Let’s talk about writing essays and the structure of the body paragraph. In my HS English classes, I teach the idea of an “argument sandwich” for the body paragraph…they make a claim (topic sentence), provide data (examples are fine), and provide a warrant (explanation).
Nonetheless, the TOEFL independent essay doesn’t necessarily follow that model. In a high-scoring TOEFL essay, the personal example dominates the body paragraph and the paragraph could even end with the example rather than a concluding sentence that explains the example. Is anyone else bothered by this?
How the E-Rater Scores TOEFL Essays
Michael Goodine clarifies how the independent essays are scored by an e-rater software and that human raters spend very little time reading them. Therefore, he mentions that the sophisticated features and nuances that are rewarded in IELTS essays aren’t necessarily rewarded in TOEFL essays. He shows how language and grammar are more important than an eloquent style, perhaps.
The Essay Structure
Of course, you need an introduction, two body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A thesis statement is vital and arguments that correspond with the thesis statement in a logical manner also are key. Additionally, it is helpful to include transitional phrases and sentences that introduce personal examples.
You are in the right place if your TOEFL writing score is lower than 25 and you don’t know why. If you WANT to score 25 or above on the writing section of the TOEFL IBT exam, these 5 writing tips for TOEFL will help you increase your score. One of my students went from a 21 to a 27 on the writing exam using these easy, clear strategies. Read these brilliant ideas and put these techniques into practice to skyrocket your writing score and help you get into the university of your dreams.
Writing Tip for TOEFL #1: Vary Your Sentences
Avoid boring the reader by following the same, monotonous sentence pattern every time. Study different ways to structure your sentences and practice varying your sentences in your introduction and body paragraphs.
There are four different types of sentences in English: simple, complex, compound, and complex-compound.
simple sentences (one subject and one verb):➡️People ride bikes to work.
compound sentences (a compound sentence has two or more simple sentences that are connected by one of the following conjunctions: and, or, or but) ➡️In Copenhagen, employees commute to work by bike, and cars are slowly disappearing from the roads.
complex sentences (A simple sentence with an independent clause and a subordinate clause. A subordinate clause is indicated by “when, because, since, if…” and can’t stand alone in the sentence. ➡️ Many citizens take the bus because they get to work faster.
compound-complex sentences (a compound-complex sentence has two or more simple sentences (independent clauses) and one or more subordinate clauses.➡️Although the majority of people ride their bikes to work, some people take the bus, and other people go to work on foot.
Test takers often think that in order to get a high score, they should use more compound-complex sentences because they perceive them as more impressive. Why do they think this? One reason is that many people translate the sentence structure from their own language. For example, in Spanish and Russian, longer sentences with multiple commas are standard. However, when translated, those sentences are too long in English and need to be broken into multiple sentences.
In English, it recommended to use sentence variety and vary between simple, complex, and compound, and keep the number of compound-complex sentences to a limit.
Sentence Variation within Paragraphs
Don’t write sentences in a paragraph like this: ⛔️
Cars, long considered valuable by the human population, although expensive, are valuable assets to citizens, not only as great transportation methods but also because they are comfortable and luxurious (compound-complex). Firstly, cars help people, young and old, get safely from one place to another, and additionally are safer than bikes, especially for the elderly population (compound-complex) Vacations, on the other hand, require a lot of planning, by both family members and teenagers, making it difficult to make an action plan and foresee all of the unexpected risks, which can sometimes make traveling an exhausting endeavor for everyone involved (compound-complex). In this essay, I will defend these key arguments about cars (simple).
What is wrong with this essay? The sentences are too LONG, full of commas, and the ideas become convoluted and unclear when there are too many compound-complex sentences.
Now, consider writing a paragraph following a pattern like this: ✅
If I had to choose between spending money on a car and spending money on a vacation, I would invest in a vacation (complex). Firstly, vacations create lasting memories (simple). Although vacations are sometimes expensive, they are transformative, and they help people unplug (compound). Cars, on the other hand, need constant maintenance (simple). In this essay, I will explore both sides and give reasons to support my opinion that vacations are the most worthwhile investment (complex).
What did you notice about the sentence variety? How could you improve your sentence structure in the next essay you write?
Exercise: Write a paragraph about the following essay topic and vary your sentence structure as much as possible. You could try writing 5 sentences using this structure: simple, complex, simple, compound, complex.
Some people prefer to prepare meals at home while other people prefer eating out at restaurants and food stands. Which do you prefer? Use reasons and examples to support your answer:
(suggested answer at the end of this post)
Writing Tip for TOEFL #2: Use Transition Words in your TOEFL Essay
A well-crafted essay that is coherent uses transition words to help guide the reader. These words help the reader stay interested in the essay and understand what arguments are coming next.
Here are some transition words to use:
An example that illustrates this point is
In other words
In a similar fashion
As well as
On the other hand
Cause and Effect
As a consequence
For this reason
Adding more Information
As well as
Practice Using Transition Words in a Paragraph
Let’s practice! Add some transition words to the following paragraph to make it sound more natural and have better flow:
People often say that loyalty is the most important quality for a good friend to have. (1) _______________, in my opinion, a good sense of humor is more important than loyalty. I say this because sometimes loyal friends are too serious. (2) ______________ loyal friends are too clingy and call too often. (3)________________ friends with a good sense of humor can turn a bad day into a joyful, silly day. (4) _____________ I would rather have a friend with a good sense of humor than a loyal friend.
Exercise: Go through one of the practice TOEFL essays you have written in the past and add some transition words from the above list to the essay. Are you always using the same transitional language? Try to use a variety of transitional words in your word bank so that on exam day, you will easily remember them and won’t draw a blank.
Writing Tip for TOEFL #3: Use an Active Voice More Than a Passive Voice
Generally speaking, an active voice is used when the agent does the action and a passive voice is used when you don’t know who did the action or when the agent isn’t important.
🔥Active: Children learn manners from their parents.
🏬Passive: The building was constructed in 1899.
In your essay, you can vary your sentences by adding a passive sentence to your paragraph. In the social sciences, writing with an active voice is recommended more than writing with a passive voice because the writing is more dynamic. Sometimes in articles that describe science experiments, the passive voice is used more to describe how the research study was carried out.
An Example of Active Voice
Here is an example of a series of sentences you could write in the TOEFL essay: Foreign movies depict the life of a country and they show us a little bit about the culture, the language, and the lifestyle. Movies that are made in Spain, for example, are interesting to watch because they show how people give two kisses when they greet each other. In addition, when I watch Spanish movies, I learn how people celebrate festivals in Spain.
Notice that all the sentences in the paragraph are active and the verbs “depict,” “watch,” and “learn” show a clear agent who carries out the action.
One Passive Sentence is Fine *However, there is one passive sentence, “Movies that are made in Spain…” In that sentence, the director who made the movie isn’t important, hence, the passive voice is used. So, you could have one passive sentence in the paragraph to vary the structure to make a general claim. Practice: Use the following prompt to craft your introductory paragraph. Use the active voice and experiment with one sentence with a passive construction.
Some people prefer watching foreign movies while others prefer watching movies that were made in the country they were born in. Which do you prefer? Use reasons and examples to support your answer:
TOEFL Writing Tip #4: Use Adverb Phrases in your Independent Essay
The TOEFL is testing your ability to use varied, rich vocabulary and academic language. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a notebook with synonyms and adverb phrases for your essays that you can easily reference and use in your practice essays. The more you use them, the more natural it will become to use them on the day of the exam and in your future academic writing assignments at the university of your dreams. Think about these phrases like frosting on a cake. The frosting makes the cake taste more delicious. These phrases make the sentences more pleasing to read.
Adverb Phrases in Use Here are a few example sentences with adverb phrases that you could use in your TOEFL independent essay:
Perhaps some students prefer to live on their own in college, while others conceivably prefer having roommates. (expresses an opinion that isn’t very strong). ➡️Notice there is no comma after perhaps.
Presumably, other students prefer to live with a roommate so that they can have someone to talk to at the end of the day. (indicates a somewhat strong opinion)
The best experiences from college are definitely celebrated with other people rather than by yourself. (communicates a very strong opinion)
Undoubtedly, technology is changing the way the human brain works. (communicates a very strong opinion)
Tip #5: Paraphrase on the TOEFL IBT Writing Section
It is crucial to learn how to paraphrase effectively on the TOEFL IBT writing and speaking exams for two main reasons:
Putting sentences in your own words shows your advanced language skills.
Paraphrasing is an essential skill to have for communication at the university level.
What you learn in this section will not only help you raise your score on the exam, but it will also help you excel in your academic program. Some people rely on apps like Quilbot to paraphrase in their day-to-day academic writing, but you can’t use your phone on the TOEFL exam, unfortunately.
Paraphrasing Means Putting Things in Your Own Words
If you can restate the text or the lecture in a slightly different way and use a variety of language and grammatical structures, you will get a higher score on the TOEFL. Paraphrasing requires practice and if you follow a clear, simple structure for paraphrasing, it will become so much easier and you will be ready to implement your paraphrasing skills on exam day.
To paraphrase, you can substitute the key words with synonyms by focusing on the most important information expressed in the sentence. It might help you to identify the subject and verb of the independent clause to get started. You can change the word order, change the voice from active to passive, and even eliminate some words if they aren’t essential to the meaning of the sentence. DO NOT COPY THE WRITING PROMPT! DO NOT DESCRIBE THE LECTURE WITH THE EXACT WORDING THE PROFESSOR USED!
Paraphrasing Practice Exercise 1a:
The first step in paraphrasing is to underline the key words in the sentence. Then, you can substitute the key words with synonyms. For this reason, it is helpful to generate some lists of synonyms as you write and prepare for the exam.
1a. “People tend to be healthier than they used to be because they are more aware of ways to follow a healthy diet.” Step 1: Underline the key words: 1a. “Peopletend to behealthier than they used to bebecause they are more awareof ways to follow a healthy diet.” Step 2: Generate a list of synonyms for the underlined words:
Step 3: Substitute the key words with synonyms: “Members of society are likely to enjoy better health than they did in the past because they are more conscious of sticking to a well-balanced diet.”
Practice with Paraphrasing for TOEFL: YOUR TURN
Practice paraphrasing the following sentence: 1b. Underline the key words in the sentence and paraphrase them: “Parents take their children to museums in order to teach them about humanity and the history of our world.”
👀✏️An Important Tip: Some words can’t be paraphrased!!! Some words are absolutely essential to the meaning of the sentence and can’t be paraphrased. Words like “literature, math, the moon, keystone species…etc.” Also, proper nouns can’t be paraphrased. These words have a very specific meaning and there are few if any synonyms to replace them. For that reason, it is important to focus on finding synonyms for some, but not all of the words in the sentence.
Step 1: Change the structure of the sentence In this case, you can move the second clause to the beginning of the sentence and perhaps start with a transition word or start with the “ing” form of the verb. Here is an example paraphrasing exercise using this method:
2a. Public transportation is an effective and cheap form of transportation because the costs are lower than owning your own vehicle. Use transitional language to start the sentence such as: As a result of…. Due to the fact that… Since…. Because…
Start with the second idea first: “Due to the fact that many drivers have additional expenses that come with owning cars, public transportation is a viable and less expensive option.”
Paraphrasing Exercise with Answers 2b Now, try to paraphrase the following sentence by changing the order of information in the sentence:
“Nowadays, people ride their bikes to work more than ever because bikes are a healthy option and an efficient form of transportation.” (answer key at the end of the blog)
Paraphrasing Practice Exercise 3a: Change the Parts of Speech Step 1: Change the parts of speech of words in the sentence. These kinds of tables are really helpful for paraphrasing tasks on the TOEFL exam. Why? Because one way of paraphrasing a sentence is to use the same word, but in a different part of speech.
Why is this Rich Vocabulary Important for the TOEFL?
Knowing different parts of speech can help you describe a concept in a similar way by making small changes to the sentence. Let’s practice: Paraphrasing Practice Sentence 3a “There is little scientific evidence that there are life forms on other planets.” Let’s refer to the table above to help us use the adverb “scientifically” and substitute it for scientific. For example, “Life on other planets can’t be scientifically proven.”
Paraphrasing Exercise 3b Try using a different part of speech from the table above to paraphrase the following sentence: “For women, the biological clock indicates when to have children.” (answer key at the end of the blog)
✅EXPERT TIP: YOU STILL NEED TO CHANGE THE KEY WORDS AND SUBSTITUTE THEM WITH SYNONYMS EVEN IF YOU CHANGE THE PART OF SPEECH OF ONE WORD IN THE SENTENCE!📚
Use these Clear Writing Templates:
Many TOEFL coaches recommend using a template to help you organize your answer. It is a great idea to follow a clear structure so that your essay is easy to follow and has a well-supported argument. For the independent essay, create a thesis sentence that clarifies what you are going to argue in the essay. Then, create an outline sentence that describes what you are going to discuss in the body paragraphs. The independent essay needs to be at least 300 words and you have 30 minutes to write it.
General overview sentence+ thesis statement + outline sentence:
➡️ Living alone or living with roommates is an important decision college students have to make. Some people think that it is best to have the support and companionship of roommates, while others believe people are more productive when they live alone. In my opinion, living with roommates helps students develop social skills, adjust to the university lifestyle, and prepare for life after graduation. (In the outline sentence, list the 3 main ideas you will discuss in your body paragraphs)
⭐️Each body paragraph should address 1 main idea with supporting details about that 1 main topic. If you digress from the main topic or if your examples don’t match the topic of your paragraph, you will get a lower score.
Body Paragraph 1: (Living with roommates helps students develop social skills) + details and evidence
students learn to share chores
living with others pushes students to communicate with roommates about doing chores
Body Paragraph 2: (Adjusting to the university lifestyle) + details and personal example
roommates help each other adapt to the changes of going to school
friendly support to carry out tasks didn’t overwhelm me when I had roommates’ help
Body Paragraph 3: (Preparing for life after graduation) + details and explanation
entering the job force requires good social skills
working with others is a skill people strengthen by living with others
Conclusion : (Transition language … To summarize, to conclude, in summary….restate the thesis statement and the outline sentence by paraphrasing the key ideas you argued in the essay.
Transition words for the conclusion : To conclude, In conclusion, In summary, In closing, To sum up…
THE TOEFL Integrated Essay Template
The reading and the lecture both address _____.
The author of the article holds the opinion that ______.
The lecturer refutes the claims made in the article.
The lecturer upholds the argument that_____.
The Body Paragraphs
Use the following templates for the body paragraphs:
As stated by the author of the reading passage, _____.
The article supports this with an example of____.
The lecturer opposes this specific argument and claims that ____.
Furthermore, the lecturer explains that ______.
Additionally, the author mentions ______.
In the article, the author posits that _____.
The lecturer, on the other hand, contends that ______.
He/she delves into this point by asserting ______.
Finally, the author claims that _____.
To support this point, the author explains that ____.
Nonetheless, the lecturer’s point of view is _____.
He/she mentions that _____.
You don’t need a conclusion.
Your TOEFL integrated essay should be about 280-300 words in length and you have 20 minutes to write it.
Summarize the reading passage, then transition by explaining if the lecturer supports or disagrees with each point in the reading passage.
It is essential to learn how to paraphrase effectively to succeed in the TOEFL writing and reading sections. If you follow some of the tips on this blog post, you are sure to get a higher score and avoid repetition. The truth is that nobody wants to read a boring essay. Remember you can: 1) Substitute the key words with synonyms. 2) Change the structure of the sentence and bring the second idea to the front of the sentence. 3) Use a different part of speech of the same word to creatively paraphrase the sentence.
Sentence Structure Some people regularly cook at home (simple). Others prefer enjoying the culinary options around town because they believe it is more adventurous (complex). I prefer making my own food at home (simple). Going to the local market with friends and looking up inspiring recipes motivates me to take care of my health (compound). Therefore, I will explain why it is more convenient and healthy to eat at home and why I use food preparation as an excuse to take care of my friends and family with the added benefit of socializing around the dinner table (compound-complex).
Transition words: People often say that loyalty is the most important quality for a good friend to have. (1)However, in my opinion, a good sense of humor is more important than loyalty. I say this because sometimes loyal friends are too serious. (2) In addition, loyal friends are too clingy and call too often. (3) On the contrary, friends with a good sense of humor can turn a bad day into a joyful, silly day. (4) For this reason, I would rather have a friend with a good sense of humor than a loyal friend.
PARAPHRASING Practice question 1b) “Parents take their children to museums in order to teach them about humanity and the history of our world.” Here is a sample paraphrased sentence, although it isn’t the only option: “Parents accompany their children to museums for the purpose of educating them about human society and global history.”
: Practice question 2b) “Nowadays, people ride their bikes to work more than ever because bikes are a healthy option and an efficient form of transportation.” Despite the fact that this isn’t the only option, is a sample paraphrased sentence: “Due to the fact that bikes are fast and help riders stay physically fit, people are currently commuting to work in greater numbers.” Practice Question 3b. “For women, the biological clock indicates when to have children.” Considering the fact that there are millions of ways to reword this sentence, this is one potential option: “Biologically speaking, women often feel a sense of timing for having children.”
Check out these great links below related to ESL and education:
Some people who have no idea what they are getting themselves into with the TOEFL IBT exam. They are new to the exam and go into the test center and expect an easier exam. They may try to “wing it” and improvise. Don’t go into the TOEFL IBT exam unprepared! In fact, you need to take notes. These are key and important things to keep in mind to prepare for the speaking exam:
Organize your answer in a template
Write down key words and the main idea
Uses synonyms to rephrase the key ideas
2. Forget to Cite your Source
The TOEFL IBT speaking exam has a few integrated tasks that require you to read a passage and listen to a lecture or read a campus proposal and listen to a speaker give an opinion. Some people begin talking about the reading passage or about the lecture, but they don’t say who or where the information is coming from. This is a BIG MISTAKE!
Use phrases like, “According to the professor…”, “The reading explains…” “The professor mentions…” “Based on the reading…”
“Don’t repeat the same sentence structure too often. Avoid saying, ‘The writer says that…, and the speaker says that…Moreover, the speaker says that…’ Grammar is not the only element of good language. Variety is also a part of good speech (and writing), so alternate your sentence structure.” -Kaplan Prep Plus 2021-2021
3. Avoid Transitional Language
Some students I’ve worked with use very few transitional words. They are so nervous and they simply forget to use words like, “Firstly,” and “Furthermore…” in their responses. These words are helpful and will most definitely increase your score because they show that you have advanced linguistic skills.
Also, transitional language helps you make connections and show important relationships that exist between the reading passage and the lecture. The test examiners want to see if you can make these important links between the different sources.
If you need ideas and are looking for a guide to help you learn how to use transitional language correctly in your response, you can get it here!
4. Don’t Pay Attention to the Evaluation Criteria
When I ask students whether or not they know how they are being evaluated, they almost always say “no.” So, I highly recommend looking at the evaluation criteria and seeing how you will be scored. After you answer practice questions, you can go back and reflect on your answer and look at the check-list. It will help you improve your future answers. If you download my guide, you can read the evaluation check-list.
5. Think Negative Thoughts
Students have told me that when they feel nervous, their minds go blank and they simply can’t focus and concentrate in English. This causes many blocks and inhibits your ability to give the kind of great answer you are truly capable of giving. Stay positive and repeat a positive mantra over and over again in your head. According to the Barron’s TOEFL IBT exam preparation book, “Negative thoughts can interfere with your concentration, and you may not hear the questions correctly. Take deep breaths before each question and say this in your mind: ‘I am a good speaker. I am ready to speak.”