TOEFL Writing Tips for the Independent Essay

Oh, the TOEFL test. If you are not familiar with the TOEFL, then let me give you a little information. It stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language,” and is an exam that is often required for non-native English speakers who wish to work, study, and (sometimes) live abroad. Most universities will require this exam, or other similar English proficiency exams (IELTS, TOEIC), before granting admissions to international students. Additionally, jobs may ask prospective employees to provide a score to prove the ability to work and communicate effectively in English. While the minimum score will vary across different universities and companies, it’s important to strive to do your best in all of the test sections to ensure acceptance in your desired job or school.

Because the TOEFL is testing your English proficiency, all of the 4 major skills are included in this 4 and a half hour, Internet based exam. You can find a wealth of information (*so much information*) on the ETS website, as they created the test; however, I will provide a quick overall review here. Immediately following this review of the exam, you will get helpful tips for the writing section, so make sure to keep on reading!

The longest sections of the exam are the reading and the listening, totaling in 60-80/90 minutes each.

To test your reading, you’ll be given 3 or 4 passages taken from academic texts, and then asked to answer 12-14 questions. There are 10 types of reading questions, including the general categories: basic comprehension, inferencing, and reading to learn.

For listening, you will hear both informal conversations and academic style lectures. There will be about 5 questions following the conversation, and roughly 6 for the lecture. These audio texts can range for 3 up to 5 minutes in length. Similar to the reading, the listening section questions vary in type and will include basic comprehension, pragmatic understanding, and testing the ability to connect information.

After a 10 minute break, you’ll move onto the speaking and writing sections of the test.

The speaking test, while the shortest, might be considered the most difficult due to it being a challenging skill and feeling very unnatural. Remember, this is an Internet based test, so you are speaking to a computer. On the positive side, it’s the shortest section; only about 20 minutes with 6 different tasks. You will be asked to talk about familiar topics, express your opinions, and read/listen to information and respond about your overall understanding while using details.

The test ends with the writing section, which is what we are also covering in today’s blog post. In 50 minutes, you will be asked to complete 2 tasks. The independent essay must be written in 30 minutes, and will have you provide an opinion about a topic using details and examples. The integrated (read/listen/respond) essay has a limit of 20 minutes, and will require you to write about whether the two texts challenge or support one another, of course, utilizing details from what you listened to and read.

If I included all of the tips of the TOEFL essay in this blog post, you’d be reading for days. Because I know your time is valuable, I will be writing only about the independent writing section, and giving the most important tip to get you started and provide you with a solid, well organized and complete essay.


To help you understand and get comfortable with the essay structure, I’ve created this video for you, which is under 5 minutes. (yay for English Outside the Box’s 5 Minute English!) Then I’ll elaborate on those points a little more below.

You can download the PDF you see in the video here.

Do you want the PDF Independent Outline Guide + a sample essay about the topic you see in the video?


Let’s get deeper into that video, shall we?

As mentioned, for the introduction, you’ll want to start out broad and introduce the topic of the essay, which means you want to give some background information and set the reader up for what they are about to read. Don’t dive right into the question and give your answer, think about the bigger, more general idea of what the question is about. Then, after providing some background information, you can give some more detail about this general topic, getting more specific about your answer. This still doesn’t mean you’re stating your direct answer, this shouldn’t happen until the end of the introduction in your thesis statement. This thesis is important as it sets the tone and the organization of your entire essay. In the final sentence of your introductory paragraph, you will want to answer the question, state your opinion, and give the main ideas of your 2 supporting reasons. This helps with organization, as well as helping guide you with the essay’s development, progression, and organization.

Once that’s complete, you’ll start writing the first body paragraph, which is 1 of 2 in your essay. This first body paragraph should elaborate (*give details*) on your first reason, the same first point mentioned in your thesis statement. This is how you will stay organized, by keeping your first body paragraph consistent with the first reason mentioned in your thesis. Be sure to include relevant examples and details to support this, so your reader (the test grader) will understand how and why this connects back to the essay’s question.

Your second body paragraph will follow the same structure and organization as the first; however, it should match the second point mentioned in your thesis paragraph. Don’t forget your details and supporting examples!

The final paragraph of this independent essay is your conclusion, which is a summary of the main ideas of the essay. Because this is a summary, it should NEVER introduce new ideas, new details, or new examples. This is the most common mistake and should definitely be avoided.


Brainstorming before you write the essay is extremely effective in helping you organize your thoughts and provide a well organized written task. This is where the outline comes in. While you shouldn’t spend more than a couple of minutes on this outline, these notes are quite similar to what you will do in the speaking sections. Jotting down (*writing down quixkly*) your ideas will help your ideas flow. This process must be quick, therefore, get comfortable with abbreviations I (introduction), B (body paragraphs), and C (conclusion). You’ll want to give very basic details of what the essay is about, avoiding complete sentences, articles and auxiliaries, and make sure you utilize as many symbols and shortened versions of words/numbers as you can.

To download the guide of the sample question, outline & completed essay, click here!

In this document available for download, you will be able to see more information about this sample question:

It has been recently 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.

An important tip when answering this (and any question on the TOEFL exam) is to go with the first thing and reasons that come into your head. Don’t waste time seeking perfection and “better” ideas, time is crucial here, so you will want to utilize your time wisely.

There are a lot of ways to prepare for the TOEFL. There are many websites, including ETS that provide sample materials and resources; however, studying with a teacher will provide you with the necessary information and feedback. Send a message here for more TOEFL learning opportunities.

Happy Studying! ♥

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  1. Ajay kathuria on November 22, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Best blog contains all the information related to IELTS, everyone should read thus blog

  2. yuvaprithika on July 11, 2018 at 4:27 am

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  3. […] Improve your TOEFL Writing Score: Tips for the Independent Essay […]

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