Test Tips on TOEFL Integrated Writing

Posted on September 25, 2009 | Filed in TOEFL

Okay. So without a doubt, the integrated writing section on the TOEFL is approached with apprehension by students worldwide. How can I possibly understand the lecture? How do I link the reading and the listening? How on Earth am I going to finish this essay in 20 minutes?

Fear not. Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of the integrated writing section and break down some myths that might surface around this topic.

Aspect #1: Reading vs. Listening: Which one matters the most?

Many students are often thrown off by this question. After all, isn’t it an equal divide in terms of both the reading and the listening? Well – almost. To be quite honest, the prompt for the integrated writing will always go as follows:

“Summarize the lecture, making sure to cast doubt (or compliment) points made in the reading.”

Remember – this means your primary task is to summarize the lecture, bringing in information from the reading when it’s relevant and worthy to do so. All in all, the lecture tends to make up the bulk of your essay, as it’s what you’re summarizing. The reading is brought in only when it makes sense to do so. So, I would say the integrated essay, in terms of a breakdown of actual information, goes as follows: Lecture: 60%, Reading: 40%.

Again, always make sure to refer back to the directions. “Summarize the lecture” is always the first three words of the integrated writing task prompt.

Aspect #2: Point by Point vs. Block Format

Which way is the best to write your TOEFL essay? Well, there are two ways to do so: point by point and block. What are the differences? Let’s see:

  • Point-by-point structures the essay according to points, or specific facts and details taken from both the reading and the listening. For example: you make one statement about the lecture and provide either a point of similarity or contradiction to that point from the reading in the first paragraph. The same for the second paragraph, the third, etc… This is an essay structured around shared information.
  • Block format is a bit easier in that it structures half of your essay about the lecture and half about the reading. The details, or specific bits of knowledge from each are not juxtaposed against one another as in the point-by-point.

Which is better, you may ask? Here’s my advice: If you have a relatively good grasp of both the content of the lecture and the reading – go for point by point. If you are unclear about both the reading and the listening and you are hesitant to attempt to structure such an essay – block format is viable.

Words of wisdom: Block format is a last resort. Strive for an integrated essay that’s point by point; the mark of an advanced writer!

Aspect #3: How should my Essay be Structured?

Technically, your essay should be anywhere from 150 – 225 words. That totals to about two long paragraphs, or three moderately short ones. Do you need an introduction? Absolutely. But, my advice is to keep it brief. A common way to begin the integrated essay is: “Both the reading and the listening talk about ______.” Give us a general idea of what the topic is before we get into points of similarity or contradiction.

A conclusion? Well, only if you have time. This essay is roughly half the length or two thirds the length of your independent essay, so a conclusion several sentences long is not all that realistic in twenty minutes. If you have time and are not sacrificing seconds from the editing stage, feel free to include a general concluding sentence restating what you said in your introduction with more specifics. However, if you’re running out of time and want to make sure and leave two minutes to edit – simply end your integrated essay with your final point of similarity or contradiction.

Above all – draw connections from the reading and the listening whenever possible.

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2 Responses to Test Tips on TOEFL Integrated Writing

  1. TOEFL iBT

    Comment posted on October 5, 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

    Best material I’ve seen about the essay structure. Thank you.

  2. TOEFL iBT

    Comment posted on October 11, 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

    Great tips! Thank you!