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TOEFL Writing Section: Independent Task Strategies

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  • 0:01 Independent Tasks
  • 1:37 Planning and Writing
  • 4:49 Test Prep Strategies
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Independent writing tasks on the TOEFL don't have to be stressful! Watch this lesson to learn tips and strategies for approaching them confidently and effectively.

Independent Tasks

When you sit down to tackle the TOEFL Writing section on test day, you'll complete two tasks: one Integrated task and one Independent task. Integrated tasks are covered in another lesson; here, we're just going over the Independent tasks.

Independent writing tasks on the TOEFL ask you to argue one side of an issue based on your personal experiences and beliefs. You might have to agree or disagree with a particular statement, or you might be asked to choose between one of two different opinions about the same topic.

For this task, you won't need any outside information, and you won't have to remember any names, dates, or facts from your classes. The prompt will give you an issue that anyone could have an opinion about. All you have to do is pick one side of the issue and then explain why you picked it.

There's no 'right' answer to these questions - or to put it another way, you get to pick which answer is 'right.' The graders don't care which side of the issue you take, and your score doesn't depend on it in any way.

The Independent writing task takes 30 minutes, and the recommended length for your final essay is at least 300 words, but there's no word limit, and you're allowed to write as many words as you want. Now you know what you're taking on; in this lesson, you'll get some tips and strategies for making it work.

Planning and Writing

First, we'll go over the whole process of writing the essay from start to finish, with tips for time management and what to focus on at each step in the process. On the Independent writing task, you'll have just 30 minutes to plan and write your essay from start to finish. Here's a rough outline of how to break down your time effectively.

First, you'll plan your essay. This should only take a few minutes because the structure of the essay is always the same, so you can plan it in advance. You already know that your argument is going to be some variation of 'I agree with X instead of Y because of (reason one), (reason two), and (reason three).'

Here is a diagram of a sample essay structure:

A. Introduction: State which side of the issue you take

B. Reasons

a. Reason 1

b. Reason 2

c. (potentially) Reason 3

C. Conclusion: Restate which side of the issue you take

All you have to do is plug the particular issue and your particular reasons into a basic outline like that, and you'll be set. So, during the first three to five minutes of the essay, jot down your position and two to three reasons, and then move on.

As you're doing this, make sure your reasons aren't just restating your point of view. To score well, you have to provide justification for your position, not just state what your position is. Here's an example:

Question: do you prefer the beach or the park?

I like the beach better than the park, because in summer I want to cool off, and at the beach I can go for a swim. There's nowhere to cool off at the park, so it's not pleasant.

Your score depends on your ability to support your position with reasons, so make sure you have a few good ones ready to go by the time you start writing.

Now, we'll move on to the actual writing - this is where you'll spend the bulk of your time. Here are some tips for expressing your position and reasons well:

  • Stick to one side of the issue. You don't have time to take a nuanced position or explore the pros and cons of both sides. Just pick one side and argue for it.
  • Keep track of time as you write. When your time is half over, you should be about halfway through your list of reasons supporting your position. If you need to speed up, it's better to figure that out in the middle of the question than one minute before the time is up.
  • Use transition words and phrases. Transition words and phrases, like 'also,' 'additionally,' or 'moreover,' help tie your essay together and guide the reader through your logic. The TOEFL graders really like seeing transitions, so the more of them you use, the better.

Finally, you'll have time for a little bit of proofreading at the end. This shouldn't take long. You don't have time to go over your essay and fix major organization errors; just look over it for spelling and grammar and fix what you can. The graders know you're working under time pressure, so they don't expect perfection.

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