not be able to write at the same level in English as you do in Catalan and Spanish, so don’t forget this important equation… SS=FM (Simple Sentences Equal Fewer Mistakes).

The first sentence of the Introduction is called the hook (el ganxo/el gancho). The purpose of this sentence is to catch the attention of the reader.  It should be interesting. For example, with a question like… Some people like to live in cities, other people like living in small towns and villages. Which do you prefer and why?

Instead of just repeating the question in other words, your first sentence should follow the theme of the question. For example, “Throughout history people have moved from the country to cities.»  Your second sentence is where you state your opinion. For example, “I personally prefer living in a city to living in a small town. You list the reasons in the Introduction!!! Your next sentence should be your strongest reason.  For example, “It is easier to find work in cities…” You can combine your second and third reason in your last sentence. “They are also more interesting and more fun.”

You don’t explain why until you get to the body. Each reason has a paragraph.  This is where you explain why and give examples. You can invent examples if you can’t think of any. For example:

I am a translator. As I said it is easier to find work in a city. This is because there is more work for my profession in a big city like Barcelona than in a small village.  International companies are usually located in cities. In fact, only one of my clients has his office in a village, but it actually located very close to the city.

After you have written a paragraph for each of your reasons, you begin the Conclusion. The first sentence here is “the bridge.” It connects the Body to the ending of the paper. For example, “As I pointed out at the beginning, there is a tendency for people to move from the country to the city.” Then, just to make things more interesting, change the order of your reasons. Talk about reason 3 and then 2 in your second sentence. Put your first reason in sentence 3. This way you start with your strongest reason and you end with it. The final sentence is where you repeat your opinion. An easy way to write this sentence is to start with the word, “Therefore” (per tant/por lo tanto). For example: Therefore, I feel that cities are better places to live than small villages.

Remember on the TOEFL test, organization is one of the most important things.  The test wants to show how well you will do in an English-speaking academic environment.  Following this example will improve your score, make writing the final question easier and show that you are prepared to do well at the university level in English.


Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School

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