There's a lot of advice out there about what you need to do in order to achieve the highest score on the TOEFL writing section. Although some of the advice is good, many of the most common suggestions may actually hurt your potential TOEFL score. Today we are dispelling some of the most common myths that students believe they need in order to achieve a top score.
Myth #1: Needing a quote
One of the biggest myths regarding the independent essay is that you must start your introduction with a quote. Because so many students believe this, often they will waste valuable time and energy collecting a number of quotes on common essay topics and then memorizing them word for word. This is entirely unnecessary. In the very description of the independent essay, ETS, the makers of the exam, explain that "you express an opinion and support it based on your own knowledge and experience." This means you do not need to have a quote or proverb to begin your essay.
Myth #2: Needing a hook
Frequently, students learn that all good essays need a hook. A hook is an opening that grabs the reader's attention. But this advice is far more important when you are writing in non-timed situations. If you have the ability to craft a compelling, thought-provoking, an intriguing first sentence for an essay that is due next week, by all means, you should. But if you are working on a timed test, you want to make sure that you have a first sentence that alludes to what is to come in the thesis statement that will end your introduction.
Myth #3: Rewriting the question
Another popular myth is that you should copy the question from the essay prompt. Students often think that writing the longest possible essay is best, and while score and length of the essay are often linked, simply copying the essay prompt word for word is not the way to impress those who score the essays. In fact, this is a definite way to lower your score. When students do this, it looks as if they don't understand the prompt or they lack confidence in their own writing. Always put things in your own words.
Myth #4: Answering the question immediately
It is certainly a good idea to start your essay with a sentence that is related to the question, but you do not necessarily want to answer the essay prompt in your first sentence. Instead, save your answer for the thesis statement. When writing in English, typically the thesis statement is the last sentence of the introduction, not the first. Because graders will be looking for it there as it a standard convention when writing in the United States, you want to make sure that this is where you put your answer. Also, if you answer the question in the very first sentence, you won't have enough to talk about to make a well-developed introduction.
Myth #5: Honesty is the best policy
Sometimes, when you read over an independent essay prompt, you will not have much of an opinion. However, you don't want to say this. If the question asks you what you prefer, you should not say that you don't care. This could come off as rude, lazy, or too casual. It is important to remember that you are not being asked to write about your actual feelings on the exam. When it comes to standardized test prep, writing what is easiest--regardless of what you truly believe-- is always the best way to go. Don't feel pressured to tell the graders what you really think-- tell them what they want to hear.
Now that you know what to avoid, it is time to start writing. Want to practice with some common TOEFL essay questions? Just enter your email address below to get a free printable download with over 25 essay topics separated into common categories delivered right to your inbox.