HomeEnglish LanguageTOEFLHow do I come up with ideas for the independent essay on...

How do I come up with ideas for the independent essay on the TOEFL iBT?

This blog will discuss how to come up with ideas on the writing using the science of  how your brain works!

It’s the first blog of 2023! Today’s blog is going to talk about how to avoid getting stuck on the independent writing. I know many of you complain that you can’t think of ideas. So, using science-based psychology, here are ways to avoid getting stuck and allowing your brain to come up with new ideas.
This information is adapted from the book, “Learn Like a Pro” by Barbara Oakley, PhD, and Olav Schewe. 
First, let’s learn a little about your brain and how it works when you write or do anything creative. The brain has two modes: FOCUSED mode and DIFFUSE mode.
Focused mode is when you are working on a tough problem. This is the mode you are in when you are doing the Reading section. You are focusing very hard on the content and the questions. You are concentrating and trying to find the answer. The weakness of focused mode, when it comes to writing, is that it’s hard to come up with NEW ideas. Your brain is focusing on things it already knows.
Then there is diffuse mode. This also allows you to think, learn, and be creative. This is why people come up with great ideas in the shower or while walking their dogs—when you aren’t focusing hard on any one thing, your brain comes up with new ideas that are innovative! When you are in diffuse mode, your brain is able to make faster connections and build new neural pathways (new connections between the neurons in your brain.) This allows you to come up with new and more creative ideas.  This is why DIFFUSE MODE is so important during the independent writing.
How does this relate to TOEFL independent writing?
I hope you can guess by now I am going to say you need to use DIFFUSE mode during TOEFL independent writing. If you get stuck, that’s the moment to take thirty seconds or a minute, take a deep breath, and allow your brain to wander a little. Then, get back to the task you are doing.
Thirty seconds or a minute may seem like a waste of time while writing- but it isn’t. Imagine how long you have sat stuck on a writing problem before! I’m sure it’s longer than that. Going into diffuse mode makes your writing MORE EFFICIENT. If you don’t believe me, try it! You should be doing a lot of writing before your test and writing plenty of practice essays.

Also, a huge challenge in writing TOEFL essays is that you may be editing every sentence as you go. This is like stopping on a walk every few steps—it’s going to take a long time! Instead, I recommend you quickly write your first draft of the essay during the test (while still taking breaks to go into diffuse mode) and then you can edit when you have the whole thing finished with the time you have left. Writing your essay WITHOUT editing as you go also has an added bonus—your brain is more tapped into “diffuse” mode when you are typing quickly without analyzing every sentence.  REMEMBER to leave time at the end to edit.
These are great places to learn how to move between focused and diffuse mode. There is background music and noise, and these distractions will allow you to take a moment away from the laptop screen. Then your brain will go into diffuse mode and you will come up with ideas. If you don’t want to go to a coffee shop, try the public library. While you are writing, you can take one-minute breaks to walk down an aisle and back, and then resume writing.

“Write or Die” is an app that sets a number of words you have to write per minute, and provides sounds and visuals if you fall behind the goal. This is an app you could try to increase your writing and thinking speed.
Oakley, Barbara and Schewe, Olav. LEARN LIKE A PRO: Science-based Tools to Become Better at Anything. St. Martin’s Essentials Publishing Group, 2021.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments