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TOEFL Tuesday: Can a TOEFL Essay Be Too Long?

How much is too much? Everybody knows that writing an essay that’s too short is a problem. But sometimes, students ask about the maximum essay length, thinking that either the graders will take off points or that the essay will simply be cut off, not able to continue.

But I can say in short, there is no maximum. You can write an enormous essay and get a perfect score.

Official recommendations from ETS

ETS (the company that makes the TOEFL) gives specific numbers for essay length in all their preparation material and during the actual test.  The recommendations are simple:

  • Integrated essay: 150 – 225 words
  • Independent essay: 300 words

These aren’t maximum scores, nor are they minimums. But to be honest, an essay that’s shorter than these recommended lengths may not get a perfect score. Usually, top scoring essays are longer.

Still, writing much more does not mean a higher score.

Quantity and quality

There’s a clear reason why shorter essays might have lower scores—they don’t have enough room to include details. That means the essay is not just shorter, but also lower quality. A longer essay gives enough room to add those important details.

Still, a long essay can cause a problem. Imagine trying to write 1000 words in 30 minutes for the independent essay. How much will you be able to focus on grammar, vocabulary, structure, and clarity? Not much. The more you write, the less attention you can pay to each word and sentence.

In other words, it’s possible to write too much, but only because you’re not focusing on the more important aspects of your essay.  It’s possible to write a 1000 word essay and get a perfect score, but I don’t recommend trying it. It’s much easier to write a 400 or 500 word essay with a perfect score.

So first, try to reach the recommended lengths from ETS. If you can write more, that’s best. But don’t worry about writing two times the recommended length—it’s better to focus on quality at that point, not quantity.

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10 Responses to TOEFL Tuesday: Can a TOEFL Essay Be Too Long?

  1. apoorva August 27, 2017 at 2:03 am #

    hi lucas, i could nit finish last line of my independent essay. will that result in deduction?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 28, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

      Hi Apoorva,

      There is a small chance that it will affect your score a bit, but if the rest of your essay was strong, it will be fine. 🙂

  2. Aishwarya September 9, 2017 at 6:43 am #

    I wrote an essay tat is less than 300 words in independent.will tat greatly affect my score? Thnks

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 11, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

      Hi Aishwarya,

      Nope! You want to aim for 300-350 ideally, but if it isn’t too much shorter, no worries. 🙂

  3. Manu September 30, 2017 at 2:10 am #

    Hi , i wrote the integrated essay of 400 words and i think it’s too long. How many marks are going to be deducted?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 30, 2017 at 8:42 pm #

      Hi Manu,

      Marks would not be deducted for a long essay, but if the quality of that text is poor (content or grammar) then that would affect you. If the text is solid, though, 400 words is fine!

  4. Ayesha November 17, 2017 at 5:05 am #

    Hey for my independent essay I had about 257 words. Will any marks be deducted?

    • David Recine
      David Recine November 17, 2017 at 10:59 am #

      The 300 word count is just a recommendation. So you certainly won’t automatically lost points for having 257 words. If you’ve managed to fully develop your essay and satisfy the criteria in the official TOEFL Writing rubric, you could get a decent score. However, 257 still is a bit low. It’s difficult to put together a fully developed written response unless you’re closer to 300 words, or slightly over. So a 257 word essay is more likely to get a lower score than an TOEFL Independent response that’s around 300 words.

  5. Armin February 24, 2018 at 11:32 am #

    Hi, I have written an independent essay of 222 words, but it is fully developed, with introduction, two body paragraphs and conclusion, grammar is also normal, academic vocabulary is udes, how many scores are possible to get with this essay? Thank you

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 25, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Armin,

      As we mentioned in this blog post, there is no specific grading on the length of the essay. Writing an essay with 222 words does not guarantee you a certain score or score range. In general, higher scoring essays tend to be longer, but that doesn’t mean that a shorter essay will automatically lower your score. The potential problem with a shorter essay is that you can’t fully develop your ideas. I recommend that you check out the TOEFL essay rubric and assess your essay according to that. Better yet, have someone else grade your essay for you 😀

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