Like most standardized tests, the TOEFL includes a writing section. For many students, one of the biggest concerns regarding the writing portion of the exam is time management. Students feel that writing a strong essay that responds to the topic within the 30 minutes of time allotted is a challenging task, and that's why many students try to resist my first piece of advice for how to approach the writing section: take the time to brainstorm and outline your answer. Some students protest and say that every minute should be spent writing because it is difficult to get to the recommend word count within the time constraints. However, a good brainstorm and outline can ultimately save time and strengthen the essay overall. Don't believe me? Here are the top 3 reasons why you need to take the time to brainstorm.
Brainstorming and outlining prevents you from choosing an answer that you can't fully support. Frequently your first reaction to a question is based on a feeling rather than sound reasoning. In other words, you have an answer that is what you believe, but when you actually have to put into words why you think that, you can only come up with one reason at most. You don't want to start writing just to find out you don't have enough to write about. You may find that you need to completely start over. Taking just 2 minutes to brainstorm and create an outline can save you from spending time on sentences you will end up having to delete.
In addition to saving you the time (and stress) of potentially having to start over with your essay, having a brainstorm and outline will allow you to create a thesis statement easily. A thesis statement is a critical component of any essay-- in fact, it is arguably the most important sentence of your entire essay. Having an outline allows you to create an organized thesis very quickly. Simply take each of the three main points in your outline and put them into a list in your thesis statement. Those grading your essay will immediately know what to expect in your body paragraphs.
A good outline allows you to make sure that your body paragraphs are written in the most logical order. When looking at your brainstorm and selecting your best three reasons, you can order and group your three ideas accordingly. Imagine that you are writing an essay on choosing a major. Your brainstorm might look something like this
-choose based on credits you already have earned
-subjects that you are naturally good at
-what major will eventually make you the most money
Both reasons 1 and 3 in the brainstorm are about finances. If you simply started writing your essay in the order that the ideas came to you in, the essay might sound redundant because you talked about financial reasons then talent or interest and then returned to financial reasons. However, by noticing the pattern from your outline, you can reorganize the ideas from the start so similar topics work with one another and seem to flow together instead of seeming unnecessary and repetitive. An added benefit is that your topic sentences will also be easier to craft because the transitions will be smooth because you have wisely organized your ideas before writing.
Want some practice with brainstorming? Download the free common independent essay topic cheatsheet. This one-page download lists over 25 essay questions organized by frequently occurring topics, making it perfect for brainstorming practice. Take it a step further by writing the actual essays.