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Tips for TOEFL Prompt Writing Task: Start with a Great Outline

You’ve been caged inside the TOEFL iBT testing room for the past few hours with only a few minutes of break for reprieve.  Just when you finished what you thought was the toughest section of the TOEFL yet (integrated writing), the computer screen flashes:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

It is more beneficial for students to go to college straight from high school than to take a gap year.

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

You now have 30 minutes of intense outlining, drafting, and editing to look forward to. You realize that as with most writing assignments, your score on the TOEFL prompt writing task will depend heavily on the quality of brainstorming and outlining you do before you even type one word. The first few minutes of the half-hour you’re given might just be the most important;

Fear not! We’re giving you a step-by-step guide on how to tackle this seemingly daunting task.

Step 1:
Fold a blank sheet of scrap paper into half (or simply draw a line down the middle). At the top of one side, write “Take a gap year.” At the top of the other side, write “Go straight to college.”

Step 2:
Now, you’re going to quickly jot down what is beneficial about each path choice. To potentially save yourself some time in the brainstorming process, start with the option that you are more inclined toward. Take “Go straight to college,” for example.

What might be the benefits of not taking a gap year? Many argue that going straight to university allows students to not waste time and get to a career quicker. Certainly, some feel that students may fare better academically if there is no break in their studies. If most college-bound students in your home country do not take gap years, following the flock would allow you to “keep up” with your peers.

If you’re satisfied with the benefits you came up with, STOP. There’s no need to waste time thinking about the other point of view. Instead, note down an example or further details under each benefit.

For the sake of illustrating effectively the brainstorming process involved in the TOEFL prompt writing task, say you’re dissatisfied with the benefits you came up with of continuing with no break to university.

In this case, utilize the other column to jot down the benefits of taking a gap year. Taking a year away from school wouldn’t be wasting time if you take on a full-time fashion internship, complete a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate, volunteer in China for a wildlife conservation organization, or learn Spanish and travel independently throughout Central and South America. If you use your gap year constructively, then you can gain important skills you might not otherwise gain. At the end of the year, you might find that you have matured greatly and are more ready to get as much possible out of your university experience. You might even have discovered more about your career interests, allowing you select a more appropriate university course.

Step 3:
Now that you’ve determined on which side of the original statement you stand, you’re ready to note down examples and details supporting your reasons for your stance. Perhaps you are currently a university student, are acquainted with somebody who took a gap year, or know some general facts about the gap year or university students. Dig through your experiences and knowledge for examples and details that support your stance.

Here’s an example of what one side of your scrap paper should now look like:

Taking a gap year

Reason 1: Gain skills
Example (or detail) 1: My cousin’s research internship experience

Reason 2: Gain maturity
Example (or detail) 2: My university experience without having taken a gap year

Reason 3: Gain stronger career direction
Detail (or example) 3: American college students change majors 2 or 3 times. Time exploring career interests = less vacillation.

Congratulations! You now have an essay outline. Of course, you’ll need to begin your essay with an introduction and end it with a conclusion, but your outline should guide you through the writing process.

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