Many people consider the “Writing Sample” one of the most challenging questions on the Duolingo English Test. It's also confusing because it's not clear if it's graded or not (It is graded. More on that later.)
The good news is that the "Writing Sample" is essentially the same as the “Read, Then Write” question. You can practice both at the same time!
By the end of this post, you will see why the "Writing Sample" is easier than you think and you'll learn how to do well on it.
Table of Contents
- What is the “Writing Sample” question type?
- What is special about the "Writing Sample"?
- Tips to do well on the “Writing Sample” question
- How to use the I LAST strategy to get a great score
- How to practice the “Writing Sample” question
What is the “Writing Sample” question type?
The “Writing Sample” question looks like this:
You will have 5 minutes to write about the topic provided. You have to write at least 50 words and for at least 3 minutes.
But, we recommend that you write at least 150 words. The reason is simple: If you don’t write enough, you won’t be able to get a high score. Later in the post we’re going to look at a strategy that will help you generate ideas and write 150 words.
Your response to this question counts toward your Literacy and Production subscores. It appears just one time on the test.
What is special about the "Writing Sample"?
On the test, the "Writing Sample" and the "Read, Then Write" question look almost identical.
The difference is that your response to the "Writing Sample" will be sent along with your test scores. The recipients of your test scores will receive your response to the "Writing Sample" so that they can evaluate your writing themselves.
But this shouldn't matter to you, because you want to do your best on both questions!
☝️Note that your "Writing Sample" is still scored and counts toward your subscores and overall score, just like the "Read, Then Write" question.
Tips to do well on the “Writing Sample" question
Read the question carefully
This sounds obvious, but it is easy to misunderstand the question or miss important details during the test because you may be nervous or stressed. Slow down and read the question multiple times to make sure you understand it.
Plan your response
We recommend spending 30 seconds thinking through your response before you start to write. You will find it much easier to write once you know what you want to say.
In the next section, we cover the I LAST strategy in depth, which will make it easy to have a solid plan.
Stay on topic
One of the scoring criteria is “task relevance.” This criteria looks for whether your response is directly related to the provided topic. It is not enough to talk about the topic. Your response has to be directly related to the question and topic.
Having a good strategy and planning your response will really help you stay on topic.
Save time to proofread your answer
If your response has typos, missing words, or other easy-to-fix mistakes, it will be impossible to get a high score. That’s why it is crucial that you save time to proofread your response.
For the “Writing Sample”, we recommend that you stop writing when there are 75 seconds left and using the rest of your time to proofread your response.
But if you don't have 150 words when there are 1.5 minutes left, you should keep writing until you get to 150 words then use your remaining time to proofread and edit.
How to use the I LAST strategy to get a great score
The key to doing well on Production questions like this one is to use a strategy. The right strategy makes it easy to do all the things you need to do to get a high score.
For the “Writing Sample”, we recommend the I LAST strategy:
- Identify: Identify the topic
- List: List out the tasks Duolingo wants you to perform
- Answer: Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly
- Support: Support your answer
- Three: Provide three examples
Let’s use I LAST in an example. Here is a topic provided by Duolingo:
Describe behaviors that are important for success in school. Why are these behaviors important? How would some of those behaviors help you? Use examples from personal experience and observations to explain your perspective.
- Identify the topic ⇒ Behaviors that are important for success in school
- List out the tasks Duolingo wants me to perform ⇒ Duolingo wants me to:
- Describe behaviors that are important for success in school
- Explain why those behaviors are important and how they help
- Use examples and observations from personal experience
- Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly ⇒ I'm going to start my answer with a sentence like the following that lists out the behaviors that I think are important: "I believe that the three most important behaviors for success in school are..."
- Support your answer & Provide three examples ⇒ Now, I need to defend my answer. This is best done by providing examples. Three examples is the perfect amount.
Here is my full response:
I believe that the three most important behaviors for success in school are staying disciplined, persevering through setbacks, and being strategic.
First, success in school does not happen overnight. It's like the old adage, "Rome was not built in a day." In order to acquire new knowledge and gain new skills, you have to learn a little bit each day. This consistency requires discipline. In my personal experience, this principle was most important in my study of mathematics. I never had a big breakthrough with math. Rather, I learned it a little bit at a time.
Second, persevering through setbacks is also important. I did not get top marks on every single assignment. In fact, I often did poorly! But I never gave up. This enabled me to go from a bad mark on an assignment to a good mark on the exam, which, in turn, resulted in a high, final mark in the class.
Finally, you need to be strategic. You need to think about how you can get top marks. Which assignments or exams contribute the most to your overall grade? Which ones don't? Being strategic like this means that you can get maximum results for the efforts that you make.
How to practice the “Writing Sample” question
Simply writing answers to practice “Writing Sample” questions won’t help you very much. To improve, you need feedback.
That's exactly what Arno provides 😁 We give you instant scoring and feedback about your grammar and vocabulary. Let's see why it's such a great way to prepare for the DET.
1) Go to duolingo.goarno.io. If you don’t already have one, just create a free account.
2) Click on the “Read, Then Write / Writing Sample” question type.
3) Go through the steps of I LAST and type in your response.
4) When “1:15” (75 seconds) remains on the timer, review your response. Look for obvious mistakes like typos and missing words first, then make other edits.
5) Once you submit your response, Arno will give you a score. You can also see the different kinds of feedback, like on your grammar.
6) To understand why something was incorrect, just click "Explain why".
7) Look at the other kinds of feedback Arno provides. Make note of any grammar mistakes you made, suggestions for better vocabulary words, and any ideas for how you can write better by emulating the rewritten version.
7) Click the right arrow at the bottom to proceed to the next question. In Arno, there are unlimited practice questions!
Now you have a complete understanding of the "Writing Sample," and, more importantly, you know how to do well on it. By using Arno to practice with the I LAST strategy, you can get great at this question!
Arno is a great way to practice not just the “Writing Sample” question but all question types on the Duolingo English Test! To get started, just click below.