7 Ways to Improve Your TOEFL Writing Score

This post originally appeared on the Magoosh TOEFL blog.

TOEFL Writing is, in my opinion, the hardest part of the TOEFL exam. At the same time, any student can master this section and get a top score. This section can be beat, if you take the right approach to the tasks. Below are 7 tips and tricks for TOEFL Writing.

Paraphrase, paraphrase, paraphrase

Paraphrasing is very important in TOEFL Writing. In fact, if you don’t paraphrase your sources in Integrated Writing and just use the exact wording from the lecture or passage instead, you’ll lose a lot of points for plagiarism. Repeating the question in Independent Writing word-for-word isn’t great for your score either. So remember to practice good paraphrasing strategies, and seek out paraphrasing practice activities to boost your paraphrasing skills.

For TOEFL Independent Writing, do good prewriting

So many TOEFL Independent Writing responses turn out to be disorganized due to a lack of prewriting. Prewriting involves two steps: brainstorming and outlining. In the brainstorming phase, just write down whatever ideas you can think of. Then move onto your outline. This is where you choose the ideas you’ll use in the essay, and you organize them into the right order. The order of your outline should match good TOEFL Independent Essay structure, providing for an introduction, body, and conclusion.

For TOEFL Integrated Writing, focus on the lecture

For TOEFL Integrated Writing, remember that the main task is to “summarize the points made in the lecture.” Yes, you will also explain how these points respond to ideas in the passage. But the lecturer will repeat the most important ideas in the passage. So if you take any notes on the reading, keep them simple and short. Then really pay attention to which points in the reading the lecturer chooses to talk about. And focus on the lecturer’s response to these points.

For TOEFL Integrated Writing, take good notes

In TOEFL Integrated Writing, your notes are your prewriting. Your essay simply summarizes the reading and lecture, so what you write should be be based completely on reading and lecture notes.

The focus of your notes should be on the lecture rather than the reading. But ideas from the reading still do matter — your notes should directly compare the author’s views with the lecturer’s views. Consider writing the views in the reading in one column, while writing notes on the speaker’s opinion in another. Or find some other way to clearly connect and compare the opinions of the professor and the writer in your notes.

Make sure your spellings are understandable

One of the biggest “deal breakers” for a good score in TOEFL Writing is spelling. If you seriously misspell keywords, your TOEFL Writing response can become very hard to understand, and sometimes impossible to understand.

Beware of words that have similar sound and similar spelling, such as these commonly confused verbs. You can change the entire meaning of a sentence if your misspelling changes one word into another. Also avoid guessing at the spellings of bigger words. Guesses at spellings of advanced vocabulary words can lead to some completely unreadable spelling choices. If you’re really not sure how to spell a word that you want to use, think of a different word or phrase you could use instead.

Keep your grammar under control

Sometimes the overall organization of an essay is just fine (thanks to good note-taking or prewriting). But the problem lies in individual sentences. Be aware of the different grammar structures in English. Understand how clauses, phrases, and sentences are structured.

Include grammar variety in your TOEFL Writing

There are many different ways to make a sentence. TOEFL scorers will want to see that you know these different grammar patterns. Be aware of the different possible grammar constructions in English, and create sentences that demonstrates your knowledge of varied grammar. (See my posts on sentence variety and the many ways to make a sentence for examples of different kinds of sentence structure.)

David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh.

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