TOEFL Independent Essay - 2018

The independent essay is the second task in the writing section of the TOEFL.  In this section you must  answer a short question.  These questions often (but not always) relate to your preferences regarding education, work or life in modern society.  

You can also watch a video version of this guide:

 

What the Question Looks Like

The independent essay question is phrased in three different ways.  They are:

  • Agree/Disagree Type

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.


  • Three Choices Type

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.


  • Preference Type

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.

A Sample Question

To illustrate this guide, we will use an agree/disagree question:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Attending their classes should be optional for university students. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Writing an Introduction

Coming up with an answer to the question is easy.  But how do you write an introductory paragraph?  Follow this model:

  • Sentence One, the “hook” 
    An interesting sentence that introduces the general theme of the prompt without mentioning your main argument.
  • Sentence Two, the main point
    State your main point, beginning with “Personally, I believe that…”
  • Sentence Three, the transition
    Transition to the body with a line like “I feel this way for two main reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.”

Following this model, your introduction will look something like this:

Schools have changed a lot over the past few decades, and some of them are experimenting with new ideas about classroom attendance.  Personally, I believe that it is still extremely important for students to be present for all of their classes.  I feel this way for two main reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you write your introduction:

  • Don’t copy my hook.  Come up with something entirely new.
  • Your main point should be very clear.  Don’t just say “I agree with the statement.”
  • Don’t copy anything word for word from the prompt.
  • Don’t mention your supporting reasons.  Save those for the body paragraphs.

Writing Body Paragraphs

Use this template for your first body paragraph

  • A topic sentence
    Something that states your first reason in support of your main idea, beginning with “First of all…”
  • One or two explanatory sentences
    One or two sentences that give more information about your argument
  • A transitional sentence
    “My own experience is a compelling example of this.”
  • A supporting example
    An example from your life, in three to six sentences.

This leads to a paragraph like this:
 

First of all, attending classes gives students opportunities to develop useful skills by participating in discussions and debates. Most university students are very opinionated, so they often engage in very lively discussions.  Consequently, by actually going to their classes, students can develop public speaking skills and the ability to win people over.  My own experience is a compelling example of this.  When I was a freshman I took an introductory political science seminar. The professor began each session by distributing an article about a controversial social issue. In addition, one student was selected to argue in favor of their position on the issue, and respond to questions from the rest of the class. After doing this for one year I became an extremely confident public speaker. These days I work in a fast-paced corporate environment, where I feel no anxiety when negotiating with new clients or when I have to convince them to accept a new contract. If I had not attended the aforementioned class I would not be thriving in my current career.

Use this similar template for your second body paragraph:

  • A topic sentence
    Something that states your second reason, beginning with “Secondly…”
  • One or two explanatory sentences
    One or two sentences that give more information about your argument
  • A transitional phrase
    “For instance,...”
  • A supporting example
    An example from your life, in three to six sentences.

That would result in a paragraph looking something like this:

Secondly, university classrooms provide chances to network with like-minded individuals we can work with later on.  The unemployment rate has been quite high for most of the past decade, and as a result it is very difficult for even well-educated people to find jobs.  However, many experts argue that the people we meet at university play a major role in our long-term professional success.  For instance, my brother recently established a lucrative online business which has provided him with a substantial income.  He co-founded the firm in a partnership with two like-minded peers that he met in a computer science class during his senior year.  He is very proud of the degree he earned at school, but feels the deep connection which he formed with his classmates has been even more valuable. In my opinion, had he not attended that class he would not have had enough support to launch his own company.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind as you write your essay body:

  • Use a mix of simple and compound sentences
  • Emphasize the example. It is the easiest part to write, so make it about 60% (or more) of each body paragraph
  • Avoid very short sentences (less than seven words) and very long sentences (more than 60 sentences)
  • Don’t start sentences with conjunctions
  • Avoid repeating words many times

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Writing a Conclusion

Conclusions are easy.  Try this short template:

  • “In conclusion, I strongly believe...”
  • "This is because REASON ONE, and REASON TWO."

To produce something that looks like this:

In conclusion, I strongly believe that it is very beneficial for students to attend all of their classes.  This is because it helps them to perfect their communication skills, and because it gives them opportunities to connect with possible business partners. 

Here's what you should keep in mind:

  • Paraphrase yourself. Don’t copy and paste from above when you restate your ideas in the conclusion
  • Don’t introduce new ideas in the conclusion
  • Don’t write “This is because that…”

Final Thoughts

That's how you write a strong TOEFL independent essay.  There are a final few points that are worth mentioning here, of course:

  • Aim for about 400 words. Write a bit more if need a really high score
  • Use two minutes to plan before you start writing and save two minutes for proofreading when you finish
  • Avoid contractions and slang as they are not acceptable in academic writing
  • Practice does not make perfect; proper practice makes perfect

Further Reading

We maintain a large collection of complete sample essays, written using the above techniques.

You may wish to continue by reading our guide to the integrated essay.