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Grammar Variety in TOEFL Independent Writing

Varied grammar is one of the important TOEFL Writing features, as listed on ETS’s official TOEFL Writing rubrics. Today, we’ll look at ways that you can add grammar variety to your TOEFL essays.

In TOEFL Independent Writing, it’s especially important to vary your grammar when you describe cause and effect. Cause and effect statements make for great supporting details in your TOEFL Independent Essay, because they help your reader picture situations that illustrate your claims.

Paraphrase if statements with varied grammar

The easiest way to describe cause and effect is by using “if.” For example, in a TOEFL essay about whether or not kids should be allowed to play computer games (as seen in Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volume 2), you could say something like “if kids play educational computer games, it can get them more excited about learning.”

Now, it’s possible to write a good TOEFL Writing Task 2 essay by using lots of “if” statements. But you increase your chances of writing a truly great essay–and getting a top score–by using more varied grammar.

The trick is to think of alternatives to the “if” phrases. This is really a form of paraphrasing. And below, I’ll show you how this kind of paraphrasing can work. I’ll give you a paraphrased version of the TOEFL Writing task 2 model answer I recently showed you.

In my original model answer, I used two if clauses in each body paragraph. In my revised essay below, I have paraphrased every “if” clause, so that all the ifs are gone. This paraphrase is a bit extreme–in your own TOEFL Independent Writing, you don’t need to get rid of every if. After each body paragraph, you can see the if clauses that appeared in the original essay. Compare these originals to the revisions to see different ways of paraphrasing if statements.

TOEFL Independent Writing Model Response–Revised (no ifs for cause and effect)


  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The Internet causes people to interact with each other less than they did in the past. Use specific reasons to support your answers.

Internet technology has revolutionized the way we live. Now, more than ever, we have so much information and media at our fingertips. The ability to look up any information, watch any TV show, or listen to any music from the comfort of our own homes actually has some disadvantages. I agree with the idea that the Internet is causing people to be less social.

One of the reasons the Internet causes us to interact with others less is that it makes many public gathering places obsolete. Libraries used to be popular places for community events. Because community members can find entire books online in PDF, people don’t interact with each other at libraries as much anymore. Schools and workplaces are moving onto the Internet too. More and more, people get online degrees or use their Internet connections to work from home. This causes people to miss out on the friendship and human interaction they’d normally get in class or at their jobs.

  • If statements from the original essay:
    • But if people in a community can find entire books online in PDF, they won’t interact with each other at libraries as much anymore.
    •  If people take this Internet route to work and school, they miss out on the friendship and human interaction they’d normally get in class or at their jobs.

Some could argue that the Internet allows people to meet and interact electronically. But this is still less social than non-Internet meetings. People who use Internet dating services, for example, just message people one at a time. This isn’t as social as trying to find a date in a  coffee shop or at the park, where there are lots of people. And in Internet-based friendship, you don’t see a person in reality, and often communicate with them only in writing. As a result, people experience less personal interactions, even with their friends.

  • If statements from the original essay:
    • If people stay at home and use the Internet to try to find a date, for instance, they no longer look for love in truly social environments, like a coffee shop or public park.
    • Also, if most of your interactions with your friends are online, you don’t get to hear your friends’ voices or see their faces nearly as often.

Ultimately, the Internet leads people to isolate themselves from others, staying at home instead of going out. Moreover, human interaction on the Internet through  is not as personal as face-to-face meetings between people. The Internet has some benefits, but it really does cause us to be less social.

Follow-up TOEFL Writing Practice Activity

Write down a list of if statements. They don’t necessarily need to be ones you’d use in a specific TOEFL Independent Writing response. Then, after each if statement, write one or two paraphrases of the statement, getting rid of the word “if.” This exercise will help you describe cause-and-effect relationships in a variety of ways, and increase your chances of a top score in TOEFL Independent Writing.

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