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TOEFL Writing Topics

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Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.
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TOEFL Writing Topics-magoosh

While the TOEFL is generally a very different type of test from the GRE, the GMAT, and the SAT, there are a few similarities, and the writing section is one of them. As with most standardized tests, the TOEFL asks you to write an essay. Well, it asks for two essays, actually—one is about a reading and a lecture (which you’ll summarize), and the second is more open-ended. Let’s look at the TOEFL writing topics that you might see for that second TOEFL essay, the “independent task.”

On one hand, there are a LOT of different TOEFL writing topics. You might be asked to write an essay about technology, education, media, family, or some other subject. But on the other hand, there are only a few different types of questions.

ETS does provide a list of TOEFL independent essay questions in the official guide, and it’s a good idea to look over those. But there’s an excess of information there—we want to know some more useful generalities! So let’s divide those subjects into types. (Click here to jump ahead to the first of those three types!)

A Note on Practicing TOEFL Writing Topics

If you practice writing the essay before test day (a good idea!), then you can use an essay prompt from the ETS list mentioned above. This is a great option.

For more customized practice, , select “Practice –> Custom Practice –> Writing Section”, and then try one of our premium TOEFL Writing prompts. You can also choose to only practice the independent task, if that’s what you want to focus on. The trial lasts 7 days and you don’t need a credit card to sign up.

Here’s what that looks like:

Let’s talk about the TOEFL “independent task” writing topic types I mentioned above!

TOEFL Writing Topic Type 1: Choose a Side

This is by far the most common type of independent writing question. These TOEFL prompts ask you to choose A or B then explain your decision. There are a couple of different approaches to writing this type of essay, but the simplest form is the “five paragraph essay.” Usually this is actually only four paragraphs, because you don’t have that much time—the test only gives you 30 minutes to complete your independent essay.

So if you choose A, you might write an essay that looks like this:

  • Intro
    • A is better
  • Body 1
    • Reason 1 and examples of why A is better
    • Short contrast with B
  • Body 2
    • Reason 2 and examples of why A is better
    • Short contrast with B
  • Conclusion
    • Why this is significant in the real world

Of course, there are other ways to write an essay, but it’s a good idea to use a relatively simple structure for clarity. This is more true for the TOEFL than it is for essays on other tests, like the GRE, because the TOEFL is really a test of communication and how well you can write in English.

Here are some examples of the “choose a side” writing topics:

“Some would say it is more important to have an enjoyable job than to have a job with a high salary. Do you feel this is true or not true? Explain your thoughts using examples.”

“Opinion: It is better have an low-stress job than a job with lots of responsibility. Do you hold this opinion, or disagree with it? In your essay, include supporting details.”

“Apartment buildings are the preferred living space for many people. But there are also many individuals who prefer living in a house. Which do you prefer? Explain your thoughts using examples.”

“It could be argued that technology makes our lives easier and simpler. But there are certainly people who feel life has become more complicated due to modern inventions. Which opinion do you agree with? In your essay, include supporting details.”

“This week, your government announced plans to invest significant amounts of money in the exploration of outer space. Write an essay explaining why you are either for this new plan or against it. Explain your thoughts using examples.”

You might also get a slightly more complicated version of the “choose a side” prompt that asks you to compare sides, like this one:

“Many workers change jobs a few times in their career. However, a number of workers instead do the same type of work throughout their career. Of these two career paths, which is a better option? In your essay, include supporting details.”

In that case, you could still use the structure I showed above, but you would emphasize the contrasts with “B” and write a bit more about them.

Writing Topic Type 2: View Both Sides

This is actually very similar to the “choose a side” type of essay subject, but it’s a little bit more complicated because you have to think from two different standpoints. Thankfully, it’s also not as common.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Your family and friends are encouraging you to buy a new car. What are some benefits and downsides of purchasing a brand new vehicle? Explain your thoughts using examples.”

“What are some good things and bad things about remaining in your hometown as an adult? In your essay, include supporting details.”

There are a couple of different ways you might structure an essay like, but the simplest one may be the best.

  • Intro
    • General statements about issue
  • Body 1
    • Advantages and examples
  • Body 2
    • Disadvantages and examples
  • Conclusion
    • Why this is significant in the real world

 

Writing Topic Type 3: Describe or Explain

In a way, this is the most difficult type of independent essay question because it doesn’t give you an A or B situation. Instead, you have to think of your own subject from a very big pool of possibilities.

If you could choose any place to live in the world, where would you live? Explain your thoughts using examples.”

“How was your grandparents’ life different than yours? In your essay, include supporting details.”

What is your favorite movie and why? In your essay, include supporting details.”

“What is your favorite place to visit near your home? Explain your thoughts using examples.”

Because these writing topics don’t give you a yes–no or A–B choice, it’s easy to get stuck in the planning phase. (By the way, planning is incredibly important for writing any standardized test essay; don’t skip it!)

The structure doesn’t have to be very different, though. Here’s a rough idea of how you might organize a descriptive essay:

  • Intro
    • Your choice/subject
  • Body 1
    • Reason 1 and examples
  • Body 2
    • Reason 2 and examples
  • Body 3
    • Reason 3 and examples
  • Conclusion
    • Why this is significant in the real world

Notice I added one more body paragraph. Because there’s no “other side” to deal with, you have more time to explain the one topic you chose. So why not use that time for another paragraph!

This Is Only Half of TOEFL Writing

Remember that the independent essay is only half of the TOEFL writing section. There’s also . We’ll look at the topics of integrated tasks in another post!

Ready For Some Practice?

If you’re ready to try out writing the independent task for yourself, try a or take a look at our full-length TOEFL Writing test, which will also introduce you to the integrated task:
 

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