TOEFL Essay 2: Independent

After you’ve finished the integrated essay, you’ll move immediately on to the independent essay. For this essay, you’ll be asked a question about your opinion on a given issue or topic. Your essay should explain your position on that issue. Usually, the independent essay is a little longer than the integrated one, since you’ll have more time to write it (30 minutes as opposed to 20).


There’s no right or wrong answer

Essay graders are told to accept any viewpoint, so it’s not possible to answer the question incorrectly. The most important thing is to support your argument and write as clearly as possible. Sometimes, this may even mean defending the opposite of the opinion that you actually have. If your true opinion is based on emotional arguments or abstractions rather than concrete facts or personal experiences, it may be better to choose the side that is easier to support. Usually, your actual opinion will be easier to support (there’s a reason you believe it, after all!), but it’s never a bad idea to practice defending positions that you don’t believe in your practice essays, as this will help you learn to defend arguments well.

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Focus on the answer

Most independent essays are about 300 words long; the best are significantly longer. But bear in mind that every sentence you write should be related to your thesis. Another side of this is that you shouldn’t go overboard in your examples. Pick one or two that demonstrate your point really well, and spend a short paragraph explaining how each of them fits into the topic. You won’t have time to provide much background information about your examples, and you probably won’t want to pick more than two or maybe three. It’s definitely better to deal with a small number of topics in-depth than to list a bunch of different examples without explaining them. Making the relationship between an example and your main idea clear is absolutely key.


Structure your essay well

For now, there are three main points I want to make. First of all, start and end your essay by stating your opinion so it’s very clear to the reader where you’re going. Second of all, take a few minutes at the beginning to jot down your ideas and make a short outline to keep you on track through the writing process. Although this may seem like a waste of time, it will probably save you valuable minutes in the long run, since you’ll spend less time thinking about what you want to say or reorganizing your sentences when you realize that something doesn’t make sense. Finally, don’t forget to use transitions to make the essay flow better.


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2 Responses to TOEFL Essay 2: Independent

  1. Fiona October 8, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Can we write a balanced essay, giving the pros and cons of both sides of the argument, instead of taking a side?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      Not really, no. It’s possible to acknowledge the other side of the argument, but it’s not necessary, and the task asks you to agree or disagree—not to explain both sides. Basically, the essay graders need to know your opinion after they read. It’s a test of communication. If they aren’t clear about your opinion after reading, you’ll receive a lower score. The easiest way to avoid that is to have a simple opinion. Although that doesn’t make for very good writing (intelligent writing acknowledges all sides of an issue), it is what’s best for the TOEFL in particular.

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