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Pacing for TOEFL Writing

Free your mind up

It can be tricky to think of something to write about when you’re under a lot of pressure. But on the TOEFL, you really do need to think fast. Generally, the most important part is to decide on an answer quickly, and then consider every thought you have. Even if an idea seems ridiculous at first, don’t reject it. At least, don’t reject it immediately. A ridiculous idea can often turn into a very good one if given a little bit of time and thought. Welcome any idea, and brainstorm as freely as possible. Don’t get stuck on one path, looking for one idea or reason that you can’t find. Explore all paths.

This can seem time consuming at first, but if you brainstorm well in the beginning you’ll have a better basis to write your essay on, and that will save you time in total.

 

Have a formula prepared

The essays on the TOEFL are pretty predictable. Although it’s not a good idea to use exactly the same format with no regard to the natural flow of your argument, it’s very possible to slightly adapt the essay format to suit your question. So during your practice sessions, spend some time learning a few essay formats and practice manipulating them. When you get to the test, you’ll be so experienced at writing short essays in this way that you won’t have to stop and think about what to say next.

 

Study synonyms and multiple ways of expressing the same idea

You can lose a lot of time trying to think of the exact word or phrase that you want. It’s a terrible feeling to need “the perfect word” and not be able to remember it, but it’s important to keep moving. Avoid falling into this trap by learning new vocabulary through synonyms and equivalent expressions. You’ll remember synonyms most easily if you collect them gradually, as you encounter them in life, but sometimes there isn’t time for this. In that case, you can check out a thesaurus to get more ideas for words to learn.

Be aware, though, that thesauruses are easy to abuse. Don’t copy and learn every single word in a list, since some of them will carry specific meanings that you don’t intend or will be for very different contexts. Instead, when writing, use the thesaurus to find words that you recognize but couldn’t remember. If you decide to learn totally new words from a thesaurus, be sure that you look them up to get exact definitions and example sentences.

 

Stick to your guidelines

Break your essay down into several parts and give each part a time limit. For instance, you may spend 2 minutes planning your independent essay, 24 minutes writing it, and 4 minutes revising it. Of course, you don’t have to follow these guidelines precisely—if you finish planning early or need 30 extra seconds to complete your last thought, then feel free to do so. Just be sure that the advantage you gain is worth the time it takes—don’t sacrifice all of your editing time for a third body paragraph that you don’t need, for example.

 

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