During a recent writing class, we discussed two different example responses. The idea was that students (I hope) would synch with the actual raters in the way they look at the writing responses. Fortunately we already have scoring guidelines based on which the raters make a decision on the test-takers’ scores.
Sounds good to hear, and the guidelines are written in plain language, for sure, but still it is hard to give a certain score to an actual essay. Just like everyone else in this business, I can write an essay that earns 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 respectively. It means that I can internalize the whole guidelines, so I can make them even easier for your benefit.
From my viewpoint, the most important (but the least known) aspect of this writing section is that 3 (out of 5) means that this particular essay is “hard” to understand because of the author (test-taker)’s inability 1) to write a complete sentence and 2) to organize the entire essay. If you get two 3’s in W1 and W2, your score will be 20 (out of 30). Doesn’t sound bad, does it?
In the TOEFL, W=20 means your essay is not up to par. What you have to do to improve your scores is, then, to improve either 1) or 2) above.
I am very sure that 2) will be much easier to do. Since there are not many ways of organizing an essay, you can make it yourself. It will be enough if you focus on what you have written so far, what your goal (conclusion) is, and how you can fill the gap between the two. Forget about your English and focus on the organization. You will see your writing score surging (up to 20 or something in its neighborhood).
Here is a big no-no, however.
If you stick to a widely used template, and replace with it what you could have created on your own, you will hit a plateau: there will be no noticeable improvement in your score. This means that you will keep the organization as it is and try to write a better and more complicated English sentence (Point 1 of the above). It will take a far longer time to write the same idea in a better English sentence.
You should be reminded that there is no one “ideal” way of completing the tasks in the TOEFL writing section. Whatever it may be, you should choose to explain your response in what you would think is the best (by your standards). That will give you a score 4. Believe it or not, if you get two 4’s, then your score will be 25. Pretty satisfactory, isn’t it?
The TOEFL does not require you to display your knowledge on academic writing (who knows something only university students know before getting into university?). Your task is to show your potential to get ahead in the academic writing class. So relax, and show your idea in a very organized manner. It’s not easy, but it’s not too difficult.