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TOEFL Tuesday: Writing a Better Independent Essay – Tip 1

Over the next three weeks, I’ll walk through three tips that can help you improve your independent essay. This Tuesday is the first tip, and it’s an interesting one.



If you have studied the GRE with Magoosh, you may have heard this tip before. The idea is simple: write the introduction paragraph last, after you have written the body paragraphs.

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This works because you’re on a computer when taking the TOEFL. You don’t need to worry about space on the page. It doesn’t work for tests like the SAT that are on paper, but because any text you’ve already written below your current sentence just moves down on a computer, it’s very easy to do.

You can start writing sooner.

To say it simply, the body of your essay is much more important than is your introduction or conclusion. So if you move straight to the first body paragraph, you give yourself more time to focus on that important section—you can start on it sooner. It’s also easier to write the body paragraphs, because they include more concrete ideas. You’re less likely to get stuck on what to say next in an introduction.

Because TOEFL writing is timed, starting to write quickly is important!


It’s easier to connect the introduction.

Often, introductions are a little confusing because they don’t connect very well with the second or third body paragraph. This is because students change their thoughts slightly while they write, and what they expect to say at the start of the essay might not match their exact focus later.

But if you have already written both body paragraphs when you start the introduction, then you will know exactly what to introduce. There is no danger of writing an introduction that doesn’t connect to later ideas.


You don’t need to know both main reasons.

On most TOEFL essays, you should have two body paragraphs, and in each of those paragraphs there should be one main reason for your opinion. As I wrote above, your introduction paragraph should connect to both those paragraphs. But what if you don’t have two reasons yet? What if you are panicking because you have spent 4 minutes planning your essay, but you only have one reason?

It’s not an ideal situation, but if you haven’t fully planned your essay and must start writing to save time, starting from body paragraph one will give you the extra time to think about what body paragraph two will be about. If you start on the introduction first, on the other hand, you need to know what your second reason will be so your introduction to it will make sense.

But let me be clear: I definitely recommend planning your whole essay before you start writing. The strategy of beginning to write before you have a second reason planned is only for emergencies, when you really have to save time because planning has taken more than a few minutes.

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3 Responses to TOEFL Tuesday: Writing a Better Independent Essay – Tip 1

  1. Reis September 16, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    Hey Lucas!
    This is a very useful tip, i’m willing to take the toefl by february 16 and i have some difficulties on writting essays.
    Every time i look into your posts i grab something new.
    Keep the good job you are doing congrats to all magoosh team.

  2. Jeanne December 15, 2015 at 4:11 am #

    Hi, Lucas! Does it means that writing two body paragraphs with details is better than writing three paragraphs?

    Thank you ! 😀

    • David Recine December 18, 2015 at 7:41 am #

      I can answer this one, Jeanne. 🙂 Two body paragraphs is indeed better than three body paragraphs, generally. Using just two paragraphs makes your essay structure a little bit simpler, so that you’re more likely to finish writing in time, and keep your response well-focused. Having three paragraphs in the body instead of two won’t *automatically* hurt your score, but it can hurt your pacing and your ability to express your ideas in a clear, straightforward way.

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