Actual Writing Topics Appearing on the TOEFL iBT

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Janice, one of my students in my Online TOEFL Course “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT” retook the exam for the sixth time. A doctorate student at Loma Linda University, Janice needs to score 104/120 with minimum subtotals scores of 26 on the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections. Since joining my course, she has been diligently completing her TOEFL lessons and sending me her pronunciation, writing, and speaking practice by e-mail.

Last week, she sent me her writing topics that she had to complete on her most recent TOEFL Exam.

Independent Writing Task

Independent writing topic: Many schools encourage their children aged 5-11 years of age to study in groups instead of alone. Do you agree or disagree with this study method? Provide reasons and examples to support your point of view.

Model Response:

For children to succeed in any country, they will need to be educated. Education helps these pupils develop strong reading proficiency, they can learn about the history of their nation, and they can be taught the basics of mathematics. In addition, these children can be taught the basics of science so that they can understand the world and the universe. Education eventually will lead to helping them attend college and ultimately get a high-paying job so that they can achieve a high standard of living. Of course, these learners do not all learn in the same way, and their teachers will need to refine their instruction in a way that can help most of the students to master the content of the lessons. To accomplish this result, many teachers now encourage their students to study almost exclusively in groups. However, having most students follow this method of study will slow the instruction and will cause more distraction among the learners, which is why I disagree with this method of learning.

First of all, studying in groups is slower and less efficient because the intermediate and advanced students will have to wait for the struggling ones in the group to understand before they move on to new topics. For example, if students are studying in a group about photosynthesis in their science class, some in the group will be able to master this concept quickly while others in the group may take more time to grasp the concept. In fact, the intermediate and advanced students most likely could learn this idea in 20 to 30 minutes. However, because they are waiting on the lower-level students, they will have to wait for an hour or more before they can move on to studying cell division, for example. If students are being taught individually, they will be able to move at their own pace, which is a more efficient way of learning.

Second of all, students who study in groups will typically be distracted more by others in the group. For example, last year, I decided to study in a group for my biology class since I scored so terribly on my first test. However, instead of focusing on how plants convert light energy into food, a process called photosynthesis, many of my group members talked about personal matters. In fact, most of our study centered around Trump’s immigration policy and how it affects students who come into the country with F1 visas. Therefore, in our whole hour of study, because of these side-issue distractions, we were only able to make an outline of what we needed to study for our next exam. Even worse, I was not able to talk in depth with others in the group about specific biological concepts about which I needed more clarification. I am guessing that we only spent about 15 minutes of the 60 minutes discussing on-topic ideas related to our course. If I had studied alone, I would have been able to spend almost the entire time studying the concepts from our course so that I would have been better prepared for the upcoming exam because I would have had few or no distractions.

To sum up, although group study can help some to get clarification on certain ideas, overall, I do not agree that younger elementary school-aged children should choose this method of study. They will progress more in their learning if they are allowed to study alone because they will learn faster with fewer distractions.

General Tips for Independent Writing (No matter what the writing prompt)

  • Spend about 100 words in your introduction raising awareness about your topic and framing your thesis statement.
  • Make sure that each topic sentence in your 100-150 word body paragraphs is arguable and refers to some key words in the thesis and writing prompt.
  • Use some specific supporting details in each body paragraph to illustrate the arguments you are trying to prove. If you cannot think of any specific examples, imagine some that will help you to illustrate your ideas.
  • Use a combination of basic and advanced vocabulary and grammar to help you express your ideas.

Integrated Writing Task

When Janice took the integrated writing task, she informed me that the reading passage discussed three advantages of building a railway system between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the speaker in the listening passage opposed those ideas.

Integrated writing topic: Explain how the information in the listening passages opposes the points made by the author in the reading passage.

Model Outline

In the reading passage, the author explains the benefits of building and railway system between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and, in the listening passage, the speaker casts doubt on each of those benefits.

First of all, according to the reading passage, building this railway will make it much faster for people to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

However, the listening passage opposes this idea…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Second of all, building a new railway, according to author in the reading passage, will be more environmentally friendly ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

In contrast, the speaker in the lecture believes that………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Third of all, connecting the two urban areas with a railway system will foster more economic growth, asserts the author in the reading passage…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The speaker in the lecture, on the other hand, asserts that………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

In the final analysis, the speaker questions the benefits the author in the reading passage mentions about the construction of a railway system between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

General Tips for Integrated Writing

  • In the introduction, use a compound sentence to connect the main ideas of both the reading and listening passage.
  • In each body paragraph, spend balanced coverage discussing the main and most important supporting points of the reading and listening passage. In other words, half of the paragraph should focus on information from the reading passage, and half of the paragraph should focus on the information from the listening passage. This will help you to stay neutral.
  • Each body paragraph should contain 4-6 voice markers (the reading passage states; the speaker in the lecture claims) identifying the author from the reading passage and the speaker from the listening passage.
  • In the all important juncture in each body paragraph between the reading and the listening passage, use a transition word of contrast such as “however,” “on the other hand,” “conversely,” and “in contrast.”
  • At all costs, do NOT give your own opinion on the topic; hence, frame all your sentences from the author’s and speaker’s point of view.
  • Now having read the independent and integrated writing prompts, after having read model essays, and after getting some general tips for both writing tasks, you should be on your way toward getting a high TOEFL score.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com

http://onlinetoeflcourse.com