Archive for the 'independent writing' Category

TOEFL Independent Essay Introduction: Barron’s

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Barron’s TOEFL iBT (2008) suggests a very brief introduction:

  1. Introductory sentence with opinion  (give your opinion)
  2. Outline sentence (explain the organization of the essay)

The Barron’s format might give us an introduction like this:

Although many people like dogs more than cats, I would much rather own a cat. There are two main reasons why I have this preference.

The first sentence is an interesting one. Barron’s recommends students begin with a “concession clause.”  (A concession clause begins with words and phrases like although, even though, despite, in spite of the fact that, etc)  The last sentence is also noteworthy–it so general that it could be used in any essay. But be warned: it is not a good idea to give the rater the impression that sentences have been memorized for use in all essays.

TOEFL Independent Essay Introduction: Princeton Review

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Princeton Review’s Cracking the TOEFL iBT (2009) recommends a three-part introduction:

  1. Paraphrase (restate the essay question)
  2. Interpret (give topic)
  3. Thesis statement (give your opinion)

Using this format, along with the phrases recommended by Princeton Review, we might have an introduction like this:

The issue at hand is whether dogs make better pets than cats.  This issue is important because many people have a hard time choosing a pet.  I believe that having a cat is the better option because cats are self-sufficient and less demanding of their owner.

There are a couple problems here. First of all, it is obvious that the introduction is a template.  Second, the phrase the issue is important because is not always appropriate, so it can sometimes result in very comical or awkward writing. In the introduction above, for instance, whether people prefer dogs or cats is not an issue. Neither is it important. Finally, it is not always advisable to make a direct reference to the essay question with phrases such as the issue at hand or the statement above

TOEFL Independent Essay Introduction: Kaplan

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Kaplan (2008-2009 edition) suggests a three-part introduction:

  1. Hook (gets the reader’s attention)
  2. Background (additional details about topic)
  3. Thesis statement (your opinion)

Using this format, we might have an intro like this:

According to a recent survey, five out of six people prefer dogs to cats. This is hardly surprising, as most people consider dogs more loyal than cats. However, there are plenty of advantages to owning a cat. In fact, I believe that cats make much better pets than dogs.

Interestingly, Kaplan also outlines a four-part introduction:

  1. Hook (gets the reader’s attention)
  2. Background (additional details about topic)
  3. Thesis statement (your opinion)
  4. Forecasting (how the essay is organized)

This four-part formula might give us an introduction like this:

According to a recent survey, five out of six people prefer dogs to cats. This is hardly surprising, as most people consider dogs more loyal than cats. However, there are plenty of advantages to owning a cat. In fact, I believe that cats make much better pets than dogs.  Indeed, cats are not only self-sufficient, but also less demanding of their owner.

Notice how the last sentence tells the reader to expect two paragraphs: one about how cats are self-sufficient, one about how cats are less demanding.

TOEFL Independent Essay Introduction: Longman

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Longman suggests a three-part introduction:

  1. Interest (something to get the reader interested)
  2. Topic  (what the essay is about)
  3. Organization  (how the essay is organized)

Using this format, we might have an intro like this:

According to a recent survey, five out of six people prefer dogs to cats. For better or worse, I am in the minority of those who would much rather have a cat. Unlike dogs, cats are not only self-sufficient, but also less demanding of their owner.

Avoid Using Templates in the Independent Essay Introduction

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Look at this template for a TOEFL essay introduction:

Some people think that [ESSAY TOPIC]. Others disagree. If asked, both groups would provide logical reasons to support their stance. I think that [YOUR OPINION]. Let me show you what I mean.

Looks good, doesn’t it?  This is a great introduction, but it does not demonstrate writing ability–it is obvious that the student has memorized this introduction for use on every essay. If you were a TOEFL rater, how would you feel about a student who wrote an introduction like this? Would you take off points? Here’s what the ETS Official Guide to the New TOEFL iBT says:

“Do not ‘memorize’ long introductory and concluding paragraphs…”

TOEFL Integrated Essay Practice and Correction

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Many students already use the online TOEFL essay correction service to practice writing Independent Essays. They write essays online and a native speaker of English corrects it for them. However, not many students know that they can also practice their Integrated Essays.  Students use their own materials to read a text and listen to a lecture. Then they write an essay and send it to the teacher by email. When you sign up, just be sure to mention what materials you’re using, so the teacher can give you more accurate feedback.

 

Bad TOEFL Introductions in the Independent Essay

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Here’s an introduction that one student recently wrote:

I stongly agree with the statement that money cannot buy happiness. This a very interesting and provoking statement, and I have specific reasons for agreeing with it. I will discuss these reasons in the following paragraphs.

Here are a few potential problems:

  1. In this introduction, the thesis statement was the first sentence of the introduction. The thesis statement is usually the last sentence, not the first.
  2. In this introduction, the student writes, “I will discuss these reasons in the following paragraphs.”  Always avoid a direct reference to the essay or to the reader.  For example, don’t use phrases like these: “in this essay,” “this essay will discuss,” “I will give you,” or “I will discuss.” This is not good academic writing.  In fact, even the ETS TOEFL guide suggests avoiding this.   
  3. The introduction was rather short. Most effective introductions are longer than two or three sentences.

For more information about writing an introduction, visit the tutorial on essay introductions.

Spelling in the TOEFL Essay

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

In an ideal world, you should have no spelling mistakes in your TOELF essays. However, the world is never ideal, and nobody’s writing is ever perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes, even native speakers of English. (In fact, you’ll probably be able to find some spelling mistakes in these blog posts!)  If you spell reasonably well in English, don’t worry too much about your spelling on the TOEFL essay.

It is possible to get a high score on your TOEFL essay even if you misspell a few words. However, if you make a mistake, it should be an honest mistake. For example, if you spell the word mistake as mstake, it is obvious that this is a typo, a simple mistake made while typing. However, spelling will affect your score in the following situations:

  1. You misspell the same word throughout the essay. In this case, it becomes clear that the problem is more than a simple typo.
  2. You misspell a very basic word. For example, you spell read as reed.  Such a basic mistake is a clear indication that your level of English may be quite low.
  3. You misspell so many words that it becomes distracting when reading the essay. Ths is wat i mean by mispeliign many wrds.  In this case, it is obvious that you did not have enough time to proofread your essay.

If there are some words that you often misspell, memorize them and learn to spell them correctly. If you make many mistakes while typing, always leave 5 minutes to proofread your essay before submitting it. 

How Many Paragraphs Should a TOEFL Essay Have?

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Here are a few recommendations for writing a TOEFL essay:

Independent Essay
The TOEFL Independent Essay can have either four or five paragraphs. For a four-paragraph essay, here is the structure:

PARAGRAPH 1: Introduction
PARAGRAPH 2: Main point/idea 1
PARAGRAPH 3: Main point/idea 2 
PARAGRAPH 4: Conclusion

The structure for the five-paragraph essay is almost the same:

PARAGRAPH 1: Introduction
PARAGRAPH 2: Main point/idea 1
PARAGRAPH 3: Main point/idea 2
PARAGRAPH 4: Main point/idea 3 
PARAGRAPH 5: Conclusion

Both the four-paragraph essay and the five-paragraph essay are acceptable. However, it is much more difficult to write a five-paragraph essay. With the 30-minute time limit, it is difficult to develop three paragraphs with strong supporting statements containing details and examples.

For more information about how to write an Independent Essay, visit the site’s essay writing tutorial.

Integrated Essay
There are two acceptable structures for the TOEFL Integrated Essay. The first is called block format:

PARAGRAPH 1: Introduction
PARAGRAPH 2: Main points from the reading
PARAGRAPH 3: Main points from the listening
PARAGRAPH 4: Conclusion

The second structure is called the point-by-point:

PARAGRAPH 1: Introduction
PARAGRAPH 2: First main point from the reading + first main point from the listening
PARAGRAPH 3: Second main point from the reading + second main point from the listening
PARAGRAPH 4: Conclusion

Both essay structures are correct. Some TOEFL books only teach block format.  Others only teach the point-by-point. Still other TOEFL books teach both!  You can use either format, as long as you use it properly.

TOEFL Essay: Never Use All CAPS

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Here’s another example of what you should never do:

NOWADAYS, A LOT OF PEOPLE WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. IN MY OPINION, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW HOW TO PLAY ONE. IT REDUCES STRESS, TEACHES DISCIPLINE, AND ENTERTAINS. IN FACT, MANY PEOPLE CLAIM THAT PLAYING A MUSICIAL INSTRUMENT…

This is not acceptable in an essay. Using all capital letters sends the signal that you are unfamiliar with even the most fundamental rules of writing in English. Moreover, it makes the essay difficult and irritating to read.  One more time: NEVER USE ALL CAPS!