Conceding Points to Score Points: Why You Need to Use Concessions in TOEFL Writing

 
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Why You Need to Use Concessions in TOEFL Writing

How do you convince someone to agree with your opinion on a certain topic?  While there are many factors that determine if a reader will ultimately agree with the position you take in an essay, trust may be the single most important.  But how do you get someone to trust you when the only connection is your writing?  To win over your reader every time, you need to carefully consider your word choice as well as the supporting details you choose to feature. However perhaps the most underrated method for getting readers to trust you is to acknowledge the other side.  In other words, to use concessions. 

The word concede often has a negative connotation.  While the word concede does mean to surrender, as in when a losing candidate officially declares that they have lost and the other person has won, in writing, the word concede typically refers to the strategy of showing that the opposite side does have a valid point.

Concessions can be as short as one sentence in which the writer demonstrates something's accuracy or advantage followed immediately by an independent clause that moves into stating why the other side is still the clear victor.  Common words and phrases for introducing concessions are: admittedly, although, even though, while, however, yet, and despite.

The TOEFL itself features many examples of concessions as they are common in academic writing.  Look for them at the beginning of the integrated essay lecture.  Most of the time, the reading passage and the lecture disagree, with the professor starting his/her lecture summarizing the gist of the lecture and following it up with an opposing viewpoint.

Concessions: A rhetorical strategy used across disciplines

Too many students assume that acknowledging the validity of a point made by the opposition is a sign of weakness.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Ignoring the other side entirely or making it seem like it has nothing going for it often just feels inauthentic.  By using a strategically placed concession, you are essentially showing that you are trustworthy. You aren't so biased that you cannot even admit that there is another side. Instead, you are showing how reasonable you are by making a small concession to a reasonable point that others would find convincing.

If you want to see how effective concessions are, just imagine the last political debate you watched.  If one candidate is doing everything in his/her power to avoid talking about the other side, it seems like this person isn't being completely forthcoming or totally reasonable.  However, if they first make a brief concession, stating that yes, there are one or two solid points that the opposition makes before diving into why his/her position still is the more advantageous, people can more easily buy into this idea even if they were not initially inclined to believe this.

Using concessions to build trust isn't exclusive to the realm of politics, either. A common piece of business advice is that people buy from those they know, like, and trust.  This exact formula can be applied to writing for certain types of standardized tests.  On the TOEFL, sharing personal experience is a completely appropriate way to support your position, and while that isn't always the case for formal writing situations, this certainly increases the know factor for this exam.  Like can be achieved through a combination of word choice and examples given.  While diction can also help when it comes to the trust factor, the concession is a great strategy to use to establish that content as well can contribute to creating confidence in the writer.

The When and Why to Use Concessions on the TOEFL


On the TOEFL, you do not need to dedicate an entire paragraph to crafting a concession.  While this might be necessary if you are writing an entire term paper length essay, a TOEFL essay tends to be 4 or 5 paragraphs in length.  As a result, devoting an entire paragraph to a concession would be overkill.   Rarely, ETS will ask you a compare/contrast question, when you should devote equal time to both positions.  For the vast majority of test questions, simply staying with one position with succinct concessions built into the paragraph is the most effective strategy.

Instead, try to use concessions in your topic sentences (the first sentence in each body paragraph) or following your topic sentence before introducing a key example in your body paragraph.

In addition to being great practice for cultivating trust in any type of writing assignment that you will need to craft in your university program, using concessions has two other fringe benefits on the TOEFL specifically.

First, it allows you to showcase your knowledge of transition words.  Because concessions require you to talk about the other side before switching to your primarily point, you will need to ease the reader in, guiding readers through this change in idea through well-placed transitions.  Using transitions that introduce contrast, like however, on the other hand, or yet are useful ways to create cohesion between ideas and sentences, helping to create the flow that ETS graders are looking for.

Second, concessions frequently force the writer to utilize complex sentences and subordinating conjunctions, providing a variety of sentence structure.  Are you the kind of person that relies on simple S-V-O sentences again and again?  There is an entire subsection of subordinating conjunctions that are used for introducing contrast.  Words such as although, while, and whereas can not only introduce a concession but also get you out of your simple sentence rut.  Varying sentence structure signals to the essay scorers that you are comfortable with more grammatically advanced types of sentences.

Key Takeaways

Use concessions (the acknowledgement of the validity of the opposite side) to increase your credibility as a writer, vary your sentence structure, and create flow in your own independent and integrated essays, just as professors in the integrated essay lecture do.

Now that you know what how concessions strengthen writing, practice putting them in your own essays by downloading One Month TOEFL Writing Challenge Printable.  Get 30 TOEFL independent essay prompts to practice with right now!

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