One of the hardest sections to prep for on the TOEFL can be the essay. After all, it’s hard to find a native English speaker who will correct and grade your essays—and even harder to find one who knows the test! Never fear. Over the next few posts, we’ll look at some sample high-scoring essays and then break down what’s good about them (and how they might improve!)
If you’re doing your own practice, I suggest attempting to answer the prompt yourself under timed conditions and then comparing your essay to the sample essay. Then tune back in for the next post, in which we break down why this essay works! For our prompts, we’ll be looking at some of Kate’s excellent suggestions in this post on TOEFL writing. Let’s give it a go with the first independent essay topic!
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
Modern life is easier than life in the past.
Use specific details and examples to support your answer.
I definitely agree that modern life is easier than life in the past. The increased use of technology, rising standards of living, and improved healthcare have combined to make our lifestyles, at least in the first world, luxurious compared to lifestyles of the past. By examining three specific examples—personal computers, The Lion in Winter, and vaccines—this essay will demonstrate that this improvement has, indeed, taken place.
In the first place, technological advances have created new ways to take care of mundane tasks quickly and easily. For example, the majority of Americans now have their own personal computers. This is an amazing advance: with computers, we can complete tasks, from banking to ordering groceries, that would have taken hours even a few decades ago. Word processing is common, making the spread of information much easier to achieve, and education is available to all for free through online courses and information that would have been all but unattainable for many up until the end of the twentieth century. The sheer amount of access that we have to services and knowledge through these machines has made life extraordinarily easier.
Secondly, our standard of life has changed through advances in engineering, architecture, travel, and even textiles. Looking at a film like The Lion in Winter, while by no means historically perfect, does show how even everyday things were more difficult almost a thousand years ago. Set in the 1100s, the film shows King Henry II having to break ice from his water bowl to get water to wash his face—something that hot and cold running taps have long since saved us from. The queen has to travel to see her husband by a long boat journey, which would be almost unthinkable today. Finally, the entire royal family, even though they are royal, is wrapped in encumbering furs. Looking at what was once the highest standard of living, compared to the average first world standard of living today, we can see how much easier progress has made our lives.
Finally, we no longer live in fear of many common diseases that once crippled or maimed large populations, making their lives much harder. For example, polio used to strike many people, in some cases making it difficult for them to walk, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used a wheelchair. The invention of that vaccine in the 1950s, as well as numerous other vaccines, has created a situation in which we no longer have to suffer unnecessarily. This is most certainly an improvement over the past.
In conclusion, life today is definitely easier than life in the past. Though it is easy to read stories of nobles and kings of history and romanticize them, their lives were almost certainly more uncomfortable than our lives are. Nevertheless, there are many places in the world where laptops, modern conveniences, and vaccines are rarely found; I hope that current generations will work together to make life easier for everyone, now that it is possible to do so.
Last time, I showed you how to use “if” statements in an example TOEFL Independent Writing Task. Today, I’ll give you a full model answer.
Here again is the sample TOEFL Writing Task 2 question from my previous post:
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The Internet causes people to interact with each other less than they did in the past. Use specific reasons to support your answers.
And now, here is an example response that uses “if” statements (with the word if in bold). In this model answer, I’ve chosen to agree with the statement in the task prompt.
TOEFL Independent Writing Model Answer
Internet technology has revolutionized the way we live. Now, more than ever, we have so much information and media at our fingertips. The ability to look up any information, watch any TV show, or listen to any music from the comfort of our own homes actually has some disadvantages. I agree with the idea that the Internet is causing people to be less social.
One of the reasons the Internet causes us to interact with others less is that it makes many public gathering places obsolete. Libraries used to be popular places for community events. But if people in a community can find entire books online in PDF, they won’t interact with each other at libraries as much anymore. Schools and workplaces are moving onto the Internet too. More and more, people get online degrees or use their Internet connections to work from home. If people take this Internet route to work and school, they miss out on the friendship and human interaction they’d normally get in class or at their jobs.
Some could argue that the Internet allows people to meet and interact electronically. But this is still less social than non-Internet meetings. If people stay at home and use the Internet to try to find a date for instance, they no longer look for love in truly social environments, like coffee shop or public park. Also, if most of your interactions with your friends are online, you don’t get to hear your friends’ voices or see their faces nearly as often.
Ultimately, the Internet leads people to isolate themselves from others, staying at home instead of going out. Moreover, human interaction on the Internet is not as personal as face-to-face meetings between people. The Internet has some benefits, but it really does cause us to be less social.
Often, taking a side on a TOEFL Independent Writing issue is all about demonstrating cause and effect. You want to show the problems–or good things–that are caused by some kind of behavior or some social force. In the essay above, I described bad social effects that all have the same cause: the Internet.
I used “if” statements frequently in my writing, but in the conclusion, I summarized all my ifs in a different way. Instead of using an “if…then” structure, I described cause and effect by saying “the Internet leads people to isolate themselves from others.” This is an if statement without the if; it means the same thing as “if people use the Internet, they will isolate themselves from others.”
As you practice using cause and effect statements in your TOEFL Independent Writing, you should think of ways to show cause and effect both with and without if. Grammatical variety will make your ideas more interesting, and it’ll boost your TOEFL score. “If” clauses are one of the easiest grammar forms to use in cause and effect. So you could use “if” as a starting point for creating cause/effect statements in English. Then paraphrase some of your if statements so that you describe cause and effect in a variety of ways.
In my next post on this subject, I’ll show you a re-written version of the essay above. All the cause and effect relationships will still be there, but the grammar will be more varied.