Avoid TOEFL Templates

You should avoid TOEFL speaking and writing templates when you are completing the exam.  Your goal in your TOEFL journey is to develop a command of academic English.  Therefore, your main purpose is to be able to use reading, listening, speaking, and writing at a functional level in personal, academic, and professional situations. You should not be memorizing example sentences from web sites or printed published materials. Relying on speaking or writing templates shows iBT human raters that you have language-use limitations.  As a result, ETS has severe consequences for this type of violation.

Avoid TOEFL templates

Avoid TOEFL Templates: ETS has a warning!

In the 2019-2020 “TOEFL Bulletin under the “Plagiarism” category on page 20,” ETS warns students about plagiarism violations:

ETS reserves the right to cancel your scores if, in ETS’s judgment, there is evidence that a writing or speaking response includes, for example, text that is substantially similar to speech found in other TOEFL responses, or that quotations or the paraphrasing of language or ideas from published or unpublished sources are used without attribution. Such responses do not reflect the independent speaking or compositional writing skills that the test is intended to measure.

In addition, in the bulletin on page 20 under the category “Invalid Scores”, ETS states,

ETS may also cancel your scores if, in its judgment, there is substantial evidence that the scores are invalid for any other reason. Such evidence may include, without limitation, unusual answer patterns and/or inconsistent performance on different parts of the test. Before canceling scores pursuant to this paragraph, ETS will notify you in writing about its concerns, give you an opportunity to submit information that addresses those concerns, considers any such information submitted, and offers you a choice of options. The options may include voluntary score cancellation or arbitration in accordance with the ETS standard Arbitration Agreement. More detailed information on Why and How ETS Questions Scores is available on the TOEFL website at www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/scores/policies. Note: The arbitration option is available only for tests administered in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Avoid TOEFL Templates: Example template sentences for independent writing

What does ETS mean when it says “text that is substantially similar to speech found in other TOEFL responses, or that quotations or the paraphrasing of language or ideas from published or unpublished sources are used without attribution?”

For instance, during the independent writing prompt on the exam, you are asked to agree or disagree with a statement about whether or not students should be required to attend classes. As you write your introduction, you decide to use the below three sentences to help frame your response:

“There are many different opinions about whether it should be mandatory for students to attend classes.”

Googling this sentence will show you five different web sites that use this exact template sentence: TOEFL ResourcesEssay Pro, Should Attendance Be Mandatory, Leon Akin, and Studybay.

“I am of the opinion that it remains important for students to physically attend their classes.”

In the Google search results with this sentence, TOEFL Resources, Tiu’s Life, and No Title Web Site all use this sentence .

“I will explore why I feel this way in the following essay.”

Similarly, several web sites post this sentence as a template thesis: TOEFL Resources, Test Big,  Studybay, and a few other web sites.

After going to these various web sites, some of which contain viruses, I discovered that except for TOEFL Resources, all the other sites are essay writing services for college students.  Although I cannot be sure, I am guessing that these essay writing web sites copied content from TOEFL Resources and posted it on their web pages.

Nevertheless, you should not be using any sample sentences from any of these web sites when you complete the writing section of the TOEFL iBT. Why?

I offer a free TOEFL Writing Evaluation Service. Weekly, I get about 10-15 writing practice tests sent to my mailbox from international students preparing for the TOEFL exam.  I see “I will explore why I feel this way in the following essay.” at least three times every week from different students. Therefore, I have to assume that these and other students are often using this exact sentence during the TOEFL exam. Like some iBT human raters, I have graded 1000’s and 1000’s of speaking and writing practice tests. It is VERY easy to see when a test-taker is using template speaking and writing responses.

Consequently, if you use any of the above or below template phrases/sentences, then it is likely that other students will have similar speech or writing on the TOEFL exam.

Avoid TOEFL Templates: Example template sentences for integrated writing

At TOEFL Resources and other TOEFL prep web sites, here is a suggested template for the Integrated Writing task:

The Introduction

The Body Paragraphs

Avoid TOEFL Templates: Final thoughts

Here are some conclusions that you can draw for why you should avoid TOEFL speaking and writing templates:

  • The more you rely on templates, the less original your speaking and writing becomes. Hence,  the more likely it will be that human raters label your speaking or writing tasks as a partially memorized response. As a result, you may be culpable  of ETS’s “plagiarism” violations listed in their bulletin on page 20.
  • Memorizing speaking or writing templates do NOT prepare you for real-world English. In fact, having to rely on templates from TOEFL Resources or from any other web page demonstrates that you have extreme limitations with both your grammar and vocabulary.
  • Speaking and writing templates rob you of your critical thinking. These tired, unoriginal, and overused example sentences prevent you from achieving your real goal of achieving a high level of academic English proficiency.
  • Using TOEFL speaking and writing templates is similar to a beginner who is learning to use a computer keyboard. Sure, looking at the keyboard initially helps him/her to type the correct characters onto the computer screen. However, if the beginner never learns to type without looking at the computer keyboard, then he/she will never be able to type faster than about 25-40 words per minute. Yes, templates help you to understand the structure of the speaking and writing tasks, but you must learn to use your own grammar and your own vocabulary as you explain your own ideas or the ideas of others. You are not a parrot!

Avoid TOEFL Templates: Solution

“Michael, if I should not use templates, what should I do?” you inquire.  Simply put, you should create you own.  Learning how to create your own templates involves good old fashion hard work of learning grammar.

  1. Make sure you understand what coordinating conjunctions are. These words create compound sentences which help you to connect the reading and the listening passages together in the introductions of speaking integrated task 2-3 as well as the integrated writing task.
  2. You also need to know how to use transition words. These words help you as you move from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next. Transitions can add, exemplify, contrast, and signal other types of relationships. The more control you have over these important cohesive words, the better control you will have in your spoken and written communication abilities.
  3. Finally, make sure you know how to use adverb, adjective, and noun clause connectors. These subordinating conjunctions help you to create complex sentences with a support and main idea.
  4. Get used to reading and listening to academic passages, taking notes on those passages and recording yourself speaking about the most important points. Furthermore, practice writing summaries of those passages, again using your notes.
  5. Look at some example speaking and writing responses. Then without looking at those models, develop your own outline that you can use to speak and write about academic information.
  6. Lastly, consider getting feedback on your speaking and writing practice tests. Your TOEFL speaking and writing mentor will provide feedback on how you are organizing your responses. Using that feedback, you can improve the organization of your speaking and writing tasks.  Eventually,  you will adjust your responses until they are more unified.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com


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