Tips for Success on the TOEFL Writing Section

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), a standardized assessment of English-language proficiency, can be an intimidating obstacle for international students. The last section of the test, the writing section, is particularly challenging because it requires more than just reading well in English.

The writing section is divided into two parts. In the first part, integrated writing, you will be asked to read a passage and listen to a lecture on the same topic, then write an essay that combines information from both of these sources. In the second section, independent writing, you will be asked to write an essay based upon personal experience.

It may be daunting to take an exam in a different language, but you can succeed with a little focus and a lot of preparation. Here are some tips for how to succeed on the TOEFL writing section.

Perfect your note-taking skills

Effective note taking is crucial to better studying and better scores. You are allowed to take notes in each section of the TOEFL exam. Organizing these notes with speed and precision can help you plan and write better essays. Start practicing before the test by identifying themes and key concepts in various texts. Then, summarize those notes in a short paragraph to demonstrate your understanding. These skills can help you prepare for outlining and writing on an unknown topic.

Use study aids

There are an abundance of reliable published materials that can help you study for the TOEFL writing section. Textbooks and workbooks provide key terms and exercises which mimic the format of the actual exam. Study aids can also include interactive CDs and DVDs, which provide more context and in-depth answers. Be careful, however, as test formats and content can change. When using study aids, be sure to seek out the most current and topical materials.

Take advantage of practice exams

You will need to build up your mental stamina for the TOEFL, which can take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours, depending on whether you take it online or on paper. Full-length practice exams can prepare you for the difficulty of the real exam and give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes before you make them where they really count. You can find these tests online or in workbooks, or you may receive them directly from your teacher or your school’s counseling office.

Plan and proofread

In order to write successfully, you will have to remain direct and clear. Do this by organizing your essay in an outline or diagram before you begin writing. Establish a thesis statement, plan paragraphs, and be sure to have a clear conclusion. Leave yourself enough time for each step of the writing process, and set aside some time at the end for proofreading your essay to ensure it is free of punctuation, grammatical, and semantic errors.

Eat, sleep, and dress comfortably

A long test can have both physical and mental demands, so be sure to take care of yourself first for success on the test. Wear clothing that makes you feel comfortable, but confident. Food and drinks are not allowed in the testing room, so eat before the exam to avoid an empty stomach, but stay away from short-term caffeine fixes and sugar rushes! Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep before your exam. None of your preparation will matter if you can’t stay awake!

Sasa Afredi is a contributing writer for, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.

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