“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

-Arthur Ashe 

If you are planning to take the TOEFL exam, it is important that you understand the test format and its many question types. Today we are focusing on the Writing Section of the TOEFL exam and looking at the many types of TOEFL Writing prompts. Understanding the format of the prompts will help you better understand the types of responses you might be expected to give; therefore improving your score!

Each of these TOEFL prompts are based on the California Missions, which we have looked at before on the CISL Blog. To learn more about the California Missions, click here.

Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts
California’s Missions are an important part of the state’s history. Have you visited one?

Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts

There are many options for the TOEFL exam writing prompt. Here are some categories of questions that you can expect to encounter:

Agree or Disagree

In an Agree or Disagree prompt, you are expected to do exactly what you might think: agree or disagree with a question or statement, giving reasons for your opinion.


Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The California Missions are an important part of California history, and should be focused on heavily in the elementary school curriculum.

Prompt Tips:

It is very important that you clearly state your opinion and that you give detailed reasons to support your opinion.


In a Description prompt, you are asked to provide details about something. In each case, you are asked to use specific reasons and details to explain why you chose to describe this specific thing.


Your community has decided to convert an abandoned place of worship into something to be used by the community. What would you suggest that the old place of worship be converted into? Use specific reasons and details to explain your choice.


Describe the role of places of worship in your country. Us specific reasons and details to explain the place you chose.

Prompt Tips:

As with the Agree or Disagree prompt, details are important in the Description prompt. Think about the key words WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW when answering this question.

“If/Imaginary” Questions

If/Imaginary Questions ask you to envision a scenario or opportunity and then describe how you would handle it. They are perhaps the most creative of all the prompts, which can be a challenge for some students!  


If you could travel back in time and witness any historical event or time period, where would you choose and why?

Prompt Tips:

This is a fun prompt: be imaginative! Also, don’t be afraid to “think outside of the box.” Remember that the examiners will be reading many writing samples: what can you do to set yours apart from the others? Think creatively and go beyond a traditional or “cliché” answer.

Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts
Think creatively in your responses!

Compare and Contrast

In a Compare and Contrast prompt, you are expected to compare and contrast two things and use clear examples to show the similarities and differences. You must then make a choice between the two options and give reasons for your choice. 


1. It has been said that not everything that is learned is contained in books. Compare and contrast knowledge gained from experience with knowledge gained from books. In your opinion, which source is more important? Why?

2. When people move to another country, some of them decide to follow the customs of the new country. Others prefer to keep their own customs. Compare these two choices. Which one do you prefer? Support your answer with specific details.

Prompt Tips:

Remember to both compare AND contrast. In this prompt, linking words such as “however” and “although” and “yet” are great with contrasting; “in addition” and “therefore” and “moreover” are great vocabulary words for comparing. 


For more practice with TOEFL Writing, check out our article on Writing a Thesis with Predictors. Also, be sure to read some of our other articles about the TOEFL Exam, including this article on California History and TOEFL Listening,

Photo “Mission San Diego de Alcalá – church” by Bernard Gagnon. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. All other photos from Shutterstock.