Writing the TOEFL Essay – Your Guide to Common Errors, Sample Topics and Tutorial Help

Posted: July 01, 2016 - to Essay WritingBy: Natalie
Content writing the toefl essay

If you are a student who wishes to study at a college or university in the United States, there are chances that you will be required to take the TOEFL exam as a part of your application process. TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language,” and it is designed to evaluate a person’s proficiency in English.

The reasoning behind the test is this: If you are going to compete with native English-speaking students, especially in the writing of essays and papers in American universities, then you have to have a good command of the language. Professors tend to have the same high expectations for scholarly writing no matter where a student may be from. This does not mean that a low score will always eliminate you, but it will mean that you will have to take ESL classes and get tutoring while you write your essays and papers.

The TOEFL Essay - Types of TOEFL Writing Topics

The TOEFL test is in four parts, and the final part is TOEFL writing – a one-hour session in which you will have to write an essay based upon a prompt that is given. Because you will not have an option of TOEFL writing topics, you will need to be prepared for any type of essay you may need to write. Here are the five types of essays that you may be required to write with a topic example of each type. Hopefully, these writing tips will help you prepare for this essay.

1.       The Agree or Disagree Essay TOEFL

For this essay, you will be given a statement or a quotation and be asked to write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. Your essay should be five paragraphs long, and you should have three reasons for your opinion, each one of them contained in a body paragraph. Writing topics for TOEFL essays of this type might be the following:

  • Only people who make a great deal of money can be considered successful
  • Parents are the best and most important teachers of children
  • High-quality health care is a basic right for everyone
  • Every student should study arts in secondary school
  • Reading books brings more joy that watching films
  • The children should be raised in a countryside and not in a large city
  • Visiting live performances is much better than watching them recorded
  • People shouldn’t make crucial decisions alone

2.       The Preference Essay

Lots of TOEFL writing topics will be of this type. You will be given two options and asked to state your preference for one or the other and then to give the reasons for that preference. You will need at least three reasons – one for each body paragraph of your essay. Here is a topic example or two of this type of essay:

  • When you have free time, do you prefer to spend it on indoor or outdoor activities?
  • Would you prefer a dog or a cat for a pet?
  • Do you prefer social activities with just a few close friends or large gatherings with lots of different people?
  • Does family or friends influence the most youngsters and children?
  • Which of learning methods is the most convenient for you?

Your introduction will state your preference and then each body paragraph will provide one reason for that preference.

3.       The “What If” Question

These writing topics for TOEFL allow you to use your imagination but also require you to give at least three reasons for your decision. Here are some typical essay topics that will be given:

  • If you were given a large piece of land, what would you do with it?
  • If you could meet any famous person in the world, who would you choose to meet?
  • If you knew you were dying and had the opportunity to do three things, what would they be?
  • If you could visit any country in the world which one would you choose?
  • If you could ask your president only one question, what would you ask?
  • If you had the opportunity of traveling in time, where and when would you go?

Your introduction will focus on your choice, but a word of caution here. Each of your body paragraphs must be a reason for your choice, not talking about the choice itself.

4.       The Explanation or Description Essay

These TOEFL writing topics will ask you to describe something, and they will not be technical or difficult explanations. Here are a few possible topics that you might expect:

  • What are the traits of a good neighbor?
  • What are the characteristics of a good boss?
  • Describe a good teacher.
  • What do you think are the most important characteristics of a good roommate?
  • What should a tourist visit in your country if they have only one day there?

Again, you will need to have at least three points to make, each one for a body paragraph. You may need to search for samples of these types of essays, so that you can study the types of points that are made.

Before we look at the last type of TOEFL writing essay type, let’s review the commonalities of these first four. Each one will require five paragraphs – an introduction in which you state your thesis or main point, three body paragraphs, each of which will give a reasons or a characteristic, and then a conclusion that will wrap up and summarize your three points. This structure is extremely important and should be followed without exception.

5.       The Compare/Contrast Essay

This essay TOEFL is different than the other four and can be a bit trickier. The structural pattern will differ from the others as well. You will not be giving reasons – you will be comparing and contrasting two things. Here is an example of a typical compare/contrast writing topics for TOEFL you might face:

  • College students have a choice to live on campus, in dormitories, or off campus, in apartments. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each and which would you prefer?
  • Imagine that you have got enough money to buy a car or to go on vacation. What would you choose?
  • Compare and contrast different kinds of transportation. Which one do you prefer?
  • What are the Pros & Cons of watching television?
  • When moving to another country you can either follow their traditions or keep your own ones. Which way would you choose and why?

The structural pattern will be a bit different, because the essay may only be four paragraphs as opposed to five for the other types. Your introduction will introduce the topic and state that there are advantages and disadvantages of both types of living arrangements. Your first body paragraph will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living on campus; your second body paragraph will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living off campus. Your conclusion will need to answer the question of which one you prefer and why?

These body paragraphs and the conclusion will probably be longer than those of the other essay types, but the scorers understand this and will not take off points because you have four longer paragraphs rather than five shorter ones.

Common Errors in TOEFL Writing

The TOEFL writing score is a holistic one, with a student getting anywhere from a 1-6, 6 being the best. It is important to get above a 3 on this essay, so avoiding some common errors will be important:

  • Not sticking to the topic. If, for example you are asked to describe something, don’t go off on a tangent giving your opinion about a trait or characteristic or going into long stories about your experiences. Write down the three points you plan to cover in each paragraph and stick to those points.
  • Not following the accepted structure. The first four types should have five paragraphs; the fifth will often have only four. Trying to separate your essay into many short paragraphs will confuse the reader and lower your score. It will lack coherency.
  • Not using good transitional sentences. At the end of each body paragraph, you should have a sentence that prepares the reader for the next paragraph. This is important, so make sure you do this.
  • Not varying sentence length. You should have short simple sentences and then longer, more complex sentences. Use short sentences to make a big initial point; use longer sentences to further explain that point.

Getting TOEFL Writing Practice

You can go online and search for potential TOEFL writing essay topics, and you will find many. Then you can practice writing an essay of that type. If you really struggle with writing these types of essays, another option is this: While you cannot buy TOEFL essay products that you actually submit on the test day, you can contact an essay writing service and order some on common topics. These you can use to study and then try to write your own for TOEFL writing practice. 

Using this guide, studying samples of TOEFL essays, and practicing writing each type will ensure that you get a good score on this part of the test. Start early and give yourself plenty of practice time.

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