The TOEFL Independent Writing Task

In a recent post, we looked at the integrated writing task for the TOEFL. While the integrated essay requires you to synthesize information from a reading with information from a lecture, the independent writing task just asks your opinion about an issue. The questions are designed to have several equally correct answers and to be accessible to people with a variety of backgrounds and levels of English. Here are some tips for taking it on.

Stick to the prompt

The independent essay questions tend to be a little uninspired, so you may be tempted to take the question in a slightly different, more adventurous direction. I hate to say this, but seriously—don’t do it. Often the question will be binary: it will ask if something is good or bad, or if a statement is true or false. This isn’t the time to proselytize about how the premise of the question is flawed, or how it ignores a much more important issue. Pick one of the options available to you or mix them together, discussing how both of them are valid, then qualifying that statement.


Most people hold opinions that aren’t entirely rational, or that are based on reasons that aren’t easy to explain quickly. If the essay prompt touches on such an area for you, remember that your opinion is really not the point. Before you start typing, consider several possible viewpoints from which the question could be addressed, and pick the one that has the clearest, most logical reasoning behind it.

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Use specific examples

As much as possible, prefer concrete, real-life anecdotes to hypothetical situations. This makes your essay more interesting, your argument more compelling, and, we hope, your rater more generous. And this can be linked back to the previous tip. For example, let’s say I’m given the topic, “Should technology be taught in elementary schools?” and I choose to argue that no, it should not be. I may support that argument by writing about the negative effects of over-connectedness I see daily in my little brother. I finish my essay, turn it in, and some days later receive a score—a good score. There’s just one plot twist: I don’t have a little brother. But telling a plausible anecdote about him strengthened my argument, so I made him up. The test raters won’t know if you make up an example, and if they did know, they wouldn’t care.  Use whatever examples will make your essay as clear and your argument as strong as possible.


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5 Responses to The TOEFL Independent Writing Task

  1. Sebastian March 25, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    Hi there,

    One question regarding scoring: although the TOEFL OG recommends essays of 300 words for the Independent Essay, do you think that length correlates with score?

    My point is all things being equal (coherency, grammar, vocabulary), would a longer essay tend to score higher than an average one?

    In other words, do you think it is worth it to push it to the 400+ words in order to try to get a higher score?

    Thank you so much!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 26, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Hi Sebastian,

      If length comes at the expense of grammatical accuracy, organization or idea refinement, it is not worth pushing to 400. I know you said “all things being equal,” but it is very typically not the case that this is true. If you are completing everything else highly accurately and can pass that recommended 300-word benchmark, though, I do believe it will be beneficial to push for more words. Do not go crazy and write 500+, though. This is typically a sign of not self-editing adequately.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

      • Sebastian March 26, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

        Fantastic! Thank you so much!

  2. Dariana Montserrat Flores January 11, 2018 at 7:48 pm #

    I will take the TOEFL exam this Saturday and I’m really nervous of whether I will be able to reach a high score in both the writing and speaking sections. I’m confused in both sections. In the speaking section I read that while some people recommend you to follow templates, others believe that it is better to be natural. Now on the writing section, the post says that I can defend both options and not just choose one; the question is,will not taking one side lower my grade? Thank you in advance for your time!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 12, 2018 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Dariana,

      The question of whether to use a template or not typically comes down to whether or not you are at a high enough fluency level (and comfortable enough) to forge the path on your own. There is nothing wrong with a template, because it helps create a skeleton for what you say and can make it easier to organize thoughts and make sure you don’t forget to mention an important detail or idea. This is true in both speaking and writing.

      As for what to defend in the writing, this is, again, a personal choice. You can be successful if you look at both sides or if you just look at one. The key is showing depth of understanding, engagement with the prompt, organization, etc. This can be achieved either way, but at least acknowledging a counter point when choosing a side helps to make your arguments more nuanced and high level. In short, do what feels most natural for you, and make sure you develop your ideas as much as you can in the time provided! 🙂

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