On the TOEFL Writing section, you’ll be expected to plan and write two essays. But what are those supposed to be about? What types of TOEFL Writing topics will you see?
In order to be well prepared and confident on test day, you’ll need thorough understanding of the types of TOEFL essay topics you could see on the exam. This guide gives in-depth explanations of every type of TOEFL Writing topic you might see, how to approach different types of prompts, and what your essays are expected to include. We end with a set of 13 unique sample essay prompts, including both TOEFL Independent Writing prompts and Integrated Writing prompts so that you can prepare with high-quality practice problems.
An Introduction to the TOEFL Writing Topics
The TOEFL Writing section is 50 minutes long and contains two tasks: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. It’s the fourth and final section of the exam. After this you’re done! You’ll type both essays on the computer, but you can use scratch paper to jot down notes and plan out your essays.
In the next two sections, we’ll explain the format of the two Writing tasks and give an official sample question, along with an analysis of the common types of topics and strategies for doing well on each task.
TOEFL Integrated Writing Topics
The Integrated Writing task requires you to use listening, reading, and writing skills. For this task, you’ll have three minutes to read a short passage, then you will listen to a short (approximately two-minute long) audio clip of a speaker discussing the same topic the written passage covers. You’ll need to write an essay that references both of these sources in order to answer the question. You won’t discuss your own opinion for this essay.
During the writing time, you’ll be able to look at the written passage again, but you won’t be able to re-hear the audio clip. You’ll be able to take notes while you listen to it though.
- Writing Time: 20 minutes
- Suggested Essay Length: 150-225 words
Official Integrated Writing Prompt Sample
Reading Time: 3 minutes
In an effort to encourage ecologically sustainable forestry practices, an international organization started issuing certificates to wood companies that meet high ecological standards by conserving resources and recycling materials. Companies that receive this certification can attract customers by advertising their products as “ecocertified.” However, it is unlikely that wood companies in the United States will do the same, for several reasons.
First, American consumers are exposed to so much advertising that they would not value or even pay attention to the ecocertification label. Because so many mediocre products are labelled as “new” or “improved,” American consumers do not place much trust in advertising claims in general.
Second, ecocertified wood will be more expensive than uncertified wood because in order to earn ecocertification, a wood company must pay to have its business examined by a certification agency. This additional cost gets passed on to consumers. American consumers tend to be strongly motivated by price, and therefore they are likely to choose cheaper uncertified wood products. Accordingly, American wood companies will prefer to keep their prices low rather than obtain ecocertification.
Third, although some people claim that it always makes good business sense for American companies to keep up with the developments in the rest of the world, this argument is not convincing. Pursuing certification would make sense for American wood companies only if they marketed most of their products abroad. But this is not the case– American wood businesses sell most of their products in the United States, catering to a very large customer base that is satisfied with the merchandise.
Directions: Below is the transcript.
Narrator: Now listen to part of a lecture on the topic you just read about.
Professor: Well, despite what many people say, there’s good reason to think that many American wood companies will eventually seek ecocertification for their wood products. First off, consumers in the United States don’t treat all advertising the same. They distinguish between advertising claims that companies make about their own products and claims made by independent certification agencies. Americans have a lot of confidence in independent consumer agencies. Thus, ecologically minded Americans are likely to react very favorably to wood products ecologically certified by an independent organization with an international reputation for trustworthiness.
Second point–of course it’s true that American consumers care a lot about price– who doesn’t? But studies of how consumers make decisions show that price alone determines consumers’ decisions only when the price of one competing product is much higher or lower than another. When the price difference between the two products is small–say, less than five percent, as is the case with certified wood– Americans often do choose on factors other than price. And Americans are becoming increasingly convinced of the value of preserving and protecting the environment.
And third, US wood companies should definitely pay attention to what’s going on in the wood business internationally, not because of foreign consumers, but because of foreign competition. As I just told you, there’s a good chance that many American consumers will be interested in ecocertified products. And guess what, if American companies are slow at capturing those customers, you can be sure that foreign companies will soon start crowding into the American market, offering ecocertified wood that domestic companies don’t.
Directions: Give yourself 20 minutes to plan and write your response. Your response is judged on the quality of the writing and how well it presents the points in the lecture and their relationship to the reading passage. Typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words. You may view the reading passage while you respond.
RESPONSE TIME: 20 minutes
Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.
What to Expect From TOEFL Integrated Writing Topics
The written passage and audio recording can be on pretty much any subject, but the good news is that all the prompts for the Integrated Writing Task are pretty similar. They usually ask you to summarize the points made in the lecture and compare/contrast them to points made in the reading passage.
You won’t be discussing your own opinion during this essay, instead you’ll be taking information from both the lecture and reading and analyzing it.
How to Approach the Integrated Writing Task
Before you even begin the essay, you should take good notes on the key points of the reading passage and the audio clip. Your notes should be especially good for the audio clip since you won’t be able to hear it again. Using your notes as reference, your essay should recap each of the main points made in the audio clip. For each point you should clearly describe how it contrasts with or challenges points from the reading passage.
Also, remember to use specific examples to strengthen your essay. Refer back to your notes and the reading passage if need be. However, don’t just copy portions of the audio clip or passage into your essay; that doesn’t show your English skills. Always rewrite the main ideas in your own words. Again, remember that you shouldn’t be including your own opinion in this essay. Stick only to what the reading passage and audio clip cover.
TOEFL Independent Writing Topics
For the Independent Writing task, you’ll receive a question on a particular topic or issue. You’ll need to write a response to that topic that explains your opinion, and you’ll also need to give reasons and examples that support your opinion.
- Writing Time: 30 minutes
- Suggested Essay Length: At least 300 words
Official Independent Writing Prompt Sample
Directions: Read the question below. Give yourself 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise your essay. Typically, an effective response will contain a minimum of 300 words.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
Television advertising directed toward young children (aged two to five) should not be allowed.
Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
What to Expect From TOEFL Independent Writing Topics
TOEFL Independent Writing topics generally fit into one of three categories. There are example problems for each of these categories in the next section.
Type 1: Agree or Disagree
This is the most common prompt type for the Independent Writing Task, and the sample question above is an example of it. For this type of prompt, you’ll be presented with two sides of an argument. You’ll need to pick one side and give specific reasons and examples that support your opinion.
Type 2: Explain Both Sides
This is similar to the first type of prompt, except you’ll be discussing both sides, rather than choosing one you think is best. Many times these types of prompts will ask you to compare the advantages and disadvantages of an issue and give examples to support your statements.
If the sample question above followed this type of format, the prompt would be something like this: “Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of allowing television advertising to be directed toward young children (aged two to five). Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
Type 3: Pick a Stance From Many Options
This category is rarer, but you still may see it on TOEFL Writing. The TOEFL Independent Writing topics giveyou a broad topic with many possible opinions and ask for your stance on it.
If the sample question followed this type of format, the prompt would be similar to: “Which age group do you believe the majority of television advertising should be directed towards? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
How to Approach the Independent Writing Task
Depending on the type of prompt you receive, you’ll either choose an opinion (from two options or many options) or explain both sides of an issue. For this essay, each paragraph should be devoted to making one main point, and each point should be supported with specific reasons and examples to back it up. If you’re being asked to describe your opinion, make it clear within the first paragraph of your essay. There should be no doubt as to how you feel about the topic.
Also, even though ETS states that a 300-word essay is the “recommended minimum” length for this task, don’t feel like you need to write hundreds of words after you reach the 300 mark in order to get a high score. Longer isn’t always better. It’s very possible (and common) for Independent Writing essays that are only 300 words or slightly longer to receive high scores.
Sample TOEFL Writing Topics
Completing practice essays and becoming more familiar with the types of questions you could be asked is a key part of preparing for TOEFL Writing. There numerous practice TOEFL questions available, but you’ll likely want more to practice with.
To help you out, we’ve come up with 13 practice TOEFL Writing topics for both the Integrated and Independent Writing Tasks. Remember that on the real exam the conversations for the Integrated Writing Tasks would be audio recordings that you’d be listening to as opposed to reading.
TOEFL Independent Writing Topics
#1: Agree or Disagree Prompt
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? When people solve problems as a group, they come up with better solutions that if they were to try to solve the problem individually. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? All children should be required to take a foreign language class from the time they start school until they begin university. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Technology has made it easier for people to connect on a deeper level. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Some people believe school cafeterias should stop selling soft drinks and other high-sugar drinks, while others think students should have a choice in what they drink. Which option do you agree with? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
#2: Explain Both Sides Prompt
- Some high school students are delaying college for a year in order to take a gap year where pursue other opportunities such as work or travel. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of gap years. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Compare the advantages and disadvantages of requiring college freshman to complete at least a year of college classes before selecting a major versus having them choose right away. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in a large city versus living in a small town. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- Compare the advantages and disadvantages of studying on your own versus studying with a group of people. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
#3: Pick a Stance From Many Options
- Imagine that there is a large piece of vacant land in your town. What is the best way to make use of it? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- What do you believe is the most important problem facing the world today? Why is it the most important? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
- If you could learn one new skill you’ve never had the opportunity to try before, what skill would it be? Explain your choice by using specific reasons and examples.
- What are the main qualities of a good boss? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
TOEFL Integrated Writing Topic
Directions: Read the following passage and the lecture that follows. On the real TOEFL, you’ll have three minutes to read the passage. Then, answer the question below.
Driverless cars are increasingly being seen as the way of the future. They will eliminate many of the hassles and dangers associated with traditional driving and pave the way for this new technology to become commonplace.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of driverless cars is that they will drastically cut down on human error that results in millions of people being injured or killed every year in car accidents. Driverless cars won’t forget to notice a stop sign, get distracted while texting, not notice the car up ahead has slowed down, or any other of a myriad of driver errors that occur every day. Once driverless cars become commonplace on our roads, thousands of lives will be saved a year.
Another benefit is that driverless cars will cut down on driving time and make commutes shorter. Cars with automated driving will travel at a more consistent and efficient rate than cars with human drivers, who tend to use the brake and gas pedals more often than necessary. Driverless cars know the exact speed to go in order to get to the destination as quickly as possible, based on speed limits, traffic, and other conditions, and the more driverless cars there are on the road, the more travel time will be reduced.
Finally, driverless cars allow people who would normally be driving to focus their attention on a task that’s more interesting and important to them. They may choose to check their emails, get absorbed in an audiobook or podcast, or enjoy a snack, among other possibilities. Having a driverless car will help former drivers make better use of their time.
Professor: Despite the recent attention this subject has gotten in the news and on social media, driverless cars are not the world-changing technology they are being advertised as. They have significant drawbacks, and even if those are ironed out, they will still not offer all the benefits that they are advertising.
First and foremost, even if every car on the street became driverless, that does not mean automobile accidents would suddenly end. Automated driving technology, like all technology can and will fail at times. In fact, even though there are few driverless cars currently on the road, they have already been associated with multiple accidents, injuries, and deaths. Automated driving will always be an imperfect technology, and it will also lack the human mind’s ability to analyze a situation and make split-second decisions which are often necessary to avoid accidents.
Another falsehood is the belief that driverless cars will make commutes significantly shorter. Driverless cars may be able to reduce a lot of the speed up/hit the brakes patterns human drivers engage in, however, driverless cars cannot do anything to change speed limits, road conditions, traffic, or other factors that contribute to commute times. As such, any reductions in driving times will be small, at best.
And third, many people believe that, with driverless cars, drivers won’t need to pay attention to the road at all. They’ll be free to watch a movie or read a book while driving! However, this is completely false. The person sitting in the driver’s seat of an automated driving vehicle will still need to pay attention to the road at all times in order to be alert for any situations where they need to override the automated driving technology. This means that, not only will driverless cars mean drivers can do something else while in the car, they’ll have to suffer through the boredom of passively watching their car make all the decisions without taking their eyes off the road.
Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.
Review: What Will You See on TOEFL Writing Topics?
Knowing what to expect from the TOEFL essay topics will go a long way towards helping you write high-scoring essays. There are two essays on this section, the Integrated Writing Task and the Independent Writing Task. Integrated Writing topics provide you with an article to read and a lecture or conversation to listen to and then ask you to combine information from the two. TOEFL Independent Writing topics simply give you an idea or theory and ask for your perspective on it.
Completing practice essays will help you become better at understanding and answering TOEFL Writing topics. You should practice writing appropriately long responses that clearly outline your thoughts and support them with specific details.
Looking for more information on the TOEFL Writing section? Learn all the tips you need to know in order to ace TOEFL Writing!
Want more tips on how to prepare for TOEFL Writing questions?Check out our guide to the best ways to practice for TOEFL Writing!
Looking for a great TOEFL prep book? A good prep book can be the most important study tool you use, and we have information on all the best TOEFL prep books you should consider.
Writing is a learned skill that composition and other writing-intensive classes help you cultivate through sustained practice. Reviewing the writing skills you have learned throughout your time in high school and college can help you prepare to succeed on the WPE.
There are also a number of resources to help you with WPE preparation:
- Review the General Strategies for Writing the WPE.
- Familiarize yourself with the WPE Scoring Guide and learn tips for writing the WPE based on the scoring guide's four main categories: comprehension, organization, development, and expression.
- Visit the front desk at the Writing & Rhetoric Center (Kennedy Library, Room 111C) and ask to review sample passing and failing WPE essays. Read through the essays and notice common writing characteristics evident among those earning passing scores and those earning failing scores.
- Practice by writing an essay response—or even outline a response—to a previous WPE topic (sample topic 1, sample topic 2, sample topic 3) and bring your practice essay into the Writing & Rhetoric Center (35-111C). One of the writing consultants can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your response and discuss additional strategies for passing the WPE.
- Read through some additional WPE essay writing tips for more writing strategies that may assist when writing your exam response.
General Strategies for Writing the WPE
Read the prompt and underline key words before you read the article. Use these key words to help you focus as on important points in the article. This can help you remain focused on the ideas you are being asked to address instead of reacting to the content of the article itself. Consider using the key words as the basis of an outline. For example, if you are being asked whether or not Cal Poly should require students to take a GE course on personal finances to help them make better financial decisions, key words might include: required GE course, personal finances, and financial decisions. You may then want to reference content from the article (i.e., with direct quotes) to support your claims as you discuss each of these concepts.
Remember that you are being asked to make an argument, so graders will be looking for a strong thesis statement early in your essay. Consider using your thesis to directly answer the question posed in the prompt. If you are unsure of what your stance should be, briefly outline arguments for both positions. Can you make a stronger argument for why Cal Poly should require a GE course on personal finances or for why there should not be a personal finance GE requirement? Take the position that will provide you with support for the stronger argument.
Graders expect you to take a clear stance on the question asked, but addressing a counterargument in your essay can strengthen your argument, make your essay more engaging, and demonstrate to your reader that you’ve given some thought to your response. However, do not spend a lot of time setting up the counterargument. While the ability to refute an opposing viewpoint can help the development of your argument, too much discussion of why someone might disagree with you has to potential make you appear to waiver in your stance. Acknowledge the opposing view then tell your reader why it is wrong.
Writing Tips Based on the WPE Scoring Guide
Below you will find writing tips specifically aligned to the four categories on the WPE Scoring Guide.
Comprehension: Can you demonstrate an understanding of both the reading and the prompt through your response? To meet reader expectations for the comprehension category, consider doing one or more of the following: Identify the article you will be referencing by title and author early in your introduction. In just a couple of sentences, summarize the article’s thesis in your introduction and provide a couple of key supporting points. Connect (or transition) this summation to your argument’s thesis and use your thesis statement to directly answer the prompt. You can also meet the expectations of this category by using direct quotes from the article or key words from the prompt throughout the body of your essay.
Organization: Do you address all parts of the prompt and demonstrate effective paragraph and whole-essay organization? Basic essay organization strategies apply here. If you are talking about ducks and then discuss mechanical engineering, don’t go back to ducks. Keeping all your ducks in a row can strengthen your overall essay and help your reader’s ability to follow your logic. Consider outlining your ideas before you begin writing. This can give you a chance to put your argument in a more logical order and also gives you something to reference if you forget where you were going in your argument. The topic sentences for each paragraph should do two things: 1) Tell your reader what that paragraph is about, and 2) Advance/add to your argument. Try to avoid topic sentences that include quotes from the article, but instead begin and end paragraphs in your own words to create a stronger argument. WPE scorers already know what the article says; they are more interested in what you have to say in response to the prompt, using the reading as your guide.
Development: Do you develop your controlling idea throughout the essay using specific and appropriate details presented in a logical manner? This section deals with how you support your claims. Using detailed and specific examples, with clear analysis connecting those examples back to your main argument, paints a picture for your readers that allows them to have a clearer understanding of what overall argument you are trying to make in response to the prompt. Many WPE prompts will ask you to discuss whether Cal Poly does or does not (or should or should not) do something. If this is the case, be sure to stay Cal Poly-centric as you develop your arguments because if your examples are too general, it may appear as if you are not adequately addressing the prompt. Do not be afraid of using the first person “I" in your essay (e.g., “When I took English 134 during my first year at Cal Poly…”), but be sure to avoid an overly narrative response. In other words, toggle back and forth with examples from your own experience and examples from the reading to support your main points.
Expression: Is your prose clear and mostly error-free? Is your tone appropriate for an academic audience? The majority of WPE essays are handwritten and this creates a lot of anxiety for writers who are accustomed to relying on technology for assistance with grammar, spelling, and mechanics. Generally speaking, if these errors do not interfere with your reader’s ability to understand what you are saying, this category should not be an issue. That being said, if a writer continually confuses homophones such as “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” a reader’s understanding may be inhibited. Extensive run-on sentences or fragments can also be problematic for reader comprehension. The rule of thumb here is to try to save a few minutes toward the end of the exam session to review your essay and revise/edit any unclear passages.
Additional WPE Essay Writing Tips
The following pages offer general WPE essay writing tips that may be helpful when preparing to take the WPE.