Studying for the TOEFL writing section can feel difficult. You’ve studied reading, listening, and speaking — what about writing?
If you want to read more about common writing section problems, check out our previous post: TOEFL Writing Section Model Essays.
But if you’ve put pencil to paper and asked yourself: How do I write better? you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve put together 5 short exercises to improve both Integrated and Independent answer scores
These 5 practice exercises will not only help you learn how to construct an answer but also how to write a high-score answer.
Warm-Up: Rubric Study
Before we get into the 5 writing exercises, let’s do a quick rubric study warm-up.
It can help you understand who and what you’ll be writing for. For example: Do you know who grades your writing answers?
There are two parts to the answer: Official TOEFL scores are processed through the eRater® engine and a Rubric.
First, the eRater is an automated system that measures your vocabulary, grammar, and organization skills:
The problem is that the eRater® is not so great at catching your style, tone, and overall meaning.
That’s why real people are assigned to grade writing section answers based on a rubric.
The rubric is available on the ETS website:
From the 2 rubrics above, we can find exactly what the graders look for in both 5-score answers in the TOEFL® Writing Section.
A 5-score answer for both Independent and Integrated questions shares these three requirements:
- relevant information
- developed organization
- well-connected points
Keeping these three things in mind is an easy way to keep your writing score high for both Integrated and Independent questions.
Be on the lookout for information, organization, and idea connection when you start writing!
Whenever you feel stuck in your writing, come back and read through the rubric.
You might realize your strong suit is information, but not organization.
Or, maybe you’re really good at organizing but your ideas don’t connect well.
A simple rubric study can help you see which one of the 5-score qualities you missed!
We now know two things: Who grades the writing section answers, and what kind of writing they look for.
That concludes our rubric study. It’s a simple writing warm-up you can do when you need a handy guideline.
Now, let’s get into 5 Writing Exercises to improve your score.
1. Discover Note-Taking Styles
Our first exercise for writing section score improvement is: Discover Note-Taking Styles.
You probably already have a specific note-taking style.
Do you draw icons for long words? Do you shorten them into one-letter symbols?
(Here is a video of how TestGlider members take notes for their test day!)
For easy note-taking practice, try these daily exercises:
- Practice taking notes as someone speaks to you — can you understand what you took notes on after the person is finished speaking?
- Eavesdrop a little. In a public setting (yes, your living room counts), listen to other peoples’ conversations, and practice gathering crucial information.
- Pick out the most important points from the conversation, and practice in everyday settings.
Practice taking short notes during real conversations.
Taking notes can help you feel more prepared to capture strong, relevant information during the test.
Especially for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, you only get one erasable sheet OR whiteboard to write your notes on.
It’s important to keep your notes as short and to the point as possible, so it saves time and space.
That’s 1 exercise down, 4 to go!
Now, it’s time to write.
2. Save Your Writing
Here is exercise number two: Save Your Answer.
The most important part of this exercise is that you have a copy of your written answer after you finish your practice test.
Many of our users have a feeling of what they wrote but can’t remember exactly how they wrote it after they’ve finished their test.
It’s always better to keep every writing mistake with you so you can fix them later.
Essentially, saving your writing can save your writing. Save to save!
Saving your answer helps you see exactly what you need to practice.
There are many TOEFL writing section practices out there. Pick your favorite one, and take a writing section practice test.
You also get your personal TOEFL practice score back fast, so you can hop over to the test, save your answer, then come back to practice improving your writing score:
All TestGlider practice tests are AI-graded, and knowing how your writing score today will help you decide how to improve your test day writing score.
To see your writing answers again, head over to your Scores & Review page and click on the “Review” button.
Now that you know how to see your answer, let’s get into fixing it.
3. Revise, Revise, Revise
Here’s the truth: no one writes a perfect answer on their first try.
Even those who score a perfect 30 on their first TOEFL Writing Section have most likely studied, practiced, and prepared well before test day.
Keep in mind that written answers can always be improved, and improvement takes time!
ETS recommends that you save 2-3 minutes at the end to revise your written answer.
Those 2-3 minutes can save your score.
3 minutes is just enough time to fix your writing section answer from typos, grammatical errors, and even transitions!
It feels like no time at all, but catching one misplaced “However” or “Furthermore” can help you bring your score up.
Before the test day, thankfully, there’s plenty of time to practice revising.
To revise, all you have to do is re-read what you wrote and fix mistakes.
Mistakes can include anything from vague descriptions to a typo.
Thanks to our rubric study from earlier, we know exactly what things to revise for a high score on the TOEFL Writing Section:
- relevant information
- developed organization
- well-connected points
After you’ve written your answer, take some time away from it, come back, and read it again.
Here are questions to ask yourself as you read your answer for the second time:
- Does this sentence capture relevant information from the passage, lecture, and question?
- Are my sentences in order according to each topic?
- Can I follow each point clearly?
Revising for relevancy, organization, and connection is a great writing exercise to improve your writing score.
Additionally, revision is an amazing exercise you can do during the test.
It’s my favorite exercise because you’ve already done all the hard work: you’ve written an answer.
Revising is always easier than writing a whole different answer. Trust your own ideas, and elaborate on them.
More elaboration is better than less elaboration in the TOEFL test. Make your written answer as clear as possible.
That’s all there is to it! Save your answers, take efficient notes, and revise.
So far, that’s three exercises you can practice to improve your writing section score!
Are you ready for the fourth exercise?
If you’re asking yourself “But I already know how to revise for simple mistakes. How can I practice revision in my everyday lifestyle?”
Here’s a challenge for you.
Challenge Task: Write a sentence explaining your favorite activity.
(Grab a paper and pen, or type it up on whichever device you’re reading this on! Write a short sentence explaining your favorite activity.)
Here is my sentence:
Then, let’s practice ways to improve this answer.
Look for ways to follow the rubric:
- relevant information
- developed organization
- well-connected points
Here is me revising that same sentence:
It’s not a perfect sentence, but it improved my first sentence and eliminated useless words.
First, I explained the value of a single book. Second, I added a transition phrase. Third, my two reasons connect back to why I like the activity.
Here are the words I revised:
- because ⮕ Two reasons…as follows
- paper ⮕ page
- see the world through ⮕ learn about different worlds within
- rectangular shaped ⮕ single portable
The revised sentence improves relevancy, organization, and connection.
Revising is like changing clothes — the body of the sentence stays the same, but it changes its clothes to be more relevant, presentable, and clear.
There’s no better way to learn revision than revising your own words again and again until it’s as clear as it can be.
You can revise anything you write. Journals, homework, and personal notes. You might even end up revising without realizing that you’re doing it.
Whether you revise with a pen or keyboard, it’s a hands-on exercise that will definitely improve your score.
Now let’s get to our fourth writing exercise!
4. Use Words that Work
Now that you’ve written a practice answer and revised it, it’s time to nitpick. If you’ve re-read your writing as a whole section so far, now we’re going to exercise the power of word usage.
A high-scoring answer contains effective word usage. The reason is simple: Your words have to carry meaning, deliver content, and refer back to the question.
For example, weak words fill up space and they do not add meaning, content, or value to your score.
The weakest words for every written answer are: “umm,” “uhh,” “I guess.” These words don’t work at all!
Weak words make you sound unsure, which indicates that you do not have a clear understanding of your topics — especially in writing.
That means you could lose points!
In contrast, words that work well should carry meaning, deliver content, and refer back to your writing question.
A simple “the” or “a” (Like “a word” instead of “an word”) used correctly throughout your answer can make your sentences sound much stronger.
For example, if the Integrated passage mentions birds’ diet habits and the lecture argues that toads have similar diet habits, the words that work best are: bird. diet habits. toads. similar.
For the Independent question, words that work best answer the question clearly:
Question: Do you agree?
Answer: I agree/ I don’t agree because…
Writing Section answers with a score of 3 or lower tend to describe their ideas or topics first, which misses the question.
Here’s a very short example of missing the question:
A poor answer simply states an opinion: “Birds have pretty feathers.”
This statement fails to answer with a clear position (agree/disagree), and therefore avoids the question.
The words that work for this question are: “I like” OR “I dislike”
Here’s a good answer: “I like birds because they have pretty feathers.”
Unlike the example answer, this answer successfully answers the question and provides a reason.
Words that work well have three things to consider: Who is it talking about? What words do they use often? How can I deliver my thoughts clearly?
Considering these three things will not only improve your TOEFL score but also improve your everyday communication skills! It’s a win-win
Keep in mind that using words that work does not mean copying the exact sentences used in the passage, lecture, or question!
Copying long phrases and entire sentences from the passage, lecture, or question can lower your score because those words aren’t doing new work.
Former Yale Professor William Zinsser asked it best in his book On Writing Well: “Is every word doing new work?”
Instead of copying every sentence from the passage, lecture, or question, replace it with a word that will introduce your ideas.
While repeating the passage, lecture, or question means that those words are doing old work, your ideas will always be new to the reader.
Don’t be afraid to explain your ideas — the more explanation you write, the more work your words do.
After all, the TOEFL is a test to see how well you can communicate your original thoughts.
Use the words that work for you! Feel free to practice new vocabulary words or transitional phrases.
Channel your inner Professor Zinsser as you ask yourself, “Are my words doing new work?”
That concludes our fourth writing score-improvement exercise — let’s get to our final score-improving exercise!
5. Connect Your Ideas (Writing Templates)
The last exercise to improve your writing score is: Connect Your Ideas.
If you’ve made it this far into the writing exercise, you might be tired of looking at your sentences right now — that’s okay!
Flip the paper over, or close the computer screen. Put it away for now.
This last exercise will feel like a nice cool down after an intense workout.
Now that we have written all the pieces for a high-scoring writing answer — it’s time to connect them.
Connecting your ideas is like wrapping a present. It brings all your writing pieces together and ties them together. It’s both practical and presentable.
There are many ways to wrap your writing. Some people call this a template.
ETS recommends test-takers use templates — keep in mind that a template is simply an organizational guide, not a plagiarized or memorized answer. (i.e. memorizing someone else’s answer and using it word-for-word as their own. No educational institution allows plagiarism!)
- A common writing template is chronological order.Chronological order helps writers connect their ideas through time: First, Second, Third, Last.It also helps you break down your ideas into smaller sections, which are easier to read.
- Another writing template is “Introduction, Body, Conclusion.”
You start your answer with an introduction (i.e. My reasons are this. I will explain why in three ways..), then write your reasoning in the body paragraph, then end with a short conclusion.
- A fun template you can try is the ladder method.
Write a sentence. Then, write the next sentence starting with the last word from your previous sentence. For example I like mangos. Mangos are sweet. Sweet fruits have many different flavors.
So on and so forth (Fun fact: The fancy term for this template is “anadiplosis”).
Keep in mind that this is not the most efficient way to write a response, but rather a fun writing exercise that can help you stay focused on relevant topics!
If you find yourself struggling with making your ideas flow and connect smoothly, try the ladder method and focus on the most important words instead of the last words of each sentence.
Templates are a great tool to help you connect your ideas, and connecting your ideas is a great and easy way to improve your score.
Templates can also help you discover new ways to structure information and order your thoughts.
Try using different templates together! For example, you can use an “Introduction + Chronological order + Conclusion” template.
A seamless paragraph takes a lot of practice to write well, so don’t feel pressured to get it right with the first template you try.
Everyone has a different writing style, and a template is just a guide to help you discover your own.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to connecting your ideas. Find the organization method that works best for you!
In all, the five ways to improve your writing scores are to take good notes, save your writing, revise, use words that work, and connect your ideas.
Both the independent and integrated writing tasks ask you to find relevant information, develop your organization, and connect your ideas. When you feel unsure, check the rubric again!
If you feel like you’ve hit writer’s block and simply can’t think of writing practices by yourself, head over to our Writing Section and try a practice question.
A little bit of practice every day is always better than last-minute cramming.
Much like good writing, the TOEFL test takes patience, resilience, and determination to get a high score.
Let us know if you have any tips that have helped you study so far in the comments!
Do you tend to draw when you take notes? Have you revised any of your practice answers before? Did it help your score?
As always, the TestGlider team is here to cheer you on.