Let me explain where these numbers come from, and my general ideas about TOEFL essay length.
For the independent TOEFL essay, I feel that 380 to 400 words is long enough to use a wide range of words, and various grammatical structures. It also allows for a good mix of long and short sentences. Trying to fit all of these features into a short essay is possible… but it can be very difficult.
Regarding the integrated essay, I feel that 280 to 300 words is enough to write one or two sentences about the reading, and two good sentences about the lecture in each body paragraph. Your comprehension of the lecture is critical to your score, so you need to show off how much you heard. Writing a “typical” essay usually leads to very short lecture summaries. This length will also allow you to follow the templates contained in my guide to the task.
Remember: there is no penalty for writing too much.
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