Independent Essay

The independent writing task requires you to explain and defend a position.

Task format

You will have thirty minutes to write an essay. Sometimes the prompt will ask you to choose from more than two options as you write your response. However, many times you need to choose the better of two options or choose one side of an argument. If you need to make this kind of a choice, make a clear choice instead of trying to defend both sides.

Response format

Your answer should look like a balanced essay. You should write a four or five paragraph essay with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Choosing the number of body paragraphs will depend on your ability to write fluently and develop your ideas. Typically, it is easier for students to develop their ideas if they choose to write two body paragraphs. Writing two developed body paragraphs is better than writing three underdeveloped body paragraphs. An effective response is usually around 300 words.

Scoring

In order to receive a high score on this section, you need to answer the question with writing that is organized, developed, unified, and generally accurate.

Strategy

Many students find it much easier to write their essay within the time limit by following this time sequence:

30:00-27:00    Write your thesis and topic sentences

27:00-20:00    Write your first body paragraph

20:00-13:00    Write your second body paragraph

13:00-8:00      Write your introduction paragraph

8:00-3:00        Write your conclusion paragraph

3:00-0:00        Revise and edit your essay

If you have never written an essay beginning with the body paragraphs, try it out and see if it is faster for you. Maximize the amount of time you are typing and minimize the amount of time you think without writing anything.

When you revise and edit, don't spend too much time trying to fix things you don't know. Read through to fix easy things, like spelling or typing errors. Then go through and check to make sure your subjects and verbs match (and that you don't have fragments). Don't be overly concerned about fixing prepositions or articles if you don't know how to fix them. Focus on fixing what you know you can fix. You may also take this time to add academic words that would make your writing more clear.

Can I use "I" in my answer?

Yes. The TOEFL rubric does not penalize you for using personal pronouns. While you are not graded on your formality, you are graded on your accuracy, and if it is easier to be accurate with your grammar using personal pronouns and examples, do it! For academic college writing, many professors will ask you to avoid personal pronouns, so you may need to clarify with your instructor what you should use in your essays for class.

Example: Independent Question

Is it better to travel alone or with a friend?

Example Answer #1

       A good trip always have something that mark your life either with a friend, family, or alone, although the trip has to be planned it would be the possibility of go on a trip without expecting that it was going to happen.

       As long as you and your friend have a plan to travel or you are just people whom likes from the adventures you will have a outstanding trip. However there are people whom considered a solo trip because it provides the freedom they want to have, so they use that time to learn more about themselves like what they really want in the life, what are they looking for, etc.

       Any trip that you do, wherever place you want to go, you have to be willing to face the adventure, sometimes as much as you wanted to plan a trip you never know if something new is coming soon, so either with a friend, family or alone enjoy whatever is coming up.

Example Answer #2

       Traveling is a good activity. No matter where you go, it is exciting to visit new places and have new experiences. Many people decide to travel by themselves so they can have complete freedom with their schedule. Others prefer to travel with a partner. Traveling with someone is better than traveling alone because it is more enjoyable and it is safer.

       Having a companion with you while you travel is better because it makes the trip more fun. You always have someone with you to take pictures, tell stories, laugh, explore, and build memories. You can keep each other entertained while you are in the car or on the plane with interesting conversations and games. You can have more fun with a companion than alone because you have an extra person who can help you look to find the most fun activities to do. You will never be bored if you travel with a friend.

       Traveling with someone is also safer than traveling alone. When a tourist is alone, it is easier for someone to try to steal his money or his luggage. Especially in crowded places, people who are traveling alone cannot always watch all of their belongings. Travelers are easier to target for crimes if they are alone because no one will notice if the traveler disappears for a while. Traveling with a companion makes it easy to watch out for each other and make sure that you are out of dangerous places.

       In conclusion, when someone travels accompanied, it is better. You can enjoy your trip with a partner that can share with you the new place, country and landscapes and you can feel more safe. The next time you plan to go to another location, don't forget to plan a person who can go with you!

EXERCISE: Analyze Example Responses

Compare both of the example responses.

What do you notice about both responses?

References consulted for this chapter: The Official Guide to the TOEFL and Judson Hart.