Myths about Writing Introductions in TOEFL Essays
“Never start a sentence with but.” “Avoid using passive voice.” “Make sure your hook is interesting.” Do these sentences sound familiar? These are just some of the recommendations all students hear when they learn about writing. While most of them are good things to remember for beginning writers, some of the things students learn are not necessarily true in all situations. This is also true for the writing section of TOEFL. Not everything that we learned in school is useful on the writing section of the TOEFL test. Here are a few examples.
While you should write a short introduction, it is not necessary to have a hook in your introduction.
The purpose of the hook is to make your essay seem interesting enough that readers want to continue reading your essay. Those who read your essay have to read your essay. You don’t need to convince them to read it. Just as a food critic doesn’t need advertising to go to a restaurant he or she is already going to critique, the exam reader doesn’t need a hook to read your essay. Use the time to show him or her how good of a writer you are through the content, not through the advertising.
Quotes are not necessary in your essay.
To exam readers, quoting a source means that you have a good memory. Even if the quote supports your essay, it shows somebody else’s reasoning, not your own. Exam readers want to read your ideas, not the ideas of an arbitrarily chosen person from history who happens to agree with you. It’s not necessary that you should be entirely original, an impossible endeavor, you just need to show your own reasoning.
I should answer the question as soon as possible.
Imagine watching a movie where they revealed the ending in the first few minutes. No matter how good the rest of the movie was, would you be interested in it? This is also true of essays. Your answer to the question should be part of your thesis. Writing essays is not like answering a true-or-false question. The scoring comes when students develop their ideas and opinions about the subject. Give them a brief introduction, and then a thesis, where you will reveal your opinion on the subject matter.
Be as lengthy and wordy as possible.
Every sentence, every idea in an introduction, and really throughout the entire essay, should have purpose. Don’t’ waste time by sounding wordy. Make a point and support it or elaborate on it. Don’t stretch it out. This is especially true on standardized tests like the TOEFL because there is already relatively limited space to write answers. Make sure every word counts. Sometimes people from high context cultures tend to be more indirect in their writing approach. That is fine, but on a TOEFL essay, communication should be low context and more direct. Get to the point and support your point.
Above all, make sure that your ideas are clear and that they have valid and related support for your opinion or thesis. Clear logic is what the test readers are looking for. Once you can write logically, you will be on the path to success for writing a good essay on the TOEFL.