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.
This is a new idea I’ve had to help students prepare for the Written Section of the TOEFL by providing you with a sample essay. I hope to do this fairly regularly.
UPDATE: In fact, I followed up on that promise. Check out a descriptive essay about my favorite sport.
Overall I think one of the biggest problems with the TOEFL Essay is that there are too many problems. Students don’t know what to write about, how to organize it, what level of language to use, what the introduction and conclusion should look like. The best way to address all these problems is to show a sample essay and analyze it. That way you, the dear reader, can take away the lessons you need to learn.
Feel free to add your questions and comments. And your critiques. What do you think I did wrong? What could have been better?
This topic was taken from the Test of Written English Guide, Fifth Edition (c) 2004 by Educational Testing Services, pg. 23.
Technology is a fundamental part of our modern life. Every day we wake up to an alarm clock, shower by means of indoor plumbing, go to work in a car or subway train, work with a computer or tools and, in the evening we watch television until we fall asleep. It is simply impossible to imagine human life without tools and technology. On the surface it would appear that technology has improved our quality of life by providing more comfort, completing tasks more quickly, and increasing our capabilities. Unfortunately we rarely think deeply about the impacts on our quality of life. For example, technology does lead to a dependence on materials and processes that are damaging to the environment. However, in the end the benefits of technology in providing a high standard of living and solving serious problems outweigh the problems.
As I mentioned in the introduction, technology is inseperable from our standard of living. While we often think of technology as including only complicated electronic devices like TVs, radios, and computers, technology also refers to simpler manmade inventions such as paper. Compared to other writing materials like slate, bark, or papyrus, paper is cheap and easy to make, highly portable, long lasting and easy to write on. Bark and other natural materials are difficult to work with. Chalk on slate is not permanent. Papyrus is difficult to make. It also uses animal skins which can be better used for clothing. We know from history that there was an explosion in book production when paper was introduced to the Western world from China. Although the printing press was obviously a huge innovation in mass production of books, the existence of a cheap, easy-to-make material made the printing press possible. Paper improves our quality of life by preserving ideas from the past, allowing us to learn from people around the globe and to share our knowledge with future generations. In this way, paper has much in common with other technologies like the Internet, the television and the radio which all improve communication by making it faster, cheaper and more convenient.
On the other hand, paper is also an example of how technology can be damaging to the environment. Paper is made from wood pulp and that means cutting down trees. A lot of trees. Trees are essential to provide oxygen to our atmosphere, to protect smaller plants in the forest from the sun and to give food and shelter to animals. Forestry not only damages the forest ecosystem by removing trees, but also because lumberjacks enter forests with chainsaws, trucks and shelters. New highways are built in natural environments. All this human activity negatively affects the environment by killing plant life, scaring away animals and introducing pollution in the form of exhaust fumes and tarring chemicals. Similarly a lot of technology depends on energy, which in this day and age, means oil products. Oil wells are also dug in natural environments scarring the land. Burning oil pollutes the air and oil spills can cause immense damage to the water and the land.
Nonetheless, the benefits of technology far outweigh the costs. First, because the removal of technology from our lives would cause drastic harm to our lifestyle. Can you imagine your life without manmade tools? Second, because in the same way paper provided a cost-effective solution to the problem of transmitting information, someday technology will provide an efficent solution to the problems of pollution and environmental damage. There is no other way to solve these problems besides technology itself. (588 words)
I tried to write this in 30 minutes because that’s the time you will have on the TOEFL. The key to this essay is following the instructions: Provide one or two examples. I provided one example, paper.Discuss both positions Talk about the good and bad points of technology not just the side you agree with
Give your own opinion and why This is probably where I fell down. I have a thesis statement and a conclusion that give my opinion that technology is good. But the conclusion introduces a new idea: technology will solve environmental problems. That should be more developed. Probably in the third paragraph I should talk about technological steps that are taken in the paper industry and oil industry to solve environmental issues. But 30 minutes is a short time.
- The essay is clearly organized with an introduction, 1 paragraph on the positive side of tech and 1 one the negative side, then a conclusion.
- There are only 2 spelling mistakes and they are hard words: Can you find the mistakes?
- There is a mix of long and short sentences, formal and informal language, passive and active.
- The example, paper, is developed in some detail. And it’s clear why paper is good.
I follow all the instructions.
- The essay stays on the topic is technology good or bad?
- I chose one small part of the topic because otherwise I could write all day. In this case, I took one example of technology and developed it to cover the requirements. You won’t have time to write everything you think so pick and choose.
So, how well can you write an essay? Write something up on this topic in 30 minutes and post it here in the comments. I’ll give you some feedback.
Also see my Steps to Writing a Good Essay for a basic idea of the process of writing a good essay.Liked this post? Check out some of my books on