Independent Writing Task: 300 Words and Beyond

In the previous blog entry, I offered an introduction to the Indenpendent Writing Task.  Two of the most important points of that post was that this composition has a minimum number of words, 300, that must be reached, and secondly, that to fully develop a composition and increase your possibilities of scoring high, you will need to finish closer to 400 words than 300.  Thus, I’d like to extend the discussion of the last entry by looking at how we can make sure that our compositions comfortably surpass the 300-word minimum.  There are three areas to focus on: the introduction, examples and a transition sentence between supporting paragraphs.

Introduction

As I tried to make clear in the previous blog entry: http://www.toefl-prep-svq.com/blog/introduction-independent-writing-task.html), putting the question asked into context before directly answerng it is a fundamental strategy to make sure your composition is fully developed and meets the word limit.  Offering a direct answer to the question and nothing more in the opening paragraph puts a lot of pressure on your supporting paragraphs to carry the weight of the composition, and most of my students who have problems reaching the word limit also have short introductions.

Examples

It’s important that you see the need to offer examples as an opportunity, not an obligation.  A strong example can allow you to support your argument with illustrative details and descriptive language, and push forward the length of your composition.  You tell me which of the following best supports an argument offered in response to the question: Why are some people attracted to dangerous sports?

1. “My brother skydives often and when he finishes he feels much better”.

2. “My brother has been practicing skydiving for many years and when he returns from a jump, you can see how his mood has changed from serious to enthusiastic.  He also claims that the experience gives him the energy to return to the office on Monday morning with a fresh perspective on work problems”.

I hope the answer is clear.

Remember that your examples need not be true.  Feel free to invent.  But they must support your argument with the details and description necessary to convince.  These details and description will put the meat on the bones of your composition and ensure that it is long enough, and fully developed.

3rd Paragraph Transition

There is one specific place in the composition where I believe it is possible to accomplish a number of important things, among them increasing the total number of words.  Let’s return to the composition about why people practice dangerous sports.  Imagine you have written an introduction which places the question in the context of the routine nature of the modern world and directly answers that people practice these sports because they lead boring lives and desire adrenaline.  In the second paragraph, you expand upon the idea of the boring routine of many jobs, especially office jobs.  You offer an example of your uncle who works 55 hours a week sitting in front of a computer screen and who goes skydiving most weekends. Now you are looking to begin your third paragraph which will be a discussion of why people want more adrenaline in their lives.  Many students, some of them skilled writers, will simply begin the third paragraph with: “Another reason is…”. However, for reasons of style, rhetorical elegance and extending the word count, a better strategy is to mention the topic of paragraph 2 as you introduce the topic of paragraph 3. Observe:

“In addition to the escape from their boring and routine working lives, another reason why people practice these dangerous sports is to satisfy their desire for adrnaline”.

Now your composition has a nice touch of formal rhetoric and you have roughly 25-30 words more than a simple “Another reason is…”.

This transitional sentence at the beginning of the 3rd paragrpah is also an opportunity to show off some advanced grammar, namely inversion after “not only”. Let’s see this example:

“Not only do people practice dangerous sports to escape the routine of their boring jobs, but also to produce the sensations that increased adrenaline can provide”.

26 words and a nice show of advanced grammar.

Longer compositions which have a clear argument, correct grammar and complex language use are the keys to a high score in the independent task.