5 Tips to Increase Your TOEFL Independent Writing Score

At the very end of the TOEFL test is the independent writing question. For this task, you’ll be given a question usually related to education, work, or some other aspect of life in the modern world. You’ll have 30 minutes to write an essay that describes how you feel about the given topic.

Your essay will be  scored on how well you address the topic, how you organize your arguments, the complexity of your vocabulary, and the number of grammar errors you make. Your goal should be to write an essay that is as perfect as humanly possible!

Writing essays isn’t easy for anyone, so this task can be a real challenge. But there are a few things that you can do on test day to increase your score.

5 Tips to Increase Your Writing Score

  1. Use a Traditional Structure

Your essay should have a  traditional structure. This means writing an introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

This technique is all about making things easy and clear for the person who rates your essay. Remember that a clear introduction will make it  really easy for the rater to find your thesis. And good body paragraphs will make your supporting arguments crystal clear. Last but not least, a good conclusion will remind the rater of your key points. If it’s easy for the rater to find what she is looking for, your score may increase.

Some people think this kind of structure is boring, but it’s totally okay to be boring on the TOEFL.  

  1. Use Personal Examples 

Including personal examples in your body paragraphs is a great way to increase your score. In your body paragraphs, try to support your argument using short stories from your own life.

For instance, if your argument is that working on school assignments in groups is better than working alone, write about a time you had a really important group project in high school. Mention what you had to do, describe the people you worked with, and conclude by mentioning the score you got on the assignment.

Meanwhile, if your argument is that travelling in your own country is better than travelling to an international destination, tell a story about a family trip you took as a child. Include as many interesting details as you can remember.

Remember that your personal examples don’t need to be  real. If you can’t think of something from your life, just make something up!

Personal examples are not mandatory, but most students find them easier to write than more abstract concepts. Students who use personal examples in their essays often make fewer grammar mistakes and write longer essays.

  1. Write a Bit More

Speaking of longer essays, remember that there is no word limit. The instructions you see on test day say that an effective response is “typically 300 words.” But there is no penalty for writing more than that.

If your target score is quite high, try to write about 350 to 400 words. A longer essay will give you more room to demonstrate the range of your vocabulary. It will also give you more room to use advanced grammatical structures, which could improve your score.

  1. Show Off Your Vocabulary

To get a  really good score, you need to show off your English vocabulary. Try to avoid repeating key words more than three or four times throughout the essay. If you notice a word appearing in your essay again and again, take a moment to think of a synonym you can replace it with. Don’t worry if the replacement word has a  slightly different meaning. Be bold!

You should also avoid using boring adjectives like “good” and “bad.” Instead of mentioning a “good teacher” in your personal example, try talking about a “knowledgeable teacher.” Instead of referring to a “big problem,” try mentioning a “terrible problem.” 

  1. Use Transitional Phrases

The raters also expect you to connect your ideas using transitional phrases. These are things like:

  • As a result
  • However
  • Therefore
  • In addition
  • In contrast

Generally, the easiest place to use a transitional phrase is at the very beginning of a sentence. They really increase the power and persuasiveness of your arguments by linking ideas and showing connections.

For instance, instead of saying something like: 

“I formed a group with several of my classmates and met them in the library. I heard a lot of ideas that were totally new to me.”

Transform that into something more persuasive:

“I formed a group with several of my classmates and met them in the library. As a result, I heard a lot of ideas that were totally new to me.”

Or turn something like this:

“Steven helped me review some challenging math formulas. I ended up with a great score on the test.”

Into something like this:

“Seven helped me review some challenging math formulas. Therefore, I ended up with a great score on the test.”

I know, I know… one word doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it will improve your essays. Try it out on test day!