Duolingo English Test "Writing Sample": Reviewing a High-Scoring Response

Duolingo English Test "Writing Sample": Reviewing a High-Scoring Response
Grand Canyon, USA. Photo by Omer Nezih Gerek / Unsplash

"Writing Sample" questions on the Duolingo English Test can be difficult for many students, but there are lots of ways you can improve your score. Looking at high-scoring example responses is one of the best ways to improve your understanding of what the makers of the test are looking for. In this post, we will provide an example response to the "Writing Sample" question below. We will also break down why the response is high-scoring.

Describe the geography of the country where you currently live. How does the geography of the country affect its people and its culture?

Table of Contents

Overview of the "Writing Sample" Question Type

If you are new to this type of question, we recommend reading our full guide to "Writing Sample" questions.

As a reminder, for these question types, you will be given a prompt and will need to construct a short essay or paragraph in response.

Whilst only 50 words and writing for at least three minutes are required to answer the question, we recommend that students use the full five minutes and write at least 150 words. This is in part because this question type assesses "fluency" of English in its scoring, and if you write more, you appear more "fluent." But also because your response will be sent to the universities receiving your scores.

Planning Your Response to Writing Sample Questions

👉 We also have a video lesson about how to organize your responses to open-ended questions like the Writing Sample:

Here is the example prompt we will use once more:

Describe the geography of the country where you currently live. How does the geography of the country affect its people and its culture?

This prompt is a challenging one, but using the I LAST strategy (Identify - List - Answer - Support - Three Examples) the student was able to plan their response effectively.

  1. Identify the topic ⇒ How geography affects culture in my country (USA)

2. List out the tasks Duolingo wants you to perform ⇒

  • Describe the geography of the United States
  • Explain how its geography (location, physical features, climate) affects people and culture

You can see that the student has broken down the keyword "Geography" to ensure that they are staying on topic. They have also mapped out exactly what the question is asking for.

3. Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly  ⇒

The author rephrased the question in the first two sentences of their essay to show that they understood the prompt and are addressing it in their response.

The geography of the United States exerts a profound influence on its people and culture in many ways. Specifically, the fact that it is close to other countries, has a variety of landscapes, and contributes significiantly to global warming has shaped American culture.

Please note: when proofreading your response at the end you may wish to revise your initial statement to ensure it does indeed reflect what you wrote about. This is because it is much easier to change the introductory sentence(s) to reflect your main examples than the other way around.  You may also choose to write the introductory sentence(s) last for this reason.

4. Support your answer

5. Provide Three Examples

Before writing the main body, the student wrote down the three main examples they planned to include. These notes don't have to be lengthy or even full sentences!

  1. Location - close proximity to other countries leads to diverse cultures
  2. Physical features - wide-ranging climates/landscapes lead to wide-ranging lifestyles
  3. Global warming - Global warming has led to political division, natural disasters, and increased research/education

An Example Response to a "Writing Sample" Prompt

The geography of the United States exerts a profound influence on its people and culture in many ways. Specifically, the fact that it is close to other countries, has a variety of landscapes, and contributes significiantly to global warming has shaped American culture.

Firstly, the USA’s immense size situates it in close proximity to a multitude of other countries. Consequently, the USA houses immigrants and expatriates from across the world and is frequently described as a “melting pot” of diverse cultures. For instance, the USA’s adjacency to Mexico has led to the incorporation of elements of Mexican culture in American culture: particularly Mexican cuisine and the Spanish language, in the states that border Mexico.

Secondly, the sheer size of the United States means it encompasses a wide variety of terrains and climates, which in turn forge a plethora of lifestyles. Alaska, for example, has polar climates, is geographically isolated from the continental US, and is surrounded by oceans and seas. As such, Alaskans are heavily involved in the fishing and tourism industry and lead a relatively subsistence lifestyle. This lifestyle contrasts drastically with the lifestyle in Nevada, which can be characterized by water conservation efforts, outdoor activities, and desert-themed arts and events – the result of its unique environment and scorching climate.

Lastly, in part due to the United States’ monumental size, it is one of the most significant contributors to global warming. The pernicious effects of climate change have led to floods, droughts, and forest fires in the USA, which substantially degrade its people’s quality of life and housing. Contributions to global warming have also bolstered the amount of research, funds, and studies dedicated towards protecting the earth. Arguably, global warming has also precipitated a culture of political division between citizens who are staunch supporters of policies reducing carbon emissions and those who gainsay them.

Why Did This Example Score So Highly?

The estimated score of the above response is between 150 and 160 - a great score!

☝️ If you want to get an estimated score on Writing Sample practice questions, create your free Arno account by clicking below!

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Let's now look at how and why the response is so high-scoring by using the Duolingo English Test grading criteria.

  • Grammatical accuracy - in the example sentence structure, words/phrases, and punctuation all follow the accepted conventions of the English language. Missing or misspelled words, typos, and punctuation errors will significantly reduce your score so the best way to score highly in this area is to spend some time at the end of the task (~1.5 minutes) proofreading your work and fixing mistakes.
  • Grammatical complexity - Duolingo assesses the variety and level of your grammar. The author demonstrated "grammatical complexity"  by including complex sentence structures, for example, the following sentence:
Secondly, the sheer size of the United States means it encompasses a wide variety of terrains and climates, which in turn forge a plethora of lifestyles.

includes both an independent clause "the sheer size of the United States means it encompasses a wide variety of terrains and climates" and a dependent clause "which in turn forge a plethora of lifestyles."

  • Lexical sophistication - The vocabulary used in the example includes lots of high-level words.  In the above example, words with a score between 155-160 are bolded. Learning high-level words can be a great way to bolster your "Writing Sample" score, so be sure to try Arno's vocabulary-building quizzes.
  • Lexical diversity - Part of the reason why the example response scores highly is that it includes a variety of words. Instead of writing "big" multiple times in the essay, the author used "monumental," "sheer" and "immense". A great way to improve the diversity of your vocabulary is to learn new words in groups, for example, to look up "big" in a thesaurus and learn some of its synonyms.
  • Fluency - Being able to write a lot in a limited amount of time is a great way to demonstrate proficiency in English. The above score is 303 words. Whilst you only need 50 words total on these questions, we recommend aiming for at least 150 words.
  • Task relevance - The example answer here scores highly because it is highly relevant to the task at hand. This is demonstrated by the way the first sentence paraphrases the question: "The geography of the United States exerts a profound influence on its people and culture in many ways." Each subsequent paragraph and example is then focused on demonstrating how geography exerts an influence on the people and culture of the USA. The best way to ensure you are staying relevant to the task at hand is to plan your essay beforehand using the I LAST strategy.

How to Improve Your Writing Sample Responses

  • Your response to the "Writing Sample" question is sent directly to the institutions you are applying to along with your scores. For this reason, it's important to let your (awesome) personality and interests shine through!
  • Reading more "Writing Sample" example responses is a great way to improve your score. Because Arno is the best ❤️ 🥰  you can find more examples here and here.
  • But even better, by signing up to Arno, you get free, unlimited practice questions like the one reviewed in this article by clicking below. Arno provides timed prompts, just like a real test, and instant scoring and feedback.
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So, join Arno today, improve your Duolingo English Test Scores, achieve your wildest dreams, and save the world 🦸🌎 (for legal reasons, we're kidding about the last part).