Video duration: 06:52
Hi, I'm Michael from ETS, and welcome to Inside the TOEFL Test
Today, we're going inside the TOEFL iBT writing section, specifically question two, the Independent Writing question. So in the next few minutes, we're going to look at how the question is structured, how to approach the question, how your response is scored. We'll look at a sample response that received a high score, and we'll give you some tips for improving your writing skills.
So, here's generally what question two will look like. For this task, you're presented with a question and you have 30 minutes to type your response at the computer. There's no maximum length for your essay, but a good response is usually at least 300 words. So, what is the question asking you to do?
The Independent Writing question will ask your opinion on an issue. So, often, you'll get a question such as, "Do you agree or disagree?", "Which would you prefer?", or "Do you support or oppose this idea?"
Regardless of the question, you'll be expected to use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Let's look at some sample topics. Number one: "Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? A teacher's ability to relate well with students is more important than excellent knowledge of the subject being taught."
Two: "Some people like to travel with a companion. Other people prefer to travel alone. Which do you prefer?"
Three: "It has recently been announced that a new restaurant may be built in your neighborhood. Do you support or oppose this plan?"
One way to approach your essay is to make an outline. Here's how you might make an outline to answer the question about traveling alone or with a companion. First decide which option you prefer. Let's say you prefer to travel with a companion. Then, think about the main reasons why you have that preference, such as it's safer, it's more fun, and it makes travel easier.
Then, list some specific examples for each reason. Using an organizing tool like an outline is important when planning your essay. Don't try to create an essay by memorizing paragraphs on various topics before the test and then trying to relate them to the topic you receive, because the content won't be appropriate and you'll just receive a low score.
Before the test, make sure you understand what the raters are looking for and how each question is scored. The essays in the writing section will each be given an overall score from zero to five. For question two, the Independent Writing question, the raters are looking for three main things — development, organization, and language use.
First, development: The raters are looking for how well you address the topic, and how well your detailed examples and reasons support your ideas. If you just use a lot of words and sentences that don't really support the points you're making about the topic, or if you develop empty ideas not related to the topic, you'll receive a low score.
Second, organization: This basically means the reader can read your essay from beginning to end without becoming confused. You can help the reader follow your ideas by writing in paragraphs and using good transitions. Also, make sure your support points all relate clearly to the topic, and avoid redundancy which is saying the same things over and over, just using different words.
The third criterion is language use. Raters are looking for things like sentence structure, word choice and vocabulary. It's also important that your use of grammar is strong and consistent, though it doesn't have to be perfect to get a top score.
You can see exactly how your essays are scored by looking at the Independent Writing Rubric or scoring guide. The rubrics are found in many ETS test prep materials like the Official Guide to the TOEFL® Test, or on the TOEFL website.
Now, let's look at a sample response to give you an idea of what a good essay looks like and what our raters look for when they score. This essay was responding to the topic about teachers. It received a score of four on a five-point scale. This essay has a very traditional structure. It gives the writer's point of view in the first paragraph, and then has three paragraphs of supporting points and then a concluding paragraph.
The writer's first supporting point is that relating to students is a job of a counselor, not a teacher, and that teachers without content knowledge are simply not good teachers. The point is a good one and generally well stated.
The second point is that students want to take courses from teachers with special knowledge, even if the teachers are not entertaining. This is another good point.
The third point is interesting, but it has some weaknesses in the writing. The writer talks about how teachers have the obligation to pass on what they have learned, but there are some errors of word choice like "conceding their knowledge" and "advantaged education", and the connection of ideas is somewhat unclear. For example, what's the purpose of saying, "We all learn because we want to become the better person that this world needs."
So, overall, the essay is well organized and makes solid points, but given the word choice and unclear connection of ideas, especially in the fourth paragraph, this essay would receive a score of four out of five.
Now, here are some tips for improving your writing and getting ready for the Independent Writing question. One, find essays in news magazines or websites that express opinions. Read them and write about why you agree or disagree.
Two, when you practice writing, time yourself so that you could get used to planning and writing and revising your essay in 30 minutes.
Three, when you practice, you may find that you're making the same kinds of grammar mistakes over and over. So, learn how to correct them. Then, when you write your essay, leave a few minutes to go back and make those corrections.
If you're looking for real TOEFL Independent Writing topics, you can find them in ETS prep products. The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test has more than a 150 practice topics for the Independent Writing question.
There are lots of ways to improve your English skills. Whatever you do, keep practicing, and good luck on your TOEFL test.