January 8, 2020

I am often asked how long the two TOEFL essays should be.  The quick answer to this is that an independent essay should be between 380 and 400 words, while an integrated essay should be between 280 and 300 words.

Let me explain where these numbers come from, and my general ideas about TOEFL essay length.

It is true that when you are looking at the screen at the test center, the TOEFL software will suggest that a “typical” essay is much shorter than what I have suggested above.  I caution you that a “typical” essay should not be your target.  A typical TOEFL score is in the low twenties.  If you want a higher score than that, you probably need to write more.  Furthermore, I caution you that the suggestion given by the software is not a limit or a requirement.  You will not be penalized for writing more than the suggestion.

For the independent TOEFL essay, I feel that 380 to 400 words is long enough to use a varied vocabulary and fairly advanced grammatical structures. Moreover, it gives students a better chance of hitting some of the high scoring vocabulary specific to the given question.  It also allows for a good mix of long and short sentences.  Trying to fit all of the features required for a high score 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.










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