Exam-focused, academic writing courses usually focus on writing paragraphs, letters, reports and essays. Students are graded on mechanical errors, language used, staying on topic, organization, cohesion, unity, and other stylistic concerns.
Learning how to improve writing skills for exams is just as you would train for any competition, so you need to help students develop tools and techniques for them to write effectively and efficiently when under pressure.
How To Teach Writing Skills – Step One: Attack the question
Dissect the instructions! To do this at lower levels, they can highlight keywords and blank out unimportant words.
Lower levels should work on the wh-questions (What? Why? Who? How long? What tenses?) so they can respond automatically when it is time to write the exam. At more advanced levels, they need to know what they are writing, for whom, and how long it needs to be.
At some point in the test, students should know what tenses they should use and other mechanical and style considerations they had covered in the course for this particular piece of writing; however, this can be done after the brainstorming stage.
How To Teach Writing Skills – Step Two: Brainstorming
Students need to do this quickly. They need to generate vocabulary and ideas that are going to target the purpose of the piece. In class, they should practice different types of brainstorming so this step takes only a few minutes.
The reason they should do brainstorming is not only to get ideas but also to overcome stage fright and get sentences flowing.
It is an important part of the writing process that native speakers do subconsciously before composing anything. A native speaker would likely go straight to the outline of an essay, but would still have subconsciously brainstormed ideas and activated schema.
Learning how to improve writing skills means practicing listing, mind maps, word webs, storyboards, freewriting, and numerous types of graphic organizers. These should be worked on in class so that students have a repertoire of tools to use during the writing skills exam.
Below you will find a video on the TOEFL writing section. A minimum of 5 years of teaching experience and advanced TESOL certification are required for becoming a TOEFL teacher.