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What to Expect After You Pass the TOEFL: Writing on Campus

The TOEFL measures a lot of things. It is a complete exam of the “receptive skills” (reading and listening) and “productive skills” (speaking and writing) in English. Studying for the TOEFL won’t just help you get a good score. It will also help you do well in English at the university you attend.

Still, it’s impossible for just one test to completely show you how you’ll use English in your future studies. Last time, I showed you how “real” academic reading differs from “exam” reading. Today, we’re going to look at what writing will really be like once you get to your school.

Like reading, writing for actual university classes is less limited by time. Nearly all writing assignments are assigned as homework. You’ll be writing outside of class, without a timer. You’ll be writing for much longer periods of time— even native speakers may find themselves spending 5-10 hours on a longer writing assignment. The right amount of time to spend writing a paper will not be 20 or 30 minutes. It will as much time as you need to write the best possible paper. You will decide the time limits for your writing, based on how much time you have and how much work you’ve been assigned.

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Writing will be even more integrated in your university studies than it is on the TOEFL. TOEFL Integrated Writing has you read a short passage and listen to a few minutes of lecture. Your writing on campus will be based on many lectures, multiple longer readings, and discussions you have with classmates and teachers.

Before you even turn your final essay in, you need to do pre-writing. This is much a longer process on campus than it is on the TOEFL. You have several minutes at most to organize your ideas in TOEFL Writing. In your school classes, you will have days, weeks, and even months to brainstorm, organize, and outline your paper. If you’re in grad school, you may even have years to prepare a piece of writing. (I wrote my final Master’s Thesis over a two-year period.)

Above all, writing a lot more interactive in university classes than is on the TOEFL. What do I mean by this? I mean that you take the TOEFL alone, but writing on campus requires you to talk to lots of other people. Many university professors will ask you to interview people and take surveys, then put the results of those talks into your writing. Your English professors will meet with you for writing conferences where they discuss your writing with you. You and your classmates will share essays with each other and give each other writing advice. You’ll be able to spend time with writing tutors who will give you feedback, suggestions and guidance.

So is campus writing harder than TOEFL Writing? To use an English idiom, asking this question is like comparing apples and oranges. What I mean is that TOEFL Writing and “real” academic writing are similar in some ways, but different enough that they can’t be directly compared. Academic writing for university classes is definitely more complicated than TOEFL writing. But you’ll also have a lot more freedom and support. You’ll have no exact time limits, more choice in what you write, and lots of help from teachers, tutors, and classmates. Once you pass the TOEFL, your most enjoyable English writing experiences will still be ahead of you.


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