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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:

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  • 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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22 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 😀

  6. Delilah June 18, 2018 at 1:19 am #

    My integrated essay is around 500 words. Could that be too much? The question asked for something “complete” so I included every detail from the text and the lecture.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 19, 2018 at 5:14 pm #

      Hi Delilah,

      Whether or not this is “too much” depends on the quality of your writing! In general, 500 words is a pretty good length for the essay. However, you should make sure that your writing is clear and correct and that you don’t have a lot of errors. Just writing a lot won’t get you a good score on the essays–you also must write well 🙂 I recommend that you review your essays using the official essay rubric and see how you fare 🙂

  7. LUV PATEL September 8, 2018 at 11:53 pm #

    Hi Lucas, I just gave my Toefl and in writing section, wrote 350 words in Q1 (Integrated) and 558 words in Q2. However, I am feeling nervous whether such long essay would affect my writing score or not. I didn’t write with the intention of just making the essay longer and longer. Both the essays have been neatly written with proper structures (4 para) and nearly perfect Grammer. Though, I have not written those big or tough vocabulary words in the Q2 (independent) part. Can you give me any guidance how this will affect my score?
    Thanks again for all your help and support throughout all your videos and blogs. I really appreciate you guys!!
    Sincerely, Luv.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 14, 2018 at 12:57 pm #

      Hi Luv,

      As Eliot mentions in this post, there is no word limit on the essays. If you wrote a strong, grammatically correct and well-structured essay, then there is no reason why the length would negatively affect your score. I know it’s difficult, but you’ll have to wait for your scores to be sure! I’m glad that you have enjoyed our blog and that we helped you out as you prepared for your exam 🙂

  8. Cece October 29, 2018 at 9:05 am #

    Hi there! I was just wondering if there will be an automatic word counter for both writing tasks, or do we need to count how many words we have already used ourselves? Thank you.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 1, 2018 at 10:55 am #

      Hi Cece,

      Yes, there is a word counter on the screen when you take the test, so you will be able to track how long your essays are as you type them. 🙂 So, you won’t need to predict your word count at all.

      With that said, if you want to estimate your word count during practice, you can count the number of words in the first three lines, divide by 3, and then multiply by the total number of lines. 🙂 That will give you a good idea of how many words you have.

    • RSP November 2, 2018 at 10:43 am #

      This. Possibly the most relevant question in the comments here. And NO mention of it on the official ETS site.

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 3, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

        There will be a word count feature on the actual TOEFL exam. So you don’t need to worry about counting words! 🙂

  9. Maximiliano szarangowicz November 16, 2018 at 11:42 pm #

    I just took the TOEFL iBT for the first time and ended up with a 250 word essay, I managed to write an introduction, body and conclusion in 4 paragraphs, but I ran out of time to elaborate the idea a little more, it was too concise
    Is it really that bad? in my case I needed a total test score equivalent to a 6.5, ideally 7.0 IELTS, I believe this was the lowest point in my test, I left the classroom a little worried.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 20, 2018 at 6:32 am #

      Hi Maximiliano.

      As we mention in this blog post, quality really does matter more than quantity. Unlike in the IELTS, there is no minimum word count in TOEFL essays. These are just recommendations. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say with any certainty what your score will be–you will have to wait for the results of your exam and then decide how you will proceed! I know it’s stressful to have to wait for results, but try to relax a bit and enjoy the accomplishment of taking the test 🙂

  10. sandra September 9, 2019 at 8:07 am #

    hi Lucas!
    I have a question, I usually write the essay without really looking at the word count. I try to always focus on the content. However, sometimes after I finish the 3 points and contrast them, I feel there are still some small details that I need to add as a fourth paragraph. is that bad? will they deduct points? thank you!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 7, 2019 at 8:22 pm #

      Hi Sandra 🙂 You definitely want to reach the recommended minimum word count. Once you’ve done that, focus on organization and development. Without knowing the specifics, I would say that small details don’t matter too much. Just make sure that each paragraph has a clear and specific purpose. Hope that helps!

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