TOEFL Essay Writing Tips
I. Before you begin
- Relax and feel confident.
- Remember that you have 30 minutes to write your essay. Use your time wisely.
- You may write your essay on the computer or on paper. Choose the one you are MOST comfortable with.
- You can write an excellent essay if you remember all these tips!
II. Understanding the TOEFL question
There are different types of TOEFL questions. You never know which question you will receive, so you must be prepared to write on ALL the types of questions. It is very important that you completely understand the question BEFORE you begin to write. Below are some different essay question types.
1. Choose a point of view and support that view.
Example: Some people believe that university students should be required to attend classes. Others believe that going to classes should be optional for students. Which point of view do you agree with? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer.
This type of question asks you to look at only ONE side of the issue…the side you agree with. DON’T write about both sides. You tell which side you agree with and support your ideas with details and examples.
2. Describe something.
Example: If you could invent something NEW, what product would you develop? Use specific details to explain why this invention is needed?
In answering this type of question, you MUST be creative. It asks you to describe something NEW, something that does not exist. You must describe it in detail AND tell why it is necessary.
3. Compare two points of view and tell which one you agree with.
Example: Some people think that children should begin their formal education at a very early age and should spend most of their time on school studies. Others believe that young children should spend most of their time playing. Compare these two views. Which view do you agree with? Why?
In this type of question, you must write about BOTH sides of this issue and then tell which side you agree with. You may NOT say that you agree with both sides. You MUST make a choice. First, give support, details and examples of both sides of the issue. Then, tell which side you agree with and why.
4. Agree or disagree with something.
Example: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ONLY people who earn a lot of money are successful. Do you agree or disagree with this definition of success? Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.
In this type of question, you MUST agree or disagree. You cannot be unsure or indecisive. After you have said whether you agree or disagree, you must give convincing reasons and examples for your choice.
5. Explain why something is true.
Example: People remember special gifts or presents that they have received. Why? Give specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
In this question, you should use lots of examples. (For this question, you would use examples of gifts one might receive and tell why those gifts are memorable). Do not write in the first person, “I.” Write in more general terms.
6. Support an idea or plan.
Example: It has recently been announced that a new restaurant may be built in your neighborhood. Do you support or oppose this plan? Why? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.
In this question, first tell whether you support or oppose the plan and then tell why. Since this question is somewhat personal, it is ok to use personal pronouns such as: “I, me, my” in your answer.
III. The parts of an essay
In every essay, there should be an introduction, a body and conclusion.
A. The introduction
The introduction restates the question using different vocabulary and/or sentence structure. The introduction also includes your thesis statement…the most important sentence in your essay.
B. The body
The body of your essay is also the “heart” of your essay. It will include your main ideas and details and examples to support those ideas. Each new idea should be a new paragraph. Typically, a TOEFL essay will have 3 – 4 body paragraphs.
C. The conclusion
The conclusion will be your final paragraph. It will summarize all the main ideas in your essay and it may also include your opinion.
IV. How to write a good introduction
Let’s look at some more essay questions to see how to restate the question and how to write your thesis statement.
TOEFL essay question #1:
Some people prefer to eat at food stands or restaurants. Other people prefer to prepare and eat food at home. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Restatement & Thesis:
People have two options when deciding where to eat. They can prepare meals and eat at home or they can go out to stands or restaurants. I prefer to go out to eat because the food is more varied and interesting, it is less work for me and it saves time.
The restatement mentions the two types of options people have for eating and tells which one the author prefers. In addition, it gives three reasons for that preference. These three reasons will make up the three main idea paragraphs in the body of the essay.
TOEFL essay question #2:
Is it better for children to participate in team sports or individual sports? Why? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Restatement & Thesis:
It is better for children to participate in team sports rather than individual sports. In team sports, children learn how to cooperate. They learn good sportsmanship and how to rely on their teammates. These are important lessons that will benefit children throughout their lives.
The first sentence clearly states the author’s opinion. This is followed by three reasons for the opinion. Finally, the author mentions life lessons. In the essay, the three reasons will make up the three main idea paragraphs in the body of the essay. In addition, the author will mention how each main idea is useful throughout life.
TOEFL essay question #3:
Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.
Restatement & Thesis:
There are many good reasons to live in a big city and an equal number of good reasons to live in a small town. I, myself, prefer to live in a small town because it is more personal and homey; it is easier to get around in and it is safer than a big city.
The first statement says that both a city and town have positive aspects. The next sentence tells the author’s preference and reasons for that preference. These reasons will make up the body of the essay.
V. How to write good body paragraphs
Each paragraph in your essay introduces a new idea. It should include a thesis statement followed by support and examples. Be sure to use LOTS of examples. Within and between paragraphs be sure to use transition words like: on the other hand, however, though, for example, in contrast, likewise, in addition, first, finally. The paragraph should end with a concluding sentence which briefly summarizes the ideas in the paragraph.
VI. The elements of a good concluding paragraph
A good concluding paragraph should include a summary of your main points. It may also include the author’s opinion. It should NOT introduce any new ideas. A good concluding paragraph often leaves an impression on the reader. It may make the reader think more deeply about the topic.
VII. Preparing to write and writing your answer
- I. Read and understand the essay question. (2 minutes).
- II. Organize your ideas on paper by writing a short outline of the introduction, body and conclusion. (8 minutes).
- III. Write your essay. Remember to restate the question in your introduction. Use clear details and LOTS of examples in the body of your essay. Finally, summarize the main ideas in the concluding paragraph of your essay. (15 minutes).
- IV. Reread your essay and make any changes in spelling, verb tense, word choice or sentence structure. (5 minutes).
VIII. A sample TOEFL outline
TOEFL Question: In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students. Do you think this is a good idea? Support your opinion by using specific reasons and details.
I. It is a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they can learn about responsibility; they can learn the value of money and they can learn how to work as a member of a team.
II. Students can learn responsibility
a) They have to come to work on time every day
b) They must serve customers in a friendly manner
c) They have to maintain the store shelves with inventory
III. Students can learn the value of money
a) Students will learn that it takes a lot of time and effort to make money
b) Students will make wiser choices when buying things with their own money
IV. Students will learn how to work as a member of a team
a) Students will learn how to compromise with other employees (helping out when someone is sick, etc.)
b) Students will learn about the friendship that comes from teamwork (feeling like you can trust others)
It is a valuable experience for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they will learn to be responsible adults. They will have an appreciation for money and they will learn about working with others. All of these traits will benefit them throughout their lives.