Three TOEFL Writing Errors

Avoid three common TOEFL writing errors.  That way you will score higher on the TOEFL exam.

Three TOEFL Writing Errors

The example thesis, topic sentences, and details are based on the following writing prompt:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?  For the most part, the Internet has positively influenced our civilization.

TOEFL Writing Error 1: A generic, unfocused thesis

Without adequate preparation, you may be tempted to use a generic thesis that you have found on a TOEFL preparation website. For example, a common thesis that I regularly see is the following:

  • Generic, unfocused thesis: I agree/disagree with……I have a couple of reasons that I will explain in the following paragraphs.

This thesis is generic and does not clearly frame the remaining paragraphs.  In addition, it is a copied thesis that the iBT human raters have seen many times. Therefore, you should avoid this type of thesis.

  • Unique, focused thesisSince this technology has educational, employment, and health benefits, I agree that the Internet has had a positive impact on our way of life.

Instead of a generic thesis, this thesis rephrases the question and uses “education,” “employment,” and “health” as positive societal Internet benefits. Now, the writer will discuss each reason + supporting details in a separate body paragraph.

TOEFL Writing Error 2: Generic Details in Body Paragraphs

TOEFL writers who use a generic thesis are also likely to use generic details in their body paragraphs.

Paragraph with generic details: First of all, the Internet has had positive educational impacts on our communities. Students who might not have been able to attend college are now able to go to school online. In these cases, these students do not have to leave their homes while still getting an education to help them get a career so that they can make a living wage.  In addition, other students may not have enough money to attend a university because of the high tuition costs.  However, if students attend school online via the Internet, they will not have to pay for room and board.  Therefore, they will have more money to spend on tuition.

Paragraph with specific details: First of all, the Internet has decreased educational costs on low-income students in my community. To illustrate, I grew up in a small town in Indonesia, and my parents only completed high school educations. My mom, who stayed at home to raise her children, had no marketable skills, so she was unable to earn money.  Inasmuch as my dad did not go to college, he was only able to get a low-paying job as a plumber. Therefore, my parents were not able to pay for the cost of sending me to college because of the tuition, textbooks, housing, and food costs.  However, I discovered that I could use the Internet to attend a university online to complete a major in accounting at a fraction of the cost of attending the university in person. Thus, since I was able to stay at home while still attending my university courses online, my dad and I were able to save enough money to pay for my tuition expenses. In addition, the Internet costs in my neighborhood are reasonable, and I was able to purchase a laptop computer for only $500. Thus, because I can use the Internet, I can attend an affordable university online.

Unlike the first 100-word paragraph, the 180-word paragraph is more specific.  In fact, the writer goes on at great length sharing his personal experience as a low-income student and how the Internet has made it affordable for him to get an education.

TOEFL Writing Error 3: Choppy Sentence Style

Three TOEFL Writing Errors

Finally, in addition to having a generic thesis and generic details in the body paragraphs, make sure you do not have a choppy sentence-style.  Choppy sentence style is characterized as having too many same-sounding 10-20 word sentences.

Paragraph with choppy sentence style: Lastly, the lecturer disproves of the advice the passage gives about protecting oneself from bears. He says that one shouldn’t run, as bears are much faster than humans. Furthermore, he says that bears can easily climb up trees, so hiding there wouldn’t be helpful. He adds that one should use pepper spray instead of a gun, as it won’t harm the bear.

Paragraph with longer sentences/sentence variety: Third of all, the reading passage gives three suggestions when people are confronted with attacking bears: run away quickly, climb a tree if one is close by, or shoot the bear if there is no other alternative. Nonetheless, firstly, the lecture repudiates that people must run away from bears as fast as they can. In fact, the lecture encourages humans to talk to bears, slowly move backward instead of running, and hold arms high above the head to make them look bigger to the bears than they actually are. Secondly, the listening rebuts the point that people should climb trees because bears cannot climb high in trees but suggests that even large bears sharp with claws for gripping and climbing can climb trees. Lastly, the listening passage advises that pepper spray, and not guns, is the most effective deterrent in bear attacks. In fact, according to the speaker in the listening passage, those people who used guns at bears in attacks are more likely to be severely injured than those who use bear spray.

The choppy paragraph has an average sentence length of 15 words. However, the more developed paragraph averages 25 words for each of its sentences.

To sum up, avoiding these three common TOEFL writing errors will help you to achieve that coveted goal of scoring 24+ points on the writing section of TOEFL iBT.

Michael Buckhoff

Teaching Experience

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