Here’s how the TOEFL Independent writing question works:

  • It is the second writing question on the TOEFL
  • You will be asked a question and be given 30 minutes to write about it.
  • According to a major survey, the questions are usually about education (40% of the time), work (30% of the time) and lifestyle (30% of the time).
  • There is no minimum or maximum word count, but I think you should write between 380 and 400 words.

Styles of Questions

There are four main styles of TOEFL independent essay questions in 2020.  They look like this:

Agree/Disagree Style (65% of the time)

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. Do not use memorized examples.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Students do not respect their teachers as much as they did in the past. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. 

Multiple Choice Style (15% of the time)

Which of the following values do you think is best to teach to a young child?

  • being honest
  • being helpful
  • being patient

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Preference Style (15 % of the time)

There are many different styles of classes at schools nowadays. Some students prefer classes where they interact with their teacher and with other students in debates and group assignments. Others prefer classes where they just listen to their teacher speak. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. Make sure to use your own words. Do not use memorized examples.

Good Idea Style (very rare)

A company has decided to forbid its employees from working through email and telephone calls during the weekend. They believe that this will make the employees happier and more satisfied. Do you think this is a good idea?

Note that the multiple choice and preference type questions are very long these days.  Don’t be surprised if you get a very wordy question!

The warning to “not use memorized examples” refers to ETS’s new efforts to crack down on plagiarism and memorized essays used by hundreds of students at the same time.  It is still okay to use templates and it is still okay to use personal examples.


Coming up with Ideas

I get a lot of questions about how to come up with ideas about what to write.  To deal with this problem, check out my video.


How to Structure the Essay (An Essay Template)

To show you how to write the essay, I will use the sample agree/disagree question about respecting teachers.

Writing an Introduction

The first part of your TOEFL independent essay must always be the introductory paragraph.  Follow this template:

  • Sentence One: The “Hook”
    This is an interesting sentence that introduces the general theme or topic of the essay.  I recommend something like:  “It is critically important that we VERB…
  • Sentence Two: The Main Point
    This is your main argument and direct answer to the question. Start with “Personally, I believe…
  • Sentence Three: The Transition
    Just use: “I feel this way for two reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.”

If you follow this template, your introduction will look something like this:

It is critically important that students learn as much as possible and thrive in all of their classes. Personally, I believe that young people do not have as much respect for their teachers as in the past. I feel this way for two 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 waste time on the opening hook.  It isn’t that important.
  • Don’t copy and paste from the prompt.
  • Write about 50 words.

Writing Body Paragraphs

Next you must write two body paragraphs that support your thesis. Use this template for your first body paragraph:

  • Sentence One: A Topic Sentence
    This summarizes your first supporting reason. Begin with “To begin with…“.
  • Sentences Two and Three: The Explanation
    Explain what you mean, without talking directly about a personal experience.
  • Sentence Four: The Transition
    Just use: “My personal experience is a compelling illustration of this.
  • Sentence Six to End: The Personal Example
    An example from your life that illustrates this argument. It should make up about 60% of the body paragraph.

This leads to a paragraph like this:

To begin with, there are many more ways for students to learn nowadays, which means they are less reliant on teachers than in the past. A few years ago, children could only acquire new skills by going to school and attending classes, so they respected their teachers a lot. In contrast, now they can easily use technology to learn independently. My personal experience is a compelling illustration of this.  For the past five years, I have studied English almost every single day. Although my native language is Korean, I am able to easily communicate in English without feeling any anxiety.  I expand my vocabulary by using a smartphone application that teaches me new phrases twice per day, and I practice pronunciation by watching videos on the Internet.  Consequently, I feel like old-fashioned classes with a teacher are not as important as they used to be.  If I had tried to become proficient in English twenty years ago, I would have depended on a teacher and respected her a lot.

Use a similar template for your second body paragraph:

  • Sentence One: A Topic Sentence
    This summarizes your second supporting reason. Begin with “Furthermore…“.
  • Sentences Two and Three: The Explanation
    Explain what you mean, without talking directly about personal experience. Shorten if necessary.
  • Sentence Four: The Transition
    Just use: “For instance,
  • Sentences Five to End: The Personal Example
    An example from your life that illustrates this argument. Again, it should make up about 60% of the paragraph.

That would result in a paragraph looking something like this:

Furthermore, teachers are no longer strict, which means children don’t fear them at all. If teachers fail to discipline students when they misbehave, they do not feel obligated to respect them. This problem is very common nowadays. For instance, a few months ago my little brother used profanity when addressing his math teacher.  Surprisingly, he wasn’t punished for this terrible behavior. His teacher was afraid of how our parents would react to my brother being punished, so he just ignored it. Since then, my brother hasn’t respected that teacher at all, and is often quite rude. In addition, a lot of his classmates have picked up on the fact that they can get away with impolite behavior and have started acting up as well. Based on this experience, I strongly feel that young people do not respect educators like they did in the past.

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

  • Use a mix of simple, compound and complex sentences.
  • Emphasize the examples.  They are easy to write, so they should make up about 60% (or more) of each body paragraph. 
  • Avoid very short sentences (less than seven words) and very long sentences (more than 60 words)
  • Don’t start sentences with coordinating conjunctions
  • Use a variety of discourse phrases (like: therefore, moreover, as a result, in addition)
  • Write about 150 words in each body paragraph.

Writing a Conclusion

Conclusions are easy. You just need to repeat your thesis and your two supporting arguments.  Try this short template:

  • Sentence One: Restate the Thesis
    Paraphrase your thesis. Begin with “In conclusion, I strongly feel that…“.
  • Sentence Two: Restate the Two Reasons
    Just use: “This is because ______, and _______.

That will produce something that looks like this:

In conclusion, I strongly feel that children do not respect their teachers as much as they used to. This is because teachers are not as essential as they were a few decades ago, and they are too nervous to enforce rules.

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • Paraphrase yourself. Don’t copy and paste from either the thesis or the topic sentences when you restate your ideas
  • Don’t introduce new arguments in the conclusion
  • Write about 40 words in the conclusion

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:

  • There is no word limit.
  • You can ignore the opposite argument, and you can ignore the other options in a multiple choice prompt.
  • The template works for all of the styles
  • Practice does not make perfect.  Proper practice makes perfect.  Sign up for my evaluation program.
  • You will not get punished for using the template.

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.

Sign up for express essay evaluation today!

Submit your practice essays for evaluation by the author of this website.  Get feedback on grammar, structure, vocabulary and more.  Learn how to score better on the TOEFL.  Feedback in 48 hours.