Today we’re going to look at an essential reading practice material for the TOEFL: the writings of college students.
As we often like to tell you at Magoosh, reading practice is an important part of TOEFL prep. Reading in English helps you improve skills both in reading and writing. Reading practice helps you learn how to write through observation—noting the things that good writers do.
If possible, reading practice for TOEFL Writing should include sample college essays. You want to see examples of good academic writing from students, similar to the kind of writing you’ll need to do on the exam. There are several places you can go for these kinds of model essays.
Example TOEFL Essays from ETS
ETS offers samples of actual TOEFL Writing Essays in a few of its prep materials. The Official Guide to the TOEFL Testincludes some sample essays with scorer commentary in its chapter on the Writing Section. The OG also has multiple sample writing responses with commentary for each writing question in its four practice tests. And then there’s the free PDF of sample TOEFL essays with commentary on ETS’s website. Finally, TOEFL has some official videoguides to the writing tasks which include onscreen sample Writing responses.
Other third-party TOEFL prep companies (including Magoosh TOEFL) provide examples of TOEFL essays too. These can be useful, but there’s no substitute for the real thing—be sure to read the authentic essay responses provided by the makers of the exam.
The Sticks and Stones example essay series
Sticks and Stones is a professionally published multiple-volume series of excellent academic essays written by students on English speaking campuses. I’ve used these books with many ESL and TOEFL writing students. Aside from providing good examples of academic writing, these books are really good reads—the editors choose some truly enjoyable student writing for each volume. Some of the older Sticks and Stones collections are out of print, while other new volumes are being actively produced. Both older versions and brand new editions are plentiful and affordable for online purchase.
Example essays from university websites
It’s not uncommon for university professors and English departments to publicly share their students’ writing online—with permission from the students, or course! A typical example of this practice is this sample student essay page from East Carolina University. The page features past student essays from English 4300, a course offered on the campus. Sometimes the personal web pages of professors will also contain student essays. Paola Brown, and instructor at Mesa Community College shares some of her students’ best argumentative essays. Aside from being interesting, these essays also are good models for the argument-building techniques you might use on the TOEFL Independent Writing task.
Probably the most common type of student essay you’ll see on college websites is the admissions essay. Universities love publishing examples of personal statement essays that impressed their admissions offices. Admissions essays are not quite as TOEFL relevant as other forms of academic writing, but they do have the kind of engaging-yet-scholarly tone that can get you a good TOEFL score in TOEFL Independent Writing. Johns Hopkins University offers several years’ worth of top personal statement essays from their admissions department. Connecticut College has a similar online collection. And AP Study Notes offers nearly 150 sample admissions essays from many different schools.
About David RecineDavid is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!
The Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay falls under the “Text Types, Purposes, and Production” category of questions. It shares this category with the Praxis Core Writing Source-Based Essay. The Praxis Core Writing revision-in-context task rounds out this grouping of questions on the exam.
The Argumentative Essay, like the Source-Based Essay, is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. In this post, we’ll look at a sample Argumentative Essay prompt. This will be followed by a 6-point model Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay, with scorer commentary.
Example Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay Prompt
Read the opinion stated below:
“Advanced degrees have limited usefulness in the job market. Employers seldom require more than a bachelor’s degree. Most jobs that do require a Master’s Degree or Doctorate are so highly competitive that getting a degree does not ensure employment.”
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this opinion. Support your views with specific reasons and examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.
Example Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay (6 points)
I agree to some extent that graduate degrees are not always useful in a job hunt. Even when an employer lists an advanced degree as desirable, it’s usually not an absolute requirement. Moreover, level of education is seldom the only factor that’s considered in hiring decisions, and it may not even be a top factor. In fact, sometimes grad-level education can actually be seen as a liability in terms of cost and worker retention. People who hold advanced degrees are often entitled to higher pay, and hiring managers sometimes fear that an “over-educated” worker will get bored and quit.
Having said that, I disagree with the extreme tone of the statement. This statement seems to suggest that almost all graduate degrees are of limited use, regardless of the kind of job someone is applying for. On the contrary, some grad degrees are highly useful in finding work. Not only that, but for certain types of jobs, a graduate degree is absolutely necessary.
To be sure, it can be a little harder to get a job if you have an advanced degree in a liberal arts subject, such as philosophy or English literature. Most jobs in these fields are professor positions at colleges and universities. Professor positions are, as the statement suggests, “so highly competitive that getting a degree does not ensure employment.” However, a Master’s in a field such as engineering can make someone an exceptionally strong candidate for a top-salary engineering job. Similarly, MBAs help people get upper management jobs more easily. There are also other kinds of jobs where employment is ensured with a graduate degree, and only with a graduate degree. Pretty much anyone with a medical degree is able to find a job as a doctor, and such job positions are only open to MDs.
Ultimately, though, my biggest problem with the above statement is that I don’t think that generalization applies to any advanced degree, even a supposedly less-useful one. Regardless of the field of study, a graduate can advance someone’s career, if they make the right career decisions. To give an example of this, I have a master’s in English. This humanities master’s degree didn’t help me very much when I tried to work as a professor. Unfortunately, I was competing with too many other applicants who had doctorates or had attended more impressive schools. So instead, I used my degree to get a job as a technical writer. Many of the best tech writer jobs actually require a master’s in English. So even though my degree might seem less useful than others, I’ve gotten a lot of good use out of it.
Example Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay: Scorer Commentary
This essay earns the full 6 points, based on the official score guide for the Praxis Core Writing Argumentative Essay. (See pages 9 and 30 of ETS’s Praxis Core Writing Study Companion.)
The writer’s point of view is clearly stated. There is a clear opening thesis, and each paragraph has a strong topic sentence that expands on the essay writer’s thesis.
Ideas unfold logically. The essay’s individual paragraphs are well-organized and are connected to each other with smooth transitions. The writer’s ideas about the value of graduate studies are repeated and built on throughout the essay. Across all paragraphs, key ideas are supported with specific details and examples.
Finally, the “technical” aspects of this essay are in order. To build a strong, cohesive argument, the test-taker displays a good range of vocabulary and sentence structure.
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