TOEFL iBT Essay writing in twelve steps: Planning the essay

TOEFL iBT Essay writing in twelve steps: Planning the essay

In this series, we will introduce you to the twelve steps to write an essay in the TOEFL iBT Writing test. The first five steps we’ll discuss today is about planning the essay. There are two important parts of planning:

  1. Address the writing task 
    Step 1: Read the essay topic
    Step 2: Identify the task
    Step 3: Write your thesis statement
  2. Organize the topic
    Step 4: Make notes about your general ideas
    Step 5: Expand your note to include specific details

Address the writing task


The first thing to do is read the essay topic carefully. It will be given to you on the computer monitor. To write a good essay,you must know what the topic asks you to do. You should know how to address the writing task. You must write on the topic. If you write on another subject, you will receive a O. Pay attention to the task.


There are four essay types on the TOEFL. The most common essay types are agreeing or disagreeing and stating a preference. It is more likely that you will get one of these essay topics to write, but you could also be given one of the others. You must know how to recognize the tasks in all four types. The tasks in making an argument and giving an explanation are similar. Your approach will be similar.

Topic type Percentage of topics
Make an argument 34%
Agree or disagree 29%
State a preference 21%
Give an explanation 16%

*The data in the table may not be accurate at the present

Topic type What you will do Keywords/ Phrases Example
Make an argument In this essay,you will be presented with a hypothetical situation. You will have to determine what needs to be done, make a choice, and support your hypothesis. In these essays, the topic is usually
written in the future or conditional tense.
If/ How/ In your opinion/ What is the best way to/ If you could change.., what would you change/ Which of the following should you do?/How would you do…/How will (something) affect (something)?… If you could make one important
change in a school that you attended, what
change would you make? Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.
Agree or disagree In this essay,you must state an opinion and defend your point of view. You must give reasons for your thinking. You usually discuss only one side of the issue Do you agree or disagree…/ Do you support or oppose…/Why or why not?… Do you agree or disagree with the
following statement? Playing games teaches us
about life.Use specific reasons and examples to
support your answer
State a preference In this essay, you must discuss both sides of an issue. You will be asked to compare and contrast both sides. You may be asked to give the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages of something. You must also state your own personal preference and give reasons to support your choice.
You may be asked to state what you think someone else’s preference is.
Some do this, other do that/ Which opinion do you agree with?/ Which would you prefer?/ Compare the advantages & disadvantages/ How is (something) different from (something)?… It has been said, “Not everything that
is learned is contained in books:’ Compare and
contrast· knowledge gained from experience
with knowledge gained from books. In your
opinion, which source is more important.
Give an explanation In this essay,you must describe what something is, howit happened, why it occurs, or how it is different. You may have to tell why something is good or bad. Youwill have to establish criteria and use those criteria to make a judgement. Describe/ Explain/ What do you consider most important (list)/ Why do you think/ How has (something) changed?/ How does (something) affect (something)?… People attend college or university
for many different reasons (for example, new
experiences, career preparation, increased
knowledge). Why do you think people attend
college or university? Use specific reasons and
examples to support your answer


In order to write a good essay, you must clearly state your thesis. Every essay must have a thesis. The thesis is the main idea of your essay. A thesis statement focuses the direction of the topic and helps the reader understand what you want to say. It tells the reader what your topic is.

Look at these example topics to see how different thesis statements can come from the same topic.

Topic :You have been told that,dormitory rooms at your university must be shared by two students. Would you rather have the university assign a student to share a room with you, or would you rather choose your own roommate? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer .

Thesis statement ASince I do not get along well with many people, I prefer to choose my own roommate. 

From this statement, we can presume that the writer will discuss why s/he has difficulty having friendly relationships with people.

Thesis statement B: The opportunity to meet new people is an imp011ant benefit of a university education, so I believe it is better to let the university choose my roommate for me.

From this statement, we can presume the writer will discuss the benefits of meeting new people at a university.

A thesis statement must be on the topic. Pay close attention to what the topic asks you to do

Organize the topic

Step 4: Make notes about your general idea

To write a good essay,you must organize your thoughts before you write. First, of course, you must have some thoughts. You must have an opinion about a subject. Your opinion about a subject is the thesis of your essay. Concept maps will help you organize the topic. Use a concept map to make notes. There are many different types of concept maps. We will discuss five in this chapter. Some of them are more appropriate for certain topics. Some are appropriate for all topics. Use the one that works best for you

Concept map Topic
Web All
Fish bone All
Venn Diagram State a preference
Matrix All
NPR Make an argument

*We will have a separate post for explaining each type of concept map later

Step 5: Expand your notes to include specific details

Regardless of its shape, each concept map has three components: the thesis statement, some general ideas, and some supporting details. As a rule, you should try to have three general ideas per essay and at least two supporting details per general idea. This will vary according to your topic and the way you choose to organize your topic.

Now that you have finished planning the essay. Let’s move on to write the essay! ~Continue here