Preparing for the TOEFL: Writing Section Topics

TOEFL is an important test for any ESL student who wants to enter a university outside his or her country. Preparation for this test is a serious process requiring time, perseverance, and willingness to learn. Unfortunately, you can’t get fully prepared in advance for all of the four sections of the test, but learning to deal with a section of writing is quite possible.

Similar to all tests supposed to estimate the knowledge of the English language, TOEFL has a writing section consisting of a summary assignment and an essay assignment. Let’s have a closer look at the latter.

Types of TOEFL Topics

Actually, the variety of TOEFL essay topics is really wide – you can be asked to discuss something that refers to such general subjects as media, education, technology, personality, family, etc. Yet, it’s possible to classify the essays by type (there are only three types) and learn peculiarities of each of them.

#1 Choose a side

This essay type will require you to choose between two objects or ideas and give reasons that your decision is based on. The easiest and most common structure for such a piece of writing includes typical five paragraphs. The time you will have during the test for the writing section is only 30 minutes, which means you may have no time to write a complete paper. So, don’t worry if you will end up with a four paragraph essay. Here is a visualization of the structure you may use:

Introduction: Introduce your choice by claiming that it’s better than the alternative option

Paragraphs one two and three: Introduce the 1st reason explaining your choice and give one or two examples; compare it with the alternative option in brief

Conclusion: Draw the bottom line and dwell upon the importance of the problem in reality

This simple structure is pretty clear and easy to remember. Using it during the TOEFL, you will skip the part where you decide how to organize the essay and will save time for writing.

It won’t be hard to define that you’re asked to write this type of essay if you note the words used. Such phrases as “some…, while others…”, “what do you prefer?”, “agree or disagree…”, “support or oppose…” serve as indicators. Also, you can be asked to write a compare and contrast paper. Prompts for this type look very similar, so you can use the same structure. However, you should focus more on the sections comparing your choice and the alternative option.

#2 Consider both sides

This type of essay is more complicated to write as it requires a student to consider two sides of something and take two different positions during a discussion. The keywords that the prompts of this essay type contain are usually “advantage” and “disadvantage”.

A typical structure for essay is as follows:

  • Introduction: Introduce an issue and make a general statement
  • Paragraphs one and two: Describe positive sides and provide vivid examples
  • Conclusion: Draw the bottom line and dwell upon the importance of the problem in reality

#3 Explain

This essay type is even more difficult due to the absence of choices and sides. Here you will have to make up the points to discuss on your own. A range of options can be really big. Planning such a paper can become a real challenge since you are not given any options from the beginning. That’s why prior preparation is crucial. Here is a simple way to organize your expository or descriptive essay:

Introduction: Introduce the subject you have chosen for a discussion

Paragraphs one two and three: Present the reasons  of your choice and back it up with examples

Conclusion: Draw the bottom line and dwell upon the importance of the problem in reality

Unlike the first type where you had to compare and contrast two options every time you introduce a new reason, this type will fit into a 30-minute deadline as you only present arguments and support them with examples. Such TOEFL writing prompts may include imaginary essay type. You will easily detect it by the phrases “if you could…” or “if you would…”.

TOEFL Essay Prompts

Once you learn the basics of each type of essay, you may start getting acquainted with the list of TOEFL essay topics. Although the prompts change year by year, meaning the following ones are not exactly what you will be asked to write, the key ideas and subject fields they represent stay the same. So, practice beforehand. Take your time to answer some of these questions, and you will cope with a TOEFL writing section with ease.

Agree or disagree:

1) Studying sciences is more important than studying literature or history.

2) Older generation should teach the youth, not vice versa.

3) People always want more, want something they don’t have yet, and seem to be never satisfied with what they do have.

4) A person can’t be considered successful until they earn lots of money.

5) Success comes with hard work, not with luck.

Discuss advantages and disadvantages of:

1) Having a circle of friends who have similar interests and outlook.

2) Learning from personal experience.

3) Living in a student dorm.

4) Traveling alone.

5) Being able to live an eternal life.

Explain your opinion:

1) What is a national tradition or a common feature in your nation’s mentality you would like the whole world to have?

2) Where would you travel if you had a time machine?

3) What is the most essential skill or ability one must have to succeed in life?

4) What causes people to take interest in dangerous activities and extreme sports?

5) Do you believe it’s a good idea to combine work and studies?

TOEFL Writing Tips

BrainstormThe biggest distraction during the TOEFL is the inability to concentrate and generate ideas quickly. Therefore, you should develop your brainstorming skills in advance by trying different techniques: Write down the keyword and make a list of words you associate with it. Answer the famous 5W and How questions.

ReadReading has always been known to enhance writing skills, especially reading the type of writing you want to learn to do. Find TOEFL essay samples and study the way they are organized. But don’t forget to make sure you use a proven source with high-quality papers, be it a library or the Web.

PracticeAll theory should be back up with practice if you want it to be of any use. Look through the TOEFL essay topics listed above and choose some of them to practice your essay writing skills. Pick prompts of different types if you truly want to succeed.

EditBefore the test day comes, you must get ready completely, and no essay is complete without the proofreading and editing stage. Although you will be limited in time, you need to manage to read your paper and fix all possible grammar mistakes. Also, you should check the content by asking yourself whether you have answered the prompt, whether the conclusion is clear, whether you have a strong thesis, and whether each paragraph is arranged in a logical way.  

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Julie Bradley

I try to help every student with my work. I work as a blogger for the site and other educational sites. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology and a degree in the humanities