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TOEFL Writing

Dr. Byrnes’ TOEFL Writing Course: private one-on-one course 

This is a private, one-on-one course (enrollment fee = $50). We meet a total of 4 times (1.5 hours each = 6 hours total). Enrolling in this course, you will land on the Google Classroom for TOEFL Writing. There, you can find homework assignments and study materials. I will send you an email to welcome and to make an arrangement for the meetings. The first meeting starts after you submit your first two essays, one independent and one integrated. I use these two essays to evaluate your current writing skills.

At the first meeting or at the first two meetings, depending on your level of writing skills or your preference, we come up with two templates ( = schema for the organizations of ideas), one for the independent essay and one for the integrated essay. The templates will cover everything that needs to be there for a score 5 worthy essay. The templates will also reflect your writing style. For instance, if you are enthused over writing, we can use an elaborate template with a hook; if writing doesn't excite you, we will use a template that begins with a concession-contrast method.  

Templates are just skeletons. What you really need to work on is to flesh out the skeletons. In other words, you need to spend all your effort on developing your ideas by way of expressing them in the form of writing. In particular, for the independent essays, you will work on making persuasive arguments: detailed examples, confirming arguments (reasons that support your thesis) and counterarguments (reasons that cast doubts on your opponent's position). For the integrated essays, you will work on paraphrasing and summarizing the main points of the article and of the lecture, and presenting them in a clear and organized manner in your essay.

  • In this course, you learn how to write high-scoring TOEFL integrated and independent essays.

  • There will be 4 Google-Meet meetings (1.5 hour per meeting) where we discuss writing strategies that are tailored for you.

  • The enrollment fee for this course is $50.00 

Common Misconceptions about Template

You should realize that the independent-essay template you all are copying from each other has little chance to afford you with the maximum score 5. This is the evidence:

(Watch the video for the independent essay.) The essay is adequately written, yet it received a score of 4. The rater only read the three body paragraphs carefully, and entirely ignored the conclusion paragraph, which repeats the same idea mentioned earlier: i.e., zero new info.

The essay that received score 5 by the ETS rater begins with a hook instead of a thesis.( page 13) Each paragraph has its own main point, yet all the paragraphs are organically connected with each other. The highlights of the essay, to me, are the third and fourth paragraphs. The third one provides an example with vivid details. The example is persuasive. The fourth paragraph explains why knowledge is not as important as the relatability skill. In this way, the author not only supports her position, but also responds to the opposing view. This essay shows great depth in her thought.

Exemplary Essay (score 5, rated by the ETS) 

The ETS raters unanimously gave a perfect score (score 5) to this essay 

I remember every teacher that has taught me since I was in Kindergarten. If a friend wants to know who our first grade teacher was in elementary school, all they have to do is ask me. The 

teachers all looked very kind and understanding in my eyes as a child. They had special

relationships with nearly each and every one of the students and were very nice to everyone.

That’s the reason I remember all of them.

A teacher’s primary goal is to teach students the best they can about the things that are in our

textbooks and more important, how to show respect for one another. They teach us how to live a better life by getting along with everyone. In order to do that, the teachers themselves have to be able to relate well with students.

My parents are teachers too. One teaches Plant Biology and one teaches English, but that’s not

the reason I’m calling them “teachers.” They are teachers beacuse they teach me how to act in

special situations and how to cooperate with others. I have a brother, and my parents use

different aproaches when teaching us. They might scold my brother for surfing the internet too

long because he doesn’t have much self-control and they need to restrain him. He almost never

studies on his own and is always either drawing, playing computer games, or reading. On the

other hand, they never tell me off for using the computer too long. I do my own work when I

want and need to because that brings me the best results and my parents understand that. They know that I need leisure time of my own and that I’ll only play until needed. My parents’ ability to relate well with my brother and I allows them to teach, not just the subject they teach but also their excellent knowledge on life.

Knowlegde of the subject being taught is something taken for granted, but at the same time,

secondary. One must go through and pass a series of courses and tests in order to become a

teacher. Any teacher is able to have excellent knowledge of their subject but not all teachers can have the ability to relate well with students.

A teacher’s primary goal is to teach students the best they can about how to show respect for one another, so teachers use different approaches when teaching, and knowledge of the subjet being taught is secondary. For these reasons, I claim with confidence that excellent knowledge of the subject being taught is secondary to the teacher’s ability to relate well with their students.

Template for a score 5 independent essay

In light of the template, to get 25 and beyond, you need to make your essay fluid among the paragraphs. So, please don’t use the formulaic, first-second-finally style. It looks amateurish as hell. Instead do the following (The following methods are commonly used in ETS-score-5 essays):


Beginning with a hook is great (e.g., Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”). But coming up with a compelling hook that responds to the prompt q can take time. So don't worry if nothing comes to your head. Please do not start the “some like it hot, but I like it cold” style. The genre of the TOEFL independent essay is called a persuasive (= argument = analytic) style essay, which means that at the end of reading your essay, your rater has to say “I think your position is right since I am persuaded by your arguments.” Essays that score high are all persuasive. You can just begin with a clear thesis statement. (a hook is for an extra point, but lacking a clear thesis statement is a big minus)


Use 2 confirming arguments (2 reasons that support your position) and 1 counterargument (attack the opposing view). Use max one personal example (anecdotes are hard to make them realistic in a short period of time.) Instead, use your reasoning skills (if X happens, then Y would ensue. If Y would happen, Z would result, …) Make sure a topic sentence is clearly stated at the beginning or at the end of each paragraph.


Signal your rater that this is the last paragraph without being explicit. Please don’t say “In conclusion”: Ugly as hell! instead, begin with a concession, and then make a contrast (e.g., Of course, the opposing view has some merit…HOWEVER, my view is fucking better than the opposing view due to the reasons I provided)


To score high in the TOEFL writing section, you do not need to master grammar per se since your essay is expected to be the first draft. But if you make some basic grammar mistakes consistently (e.g., the subject-verb disagreement in number), even if the rater understands the intended meaning, you will not be able to position yourself at the level of a proficient writer. More often though, if you do not write sentences with a complex structure grammatically, the rater will not be able to understand your ideas at all. In the course, I will point out grammar mistakes that are in the way of  understanding your ideas. By being aware of the mistakes and making a conscious effort not to make the same types of mistakes, you will improve the readability of your essays.   


Content, of course, is king. But many of you have some mistaken notions on good content for the TOEFL essays. The worst content that I frequently notice in your essays is the fluff, which in the world of composition means filler sentences with zero new information. You add fluff not only in your intro and conclusion, but also in your main body parts of the essays. Raters do not read fluff (fluff is an insult to the raters’ intelligence!). Since you spent your time on writing fluff, you’ve lost your valuable time to write the meaty parts of the essays, which are detailed examples and reasons. Writing fluff will only hurt your score since your essay doesn’t have much content. In my course, I will help you come up with strong reasons and examples. .

Practice with correct methods

To write high-scoring-TOEFL essays during the actual test, you need to keep practicing writing based on the two templates we devised together. The facility to transform the ideas in the head into a written form is the outcome of hours, days and even years of practice. Without the continued practicing based on the correct methods, none can expect a high score in TOEFL writing.

How to write a TOEFL Academic Discussion Response (New format beginning 7/26/2023)

ETS sample question 1 

Score 5 Responses

1. Agree with Kelly but disagree with her on methods

I agree with Kelly on the priority of environmental protections over education. That is, as a policy maker, I would spend more money on conserving the environment than on improving education. However, Kelly seems to think that there is one best approach to protect the environment and that the government needs to prioritize that approach. I take issue with this view of Kelly’s. To me, effective protection of the environment requires a multi--pronged approach. To reduce pollution, for instance, the government should not only discourage producing pollution but also encourage producing clean air directly. For the former purpose, the government should enact and enforce such a policy as the carbon tax, the tax levied on the carbon emissions required to produce goods and services. And for the latter purpose, the government should enact and encourage a policy of reforestation, the process  of planting trees where trees have been removed. Given the speed and severity of global warming, I, as a policy maker, would put all my effort into protecting the environment.    

2. Agree with Kelly but disagree with her on the reason

If I were a policy maker, I would invest more on environmental protections than on education. My reason for this is different from Kelly’s. Her reason is that the Earth is the only planet we have and this is why we must take care of it. As a sci-fi fan, I personally can imagine that it is possible for the earthlings to colonize other planets and make homes there in the future. My motivation to put more emphasis on environmental protection comes from the consideration that the government will save a significant amount of money in the long run if it invests in environmental protection programs now. Consider how much money the government spends on solving problems arising from preventable climate disasters. This month alone, our nation experienced five natural catastrophes -- flooding, tornadoes, wildfire and two hurricanes-- causing the government to spend billions of dollars to rescue the disaster-affected people and to assist their livelihoods. This type of spending will keep increasing as the frequency and severity of the natural disasters increase due to climate change. If the government focuses on environment protection now, then the government will not need to spend so much money on problems arising from natural disasters, which will then allow the government to spend money on other important areas such as education and public health


3. Agree with Andrew but add a different reason

My view is in line with Andrew’s view, that the government should spend more money on education than on environmental protections. I think Andrew did a great job in explaining how education relates to protecting the environment. His two reasons are spot on, and worth recapturing: educated people can make decisions that are geared toward protecting the environment as they understand the effects of their actions; education in science and technology will produce better solutions to protect the environment. While I absolutely agree with these two reasons, since I have other reasons to prioritize education, here I add aspects that Andrew neglected to mention. For me, investment in education is far more important than in environment protection since education produces more immediate conditions that make our lives better. Studies have shown time and time again that societies with high rates of education completion have lower crime, better overall health, and civic involvement. Their findings are unanimous on this point:  the root cause of poverty is the lack of access to education. Considering these benefits of investing in education, a policy maker should prioritize education over any other policies.   

ETS sample question 2 

This sample-question 2 is different from sample-question 1 since you can provide your own opinion directly without talking about your classmates’ ideas. A response to this question should be far easier to write than a response to sample-question 1. This is an EST-provided response that scored 5.( Paul’s and Clare’s responses are too short and vague; don’t imitate their writing style) 
ETS links for TOEFL writing: 1 & 2

How to write a high-scoring independent essay

How to write an integrated essay correctly and quickly