Many students, especially pharmacists and dentists, need to get a high score on the writing section of the TOEFL iBT. This blog is aimed at giving you some tips to increase your probability of getting a high score.
  1.  DO NOT MEMORIZE SENTENCES FOR THE INDEPENDENT WRITING.  While it’s appropriate to use a template on the integrated writing section, it is NOT appropriate to memorize sentences for the independent writing.  The ETS graders are not impressed with memorized sentences, and they can identify them easily. For example, when I see a sentence that could fit any prompt, such as “There is no doubt that there is a debate about the given prompt, with two sides to the coin and cogent arguments on each side,” I know this is a memorized sentence. It could be used for any prompt, and therefore when I grade essays, I lower the score. The ETS does the same.
  2. BECOME A STUDENT OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR.  Believe it or not, many students ask me if grammar is important on the TOEFL.  The answer is, “Of course!” It is clearly indicated on the TOEFL rubric that grammar is considered when scoring your essay.  I recommend the book “English Grammar In Use” by Raymond Murphy. Make sure you buy the INTERMEDIATE edition. 
  3. KNOW WHAT THE RATERS ARE LOOKING FOR.  By becoming familiar with the TOEFL rubric, you will know how to develop your essay in a way that will receive a high score.  The rubric for writing can be found here:
  4. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR EXAMPLES SUPPORT YOUR THESIS.  Many students write essays with detailed examples, but they do not show how the examples relate to the thesis. Let me show you what I mean with a sample body paragraph. The prompt is, “Do you believe it’s better to travel within your country, or abroad? Explain why. The student has chosen to argue that traveling abroad is better. This body paragraph has a weak supporting example:​​ One of the reasons to travel abroad is to meet people.  You can make connections with others. My nephew is a clear example of this. He went to Italy and Spain for a summer when he was in university. He met a great deal of people there, and made many new friendships. In fact, they decided to remain friends all these years, and recently they came to visit my nephew. He had a wonderful time with his new friends, and talks about them often. They are very valuable to him, and he enjoys their company.   While there is nothing wrong grammatically in this paragraph, it’s unclear how this example supports the idea that traveling abroad is better than traveling within your country. After all, you can make friends and meet people in your own country as well. Therefore, this is a weak example. Make sure your arguments are clearly laid out. This paragraph could be improved if the writer explained how the friendships his nephew made in Italy and Spain were unique, and could not have been made his own country.
  5. INCREASE YOUR VOCABULARY.  Vocabulary is incredibly important.  Without grammar, communication is difficult, but without vocabulary it is impossible. Many times when students tell me they cannot think of ideas when they are brainstorming, it’s actually because they do not have the vocabulary to express themselves.  There are many great vocabulary books on the market for TOEFL students.  I prefer “Essential Words for the TOEFL” by Barron’s. 
  6. FOCUS ON QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY. Many students write overly long responses that go over five hundred words. This leaves the student with little time to review the essay. Always make sure you have several minutes to review. Shorter essays with stronger grammar and vocabulary will certainly be rated higher than overly long essays with low-level grammar and vocabulary.
  7. BECOME FAMILIAR WITH TYPICAL TOEFL PROMPTS. You do not want a surprise on the day of the test, so it’s very important to know what types of prompts they use on the TOEFL. There is a link to updated TOEFL prompts here:
  8. BE SPECIFIC WITH YOUR EXAMPLES AND REASONS.  Every TOEFL prompt asks you to use specific reasons and details, so without these, you will not get a good score. You can use an example from your own life, from someone that you know, or cite a study or statistic. Keep in mind, the TOEFL raters will not research whether or not the study is true.  If you can create an imaginary study that supports your main point, this may be very effective.  
  9. BRAINSTORM BEFORE YOU START TO WRITE AND REVIEW YOUR ESSAY AT THE END.  Do not just start writing without brainstorming on paper. Take a moment to write down what your main points will be, and any examples you can think of. This will help prevent “writer’s block,” which means you freeze and cannot continue while you are writing. Also, take a few minutes at the end to review your essay and eliminate grammar mistakes.​
  10. READ A LOT OF SAMPLE ESSAYS THAT WOULD RECEIVE A HIGH SCORE.  In order to be a good writer, you need to read a lot. Look at sample essays that would receive a 5/5 on the TOEFL. HOUSE OF TOEFL provides students with sample essays that were written by TOEFL teachers.