What do the TOEFL Independent Writing Questions Look Like?

What do the TOEFL Independent Writing Questions Look Like?

Most students have a pretty good understanding of what the two TOEFL writing questions require them to do. Everyone knows that the TOEFL independent writing question asks them to write an essay that describes their personal opinion about a given topic. Moreover, they all know that the integrated writing question asks them to compare an article about an academic topic to a lecture about the same topic. If they are smart, they even know that the lecture always opposes the reading.

But do you know that ETS (the makers of the test) use some really common patterns when designing the questions every week? That these questions have really predictable forms and structures? Today I want to talk about some of the forms that ETS uses when designing the independent essay question.

If you can learn these structures before taking the test your job might be a bit easier on test day. At the very least you will avoid being surprised by what you get. Oh, and don’t worry. I’ll talk about the integrated essay in a few days time. It is also super predictable.

Obsolete Question Styles

Before I actually describe the question styles you will get on the test, I want to talk about a few styles that aren’t actually used anymore. A problem a lot of students face is that even the Official Guide to the TOEFL mentions several styles that ETS has eliminated in recent years.

First of all, you likely won’t get a “compare and contrast” question in the independent writing section. Here’s one such question right from the Official Guide:

“Compare and contrast your life with that of your parents. Which do you think will be more satisfying for future generations.”

Yes, that is in the Official Guide (and some poorly written textbooks). However, you aren’t going to be asked to compare and contrast anything on the real test.

Next up, you won’t get a “characteristics of” question on the real test. Here’s one from the Official Guide:

“Neighbors are the people who live near us. In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good neighbor.”

Nope! You’ll never be asked to mention the characteristics, traits of features of anything!

Third, you won’t get a “causes of” question. Here’s one of those… again, from the official guide:

“In general, people are living longer these days. Describe the causes of this phenomenon.”

That sounds like a really interesting question, but it won’t show up on the test. You will never be asked to talk about the “causes” of anything.

Okay, those are the most popular “obsolete” styles. So what will you get on the actual test?

Current Question Style #1: Agree/Disagree

The most common question type in the independent writing section is the “agree/disagree” style question. In this type you are presented with a short statement and asked if you agree or disagree with it. Here’s one:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Children should be required to follow strict rules set by their parents. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”

Here’s another:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The widespread use of the Internet today has a positive effect on society. Use details and examples to support your opinion.”

Heck, here’s one more:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Sometimes it is better to not tell the truth. Use details and examples to support your opinion, dude.”

Simple, right? You are given a statement and asked if you agree or disagree with it. Just remember to actually pick a side. Don’t support both sides!

Current Question Style #2: Preference

The second most common question type is the “preference style” question. This type requires you to choose from between two opinions regarding some topic. Here’s one:

“Some people feel that high school students should be required to do volunteer work in their free time. Others think that they should spend their free time studying and preparing for classes. Which do you think is better? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”

Here’s another:

“Some students prefer to study for tests alone. Others prefer to study with some of their classmates. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”

Do you see what I mean? You are presented with two opinions and you must choose which one you “prefer” or “think is better.”

Current Question Style #3: Three Choices

The last question style is the “three choices” style. This one is pretty straightforward. You must choose from between three given choices. Here’s one such question:

In your opinion, which of the following strategies is the best way for a student to prepare for a successful career?

-Studying specific academic subjects
-Taking a part-time job
-Getting to know other students

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Here’s one more:

When a person is deciding what subject to focus on at college or university, which do you think is the best source of advice?

-their current classmates
-their teachers and professors
-their parents

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Final Thoughts

And that’s it. As far as I know, ETS only really uses those three question styles. If you get something different, though, please let me know. If you want to know how to actually write this essay you can check out my guide to the independent task.

You got this.

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