TOEFL Writing Practice
Standardized tests are difficult enough in a person’s native language, but taking them in a foreign language can be much more challenging. The TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a test given to non-native speakers of English who want to show their ability to speak, write, and comprehend English. Many people who want to attend colleges in the United States take the TOEFL. Whatever their reason for taking the test, people studying for the writing section of the TOEFL should concentrate on developing good essay writing skills.
Forms of the Test
The TOEFL test is given in several forms:
- The TOEFL iBT™ (the Internet-based test)
- The TOEFL CBT (computer-based test)
- The TOEFL® PBT (paper-based test)
The iBT is given most often since most testing sites around the world have access to the Internet. The CBT is still given at many sites. The PBT is given only at sites where the Internet is not available. All three tests have a writing section, but only the iBT has two writing assignments.
The iBT Writing Test
The iBT writing test is divided into two parts. The first part is called integrated writing because it involves more than just writing. Because many TOEFL test takers will be entering academic settings, the test requires students to read a short passage (2 minutes), take notes on a short lecture (3 minutes), and then write a summary and response to both the lecture and the reading passage (20 minutes). The recommended length of the essay is 150-225 words. These reading, listening, and writing skills are used in college classrooms every day, so it’s important for colleges to be able to get an accurate assessment of a student’s ability to perform in the classroom before accepting a student. This writing section of the test is not included on the CBT or the PBT.
The second part of the writing section of the iBT is the independent writing section. Test takers are given 30 minutes to respond to a topic. They may be asked to agree or disagree with a particular topic, to explain a preference, to give a description, to explain what they might do in a given situation, or to compare and contrast one idea or option with another and give a preference. The essay should be four to five paragraphs long (recommendation: at least 300 words). The essay must be typed, so test-takers should be familiar with a computer keyboard.
Here are a few examples of the types of essay topics for the independent writing section of the iBT:
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- If you could change one important thing about your hometown, what would you change? Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.
- Many people visit museums when they travel to new places. Why do you think people visit museums? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Some people believe that university students should be required to attend classes. Others believe that going to classes should be optional for students. Which point of view do you agree with? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer.
- Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.
- This independent essay is very similar to the essay assignment for the PBT as well as for the CBT. Sample essay topics by ETS.org
Different educational institutions require different forms of the test and have different score requirements. Test-takers should check with the institutions of their choice to find out these requirements.
Time4Writing can Help
Time4Writing can help non-native speakers of English develop their writing skills as they prepare for the TOEFL. Those struggling with grammar, usage, or mechanics can enroll in the
High School & College Prep Writing Mechanics class. A number of other Time4Writing interactive writing and mechanics courses are available, including essay writing courses. English learners can take the time to build their English vocabulary with hundreds of free vocabulary games. Then they can test their skill at English slang and idioms. Homophones (words that sound the same) can be tricky, but some homophone games can help. With practice and persistence, and with the right knowledge and tools, non-native speakers of English can be better prepared for the TOEFL and for future study in English.
One of the hardest sections to prep for on the TOEFL can be the essay. After all, it’s hard to find a native English speaker who will correct and grade your essays—and even harder to find one who knows the test! Never fear. Over the next few posts, we’ll look at some sample high-scoring essays and then break down what’s good about them (and how they might improve!)
If you’re doing your own practice, I suggest attempting to answer the prompt yourself under timed conditions and then comparing your essay to the sample essay. Then tune back in for the next post, in which we break down why this essay works! For our prompts, we’ll be looking at some of Kate’s excellent suggestions in this post on TOEFL writing. Let’s give it a go with the first independent essay topic!
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
Modern life is easier than life in the past.
Use specific details and examples to support your answer.
I definitely agree that modern life is easier than life in the past. The increased use of technology, rising standards of living, and improved healthcare have combined to make our lifestyles, at least in the first world, luxurious compared to lifestyles of the past. By examining three specific examples—personal computers, The Lion in Winter, and vaccines—this essay will demonstrate that this improvement has, indeed, taken place.
In the first place, technological advances have created new ways to take care of mundane tasks quickly and easily. For example, the majority of Americans now have their own personal computers. This is an amazing advance: with computers, we can complete tasks, from banking to ordering groceries, that would have taken hours even a few decades ago. Word processing is common, making the spread of information much easier to achieve, and education is available to all for free through online courses and information that would have been all but unattainable for many up until the end of the twentieth century. The sheer amount of access that we have to services and knowledge through these machines has made life extraordinarily easier.
Secondly, our standard of life has changed through advances in engineering, architecture, travel, and even textiles. Looking at a film like The Lion in Winter, while by no means historically perfect, does show how even everyday things were more difficult almost a thousand years ago. Set in the 1100s, the film shows King Henry II having to break ice from his water bowl to get water to wash his face—something that hot and cold running taps have long since saved us from. The queen has to travel to see her husband by a long boat journey, which would be almost unthinkable today. Finally, the entire royal family, even though they are royal, is wrapped in encumbering furs. Looking at what was once the highest standard of living, compared to the average first world standard of living today, we can see how much easier progress has made our lives.
Finally, we no longer live in fear of many common diseases that once crippled or maimed large populations, making their lives much harder. For example, polio used to strike many people, in some cases making it difficult for them to walk, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used a wheelchair. The invention of that vaccine in the 1950s, as well as numerous other vaccines, has created a situation in which we no longer have to suffer unnecessarily. This is most certainly an improvement over the past.
In conclusion, life today is definitely easier than life in the past. Though it is easy to read stories of nobles and kings of history and romanticize them, their lives were almost certainly more uncomfortable than our lives are. Nevertheless, there are many places in the world where laptops, modern conveniences, and vaccines are rarely found; I hope that current generations will work together to make life easier for everyone, now that it is possible to do so.