How to Write a Successful TOEFL Essay: 10 Best Practices | Student Reviews & University Rankings EDUopinions

How to Write a Successful TOEFL Essay: 10 Best Practices


If you are in the process of preparing for the TOEFL exam, this article will help guide you through the writing section of the test. We will discuss the independent writing task and ten best practices to follow which will help make sure you give it your best shot. Continue reading to find out how to write a successful TOEFL essay!

What is the TOEFL?

TOEFL exam

TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language” and is basically that—a way for educational institutions and even potential employers to assess your level of fluency in English. The greatest advantage of TOEFL is that it offers people a reliable way to measure and compare English language skills. The test is composed of four sections—reading, writing, listening and speaking.

What is the TOEFL essay?

When we say “the TOEFL essay” we are referring to the independent writing task of the exam, which is essentially the second and lengthier part of the writing section. In addition, there is an integrated writing task based on the reading and listening sections. In this EDUopinions blog, we mostly will focus on the independent writing task, which requires students to write a short argumentative essay in response to a prompt in 30 minutes.

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How to write a successful TOEFL essay:

1. Planning

GRE test

The first step for how to write a successful TOEFL essay is planning. Even though you only have 30 minutes to complete the task, spending 2-4 minutes planning will most likely pay off. After reading the prompt, use your planning time to decide on your clear and specific response—kind of like a thesis—and then create an effective structure to argue your point of view. Doing so will not only help you stay on topic; it will also help the marker follow your line of argument and more easily award points to your writing.

2. vocabulary

Next, a robust and varied vocabulary will also help you write a successful TOEFL essay. In the independent writing task, you should strive to be as concise and detailed as possible. Instead of writing that you are “not very good at tennis,” describing yourself as an “amateur” will score you more vocabulary marks. Another good tip: because the integrated writing task is based on the reading and listening sections, it is important that you paraphrase what was said in those sections rather than using the same vocabulary you encountered earlier in the exam.

3. Structure

As mentioned above, the structure is another important component for how to write a successful TOEFL exam. Since this task only lasts 30 minutes, your structure will be fairly basic, but that does not mean it is any less important. Right off the bat, you should state your response to the prompt (your thesis)—you can think of this as a condensed introductory paragraph. Next, the ‘body’ should include two reasons why you have taken this opinion as well as personal examples or evidence for your claim after each reason. After both body paragraphs, provide a brief conclusion that ties the two points you just made back to your opening line.

4. Transitions


Another great tip for how to write a successful TOEFL essay is to include smooth transitions in your writing. Rather than abruptly changing topic or immediately introducing an idea, incorporating transition words/phrases will help make your writing easier to read and demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge and skill. Think of words and phrases like ‘in addition,’ ‘moreover,’ ‘generally,’ ‘aside from,’ or ‘all in all’—using language like this in your TEOFL essay is a great way to elevate both your writing and score.

5. Paraphrase

This tip is specifically for the integrated writing task, which requires students to write extended responses to questions based on the reading and listening section materials and lasts 20 minutes. This section of the TOEFL assess your ability to engage with written and oral English, not your ability to repeat what you just read/heard. For this reason, paraphrasing is especially important for this section of the test. Instead of writing “the text says that ‘Annie was deeply saddened by the death of her dog.’” You should reword to include your own writing: “The text explains Annie’s profound sadness as a result of her dog’s death.”

6. Time management

TOEFL time

Time management is another best practice for how to write a successful TOEFL essay. Because the independent writing section is so short (only 30 minutes), it is imperative that you work efficiently yet calmly. In practice, this means allocating certain amounts of time to certain parts of the task. For instance, you could aim to spend 2-3 minutes creating a plan, 1-2 minutes writing your main point, 15 minutes writing your body paragraphs, 5 minutes of the conclusion and 5 minutes to make final touches. Ultimately, how you decide to structure your time depends on you, your strengths and your goals, but sticking to a time management arrangement can be a helpful way to reach your potential.

7. Know the question type

In the independent writing task, knowing what type of question/prompt you answering is essential to a successful TOEFL essay. Broadly, there are four types of questions asked in the independent writing task. Commonly, students must choose to defend one side of a debate. Another common prompt allows students to respond to an open-ended and oftentimes personal question or statement. Other less common question types include evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of something and choosing between three options presented in the prompt. Being able to identify which question type you are asked will help you write a detailed and relevant essay.

8. Practice tests


One of the best tips for how to write a successful TOEFL essay is taking practice tests. While the above points have hopefully been helpful, there is no way for you to know what taking the TOEFL will be like unless you practice under similar conditions. Doing so will allow you to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker and highlight specific areas you may need to revise. Check out the TOEFL website for resources on how to access practice tests.

9. Study companion

TOEFL practice

Study companions can also be great resources to help you write a successful TOEFL essay. Be it a textbook, a tutor or online learning materials, test preparation is a surefire way to improve your TOEFL essay. A good study companion will clue you in to the test’s format, what you will be assessed on, how to manage your time and more! In addition, many study companions include practice tests packs, meaning you will have multiple opportunities to put your skills to the test.

10. Confidence

TOEFL essay

Last but not least, confidence is another essential for how to write a successful TOEFL essay. Though it may be easy to overlook, being confident in your English level and the preparation you have invested into the TOEFL exam will hopefully help reassure you and calm your nerves. In addition, keep in mind that while the TOEFL may be an important step in your academic/professional career, it is not the be-all end-all of your English fluency.


Hopefully, you have found these ten tips on how to write a successful TOEFL essay helpful. If you have any questions about the TOEFL exam or other standardized tests used for university admissions, feel free to get in touch with one of EDUopinions advisors for free, individual support!

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Check out these related articles on IELTS vs TOEFL. Which one to choose? and the 5 best English tests to get admitted to universities.

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Drew Harper is a recent graduate of University College London, where he studied history, politics and economics. As a content creator at EDUopinions, he is passionate about broadening access to international learning opportunities for students around the world.

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