Last time, we looked at how to score a 5 out of 5 on the TOEFL integrated writing task, or essay. Now, let’s take a look at how to get that same high score on the independent task. Just as with the integrated task, ETS (the test-makers) have kindly provided the scoring rubric online, allowing us to break down the important parts of scoring a perfect 5 on the second essay. In brief, a perfect 5 essay will:
- address the topic and satisfy the task
- be properly organized with sufficient details and explanations
- progress in a way that is clear and complete
- use sufficient, varied vocabulary and grammar with little or no error.
Looking at this step-by-step, you’ll see that the process isn’t that different from your independent speaking tasks. After all, the prompts can be very similar. However, the topic and task of the essay tend to be slightly more nuanced, and you should also take a slightly more nuanced approach to them. You’ve got an entire essay to write about this topic, after all! Maybe you agree with the prompt, except in certain circumstances, which you can explain in your essay, or maybe you disagree with the prompt, but can provide counterarguments, which you can then refute.
To make sure that you don’t lose points for an unclear argument, make sure you have your thesis statement, which explains your opinion, clearly stated early in the essay. Before you begin writing the rest of the essay, create an outline, listing the examples that you’ve chosen to support your thesis. A variety of examples is a very good thing—it’s better to use different sources, from history to film to literature, than it is to write about three movies that prove your point.
To display “unity, progression, and coherence,” the best thing you can do is to work on your use of keywords. In this case, those will be transitional keywords. Moving smoothly from one example to another, or even from one sentence to another, using words like although, however, and additionally will really boost the level of your writing. If you have a hard time remembering to do this, leave yourself a few minutes at the end of the essay to go through it and link the ideas together. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock, though!
As you go through the essay at the end, look at the sentence variety and word choice, as well. This is what will help you display “consistent facility in the use of language.” Make sure that all of your sentences don’t begin “Subject + verb,” mixing it up with modifiers, hypotheticals, and clauses. In terms of word choice, it’s better to be clear than sophisticated (though ideally, the words would be both!) Look out for cases in which you’ve unnecessarily repeated a word when you could have used a synonym to create the same meaning. Don’t worry too much about this—minor errors in spelling or grammar won’t lower your score, though it can be hard to distinguish between major and minor errors in the moment (so try to avoid them altogether!)
By being careful and consistent, and making sure that you know what each TOEFL essay requires, you’ll have your best chance at getting that 5/5, which—in combination with a 5/5 on the integrated task—will lead you to a perfect score on the TOEFL writing section.