The writing section of the TOEFL is the fourth and last section. It consists of two tasks. The first one is an integrated task which requires you to read an academic passage, then listen to an academic lecture on a related topic, and finally write a summary of both. The second task is to write an independent persuasive essay.
How to attempt the TOEFL writing tasks?
The first task involves listening so you have to keep your headphones on. Some test takers keep the headphones on for the entire section and that is a good idea because they block out noise which might cause distraction.
General writing strategies
1. Organize your thoughts first
Before you start writing you have to organize your thoughts. Some students start writing right away, but it is a mistake because very few people are capable of organizing their ideas as they write. Of course, you can merely jot down all ideas that come to your mind, but the problem with this approach is that it involves a lot of editing which can be quite time consuming.
2. Create an outline
On the other hand, if you spend two or three minutes in creating an outline, your task will be a whole lot easier. Quickly decide what your main points are. Jot them down and you have got the outline ready. Once you have prepared the outline, you can start writing. Note that the basic organization of an essay is the paragraph. Each paragraph should discuss only one main idea. It should begin with a topic sentence that mentions that idea. The rest of the paragraph should contain explanations, arguments, examples, comparisons and so on.
3. Use familiar vocabulary and sentence patterns
Many students seem to believe that they have to use unfamiliar and complex words and sentence patterns to score well on the TOEFL writing section. Of course, your grammatical range and accuracy play a significant role in raising your score but it is no justification for using complex sentence patterns and obscure words nobody has heard of. Instead, be yourself and use the kind of vocabulary and sentence patterns you would normally use. Do not waste time looking for words that precisely express the idea. If they don’t come to your mind instantly, you will be much better off using other words that express similar ideas. This way you can save time.
If you make a conscious effort to fill your essays with long words and complex grammatical structures, your writing will become awkward. Worse still, you will make more grammatical errors which will lower, not raise, your score. Extremely long sentences are also confusing for the reader. They contain many ideas and make it nearly impossible for the reader to identify and remember the main point. Hence avoid this kind of style.
4. Play safe, not smart
Remember that the actual TOEFL test is not the right place to use tricky, unfamiliar sentence patterns. Instead, use relatively simple and manageable sentences that consist of two or three clauses. You will make fewer grammar mistakes this way. What’s more, your writing will become clearer and easier to follow and understand.
5. Use linking expressions
Use transitional adverbs (therefore, moreover). They are a writer’s best friends. They ensure the smooth flow of ideas between sentences. Better still, they add a touch of sophistication to your writing.