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Jun 13th 2014

Tips to Write an Effective TOEFL Essay

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is a standardized test. A student may also be asked to produce an essay in English to show their deeper and fluent grasp of English, and it is effective because there is plenty of room for error. There is also plenty of opportunity to see if a student is simply “getting by” instead of truly understanding the language. For example, if a student is merely “getting by” then the same phrases, comments and sentence structures may be present in the same text on a repeated number of occasions. Of course, if you give a student an essay then there is a chance they will use an essay writing service, which means they are not being tested at all, but if the student is serious about wanting to learn the language, then one hopes they will do the work for themselves. Here are some tips to help you write your TOEFL essay.

keep calm and pass the TOEFL

Come up with a simple premise

This means come up with a simple theme and idea. There is a good chance you will be given a lot of leeway (flexibility) within your essay assignment (task). Use that leeway, but keep your theme simple. The more complex your theme is, then the harder you make your writing task. Making the job harder is not going to get you a higher grade.

Did you know?
The easiest languages essay to complete is Finnish.

Brainstorm around the essay question and come up with lots of options

For example, if you are told to write an essay about happiness, then do not restrict yourself to defining happiness. You should brainstorm (sit and come up with ideas) lots of ideas and try to fit them all in. For example, if you were going to write about happiness, then you could brainstorm and come up with ideas such as:


Did you know?
Facebook was based on Ancient Egypt, where people write crap on walls and put up pictures of their cats.

Start with simple syntax and then improve

Your best bet is to start with a simple sentence syntax (sentence structure) and then improve it. The temptation is to write as much as you can in the most intellectual sounding way, but do not forget that doing so is hard enough for a person that has spoken English all his or her life, so it is doubly hard for a person still learning the language. It is far more productive and easy to start with very simple sentences, ideas and themes and then build on them when you have finished. 

Structure your working so that you start with a simple plan and notes, and then create a simple essay, and then improve and build on that simplicity to create a more advanced essay. Following are some examples of how you can build your simple sentences into more advanced ones when you have completed your simple essay.

Did you know?
The first words that most people learn in a different language are swear words.

Merging two sentences together


Write your essay in simple sentences, which often means making a point and then putting a full stop like this:

The doctor said it was not deadly. The doctor then prescribed treatment. Treatment involved taking pills.

You can change this to:

The doctor said it was not deadly, and he prescribed treatment. Treatment involved taking pills.

Or even to:

The doctor said it was not deadly, and he prescribed treatment that involved taking pills.

You will notice that making your writing more advanced by merging sentences together will also lower your word count, which is why it is a good idea to write too much (over the word count) when you create your first simple-essay draft.

Did you know?
If you write a paper on confirmation bias, then it will only prove what people already know.

Improve your simple vocabulary after you finish your simple essay


With the example above, you could have changed some words to those in quotation marks below to show a better use of vocabulary. 

The doctor said it was not “terminal”. The doctor then prescribed treatment. Treatment involved taking pills.

The word terminal has replaced “deadly,” and showing a higher level of English means you should not be too repetitive, so why not change the first use of “treatment” to “medication,” as changing the second use of the word “treatment” to medication would make no sense. Use a thesaurus with some of the suitable words if they appear a little too often (such as how treatment appears a little too often in the examples above).

Did you know?
The apostrophe is the shyest punctuation mark because it is often out of place.

Use a thesaurus to prove your grasp of English vocabulary

Only do this once you have completed the simple version of your essay. Do not start by making an essay full of complex word choices. Improving the range and complexity of the words on your essay should only happen after you have written the first “simple” draft version of your essay. 

With Microsoft Word and Works, you can use the Thesaurus with the word(s) you highlight. Look through different words you may use and check their definition with a dictionary to be sure you are using them correctly. For example, with the word “treatment” there is also “care,” “therapy,” “medication,” and many more. However, in the example above the word “therapy” may not be a suitable replacement for “treatment.” for example, if you had a skin complaint, then most people will seek treatment over therapy. Plus, in North America the word “therapy” is now more closely linked with psychology and clinical-psychological treatment, whereas in Europe the word therapy may also involve cancer treatment/therapy, biological and gene treatments/therapy, and physical therapy too. In other words, you should be careful when it comes to picking your words.

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