How to Write Your Best TOEFL Essay Sheri Sather The American ESL Preparatory Academy (www.learningenglish-online.com)
Writing a short, timed essay for the TOEFL or forplacement in an ESL program is a much different experience than your normal, in-class essay.First, it is more stressful because there is a lot at stake. Doing poorly can cost you time andmoney. Second, since the time is so limited, youreally need to be ready to roll when you walk in.Well look at how you can prepare so that you canwrite your best essay in this high stress situation. www.learningenglish-online.com
There are 5 steps to doing your best.#1. #2 #3.Go in with a Plan again. Stay on topic. plan.#4. #5.Make it Edit. concrete.
#1. Go in with a Plan. (And then follow it!)This is NOT the time to go with the flow!Before you ever arrive for the test you need to know what to expect from the test AND know your own capabilities.Make a plan that fits your style.
Having a plan means that you know how you will approach the test.Plan your timeHow much time will you allow yourself to plan?How much time to write each paragraph?How much time will you save to edit?
#2. When you get the topic, you need to make another plan for the actual essay. Plan FAST. One or two minutes max. Read the topic or question carefully before planning. What is your main idea? Keep that idea in mind as you write. What is the main idea for each paragraph?
Planning is essential, but it canttake up much of your limited time. From years and years of teaching writing, I have seen too many people fail for not being able to find a balance. Some are too impulsive, and some think too long and waste time. Practice planning fast.
The problem with starting to write without a plan... The raters are looking for CLEAR writing. That is MORE than clear grammar! Without a recognizable structure, readers dont know what you are trying to do, and so they cannot understand your ideas.
The problem with spending a lot of time thinking... The raters can only judge your writing if there is enough of it! Dont worry about perfect or brilliant. CLEAR and LOGICAL is enough. If you are a perfectionist who sits and thinks to get a great idea, get over yourself! This is a test of English fluency, not a test of intelligence.
#3. Stay on TargetOnce youve chosen a topic and a plan, dont change. It is a short paper, and the ideas are not what is being graded, so stick with your plan no matter what happens.
There are two common ways that writers get drawn off topic.1. They start disagreeing with themselves and presenting the other side to their argument.2. They start thinking of and adding new ideas that are not part of the original topic.Avoid both and stick to your original idea.
#4. Make your writing concrete. You want the rater to find your writing clear and understandable. Concrete writing is easier to understand than abstract writing. So, what do I mean by concrete?
Concrete writing is real world,specific and creates a word picture. If your writing is only abstract ideas or only generalized, any grammar and organizational errors that you have will be magnified because the abstractions become fuzzier or completely lost.
Here is a writing sample with only general ideas.Marriage is an important institution for society and for individuals. Through marriage, we make new families which continue the culture. Families are the basic unit of culture, and for most individuals, families are the place where we learn the culture and receive what we need to survive through childhood.(Notice that there are no grammar problems, and all the information is correct. However, all of the ideas are abstract which means you have to think about them, apply your own experience and imagine them without the writers help. This isnt optimal for a TOEFL essay where the reader is rushed to understand and errors may occur.)
Here is the same text with a fewadditions to make it a bit more concrete.Marriage is an important institution for society and for individuals. Through marriage, we make new families which continue the culture. This is why in every culture weddings have so many meaningful traditions such as fathers giving away the bride or jumping the broom because both signal a new family being formed. Families are the basic unit of culture, and for most individuals, families are the place where we learn the culture and receive what we need to survive through childhood. Think of all the things you learned before you went to school such as your native language, what clothing you should wear and how to be respectful.
#5. Edit!Do NOT skip this step!Edit strategically.This is very different from reading your paper and hoping that errors will jump out and yell, fix me.
Strategic editing means that you know your normal errors.If you look back through graded papers, find your top 3 most serious/common errors and then edit for each of these separately.For example, scan your paper for each verb to see if it is formed correctly. Then look for the next type of error.
Good luck!Taking the TOEFL can be a stressful, but it is also asign of how much you have already learned inEnglish. Keep in mind your strengths and not onlyyour weaknesses as you prepare to write and realizethat this test is just another step on your way to yourgoal of studying abroad.