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TOEFL Tip #87: “Less is more”

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 18, 2011

Always remember that the TOEFL values the idea that “Less is more.” The phrase means that, in some situations, doing less will bring a better result than trying to do too much. The key is that what you actually DO has to be good in order to be effective. Obviously, doing less and being careless will not bring the result that you want.

“Less is more” on the TOEFL, too. Although this post will discuss the written section of the test, you can apply this approach to the speaking section, too.

Both essays on the Writing section of the iBT have a word count. This is there for a reason! The Integrated Writing Task (informally called the 20 minute essay) should have about 200 words, and the Independent Task (informally called the 30 minute essay) requires a minimum of 300 words, but don’t go too far beyond that. Keep these word counts in mind, and focus on making your essays perfect, not longer.

One way to think about “less is more” is to use the word count as a guideline for how long each part of your essay should be. For the Integrated Task, if the reading and the listening make 3 points about the topic, you should have about 50 words per paragraph. (For example, the two sentences I just wrote = 50 words). It’s the same for the Independent Task. If you have 3 reasons/examples to support what you want to say, the introduction and conclusion paragraph might each have about 50 words, and the 3 paragraphs with your reasons might each have about 65 words. (Of course, one paragraph might have 60 words, and another might have 75 words, but you get the overall idea.) If every paragraph has 80 words, you’re trying to cram too much into the essay!

Another way to think about “less is more” is remembering the purpose of each writing task. The Integrated Task asks you to compare an academic reading passage with a spoken lecture on the same topic. That’s all you have to do – state the topic of the reading and the listening, and then compare what each says. Your goal is to summarize the main points made in the reading and listening and offer a FEW details to explain these main points. Do not try to repeat all of the details! That takes up too much space and time, and it does not necessarily improve your essay.

The purpose of the Independent Task is to respond to a question using only enough details to support your point. The key here is to focus! Be sure that your reasons and examples are direct and succinctly show the point you are trying to make. Details themselves will not gain you points. Only the details that matter will. Also, do not say things like, “And that is why I think ….” Remember, your essay has already been explaining what you think; that the reader knows that anything you write is “what you think”.

Categories: Speaking,Writing

2 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. Anh

    wrote on February 25, 2015 at 6:38 am

    Wow. This method is totally different from what I’ve learned. I learned from an online and an on-site TOEFL Training that I should lengthen the passage as long as possible. I got 25 on the Writing, but don’t know if I switch to this method, the score can be improved…

  2. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on February 26, 2015 at 8:34 am

    A 25 is really good! Don’t change a thing! ^_^ We only suggest LESS writing when a student is making a lot of grammar errors.

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