Writing section of the TOEFL IBT

Writing section of the TOEFL IBT

The TOEFL exam consists of four sections: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

Find more about the Reading part here, Speaking part here. Below you will find the overview and tips on the Writing section.

Overview of the format

The writing section consists of two tasks:

  • The Integrated Essay.

For this task, you will first read a passage about a topic (3 min) and then listen to a short lecture on the same topic. You will hear the audio only once, but the passage will reappear on the screen after the audio ends. Your task is to summarize the points in the lecture and explain how they relate to the reading passage.

You will have 20 minutes to type your response. There is no min/max length for your response, but typically an effective response is between 150 and 225 words.

  • The Independent Essay.

Your task is to answer an essay question, e.g. your opinion about something, within the recommended 30 min and 300-350 words.

Strategies for Task 1 – The Integrated Essay

  • Skimming

The candidates have 3 min to read a passage about a topic, and it’s crucial they understand the main idea (usually in the first paragraph) and key points (usually 3 of them).

  • Listening for opinion and details

While listening, the most important things to understand are the main idea (normally at the beginning of the lecture) and supporting ideas (usually 3 of them).

  • Note-taking

Since it is required to compare/contrast ideas in Reading and Listening, effective note-taking, during both Reading and Listening, is the basis of successful writing. It is often recommended to arrange your notes in the following way:

This way it is easier to see how the main points are related.

  • Focusing on the question

Candidates are supposed to summarize the lecture (not the passage!) and then say how it relates to the passage.

  • Presenting the ideas

The skill of selecting and presenting only key points from the lecture and the passage is important, as well as the ability to see and explain how they are connected.

  • Organizing your writing

Use of neat paragraphing, correct linking devices and being to the point are all included in assessment criteria.

  • Paraphrasing

Repeating the language of the lecture or the passage is not going to lead to a high score. Therefore, it is advisable to use your own words as much as possible.

  • DO NOT express your opinion in the Integrated Essay

Strategies for Task 2 – The Independent Essay

  • Planning

Use scratch paper to outline the main ideas and supporting examples that are going to be used in the essay.

Some typical ways to organize the essay may be as follows:

Para 1: Paraphrase the problem and state your opinion

Para 2: First reason for your opinion

Para 3: Second reason for your opinion

Para 4: Third reason for your opinion

Para 5: Conclusion


Para 1: Paraphrase the problem

Para 2: Argue one side (advantages and disadvantages)

Para 3: Argue the other side (advantages and disadvantages)

Para 4: Take a stand for one of the arguments and explain your choice

  • Use of specific examples and details

Many candidates stay at a very ‘general’, abstract level while developing their arguments. It is beneficial, however, to use concrete examples and specific detail, both in terms of language and development of ideas.

  • Conceding

Never ignore the other side of the problem if it is given in the task. Use concession (‘Although…, I believe…’ or ‘Despite…, I prefer…’ etc.) to point out the opposing view and contrast it with the one you support.

  • Mastering the Art of Topic Sentence

Every paragraph should be opened with a sentence which makes it clear what this paragraph is about, e.g. ‘Nevertheless, there are several drawbacks to using public transport, of which the main is probably …’

  • Range of grammar and vocabulary

It is worth memorizing a few dozens of useful phrases (e.g. ‘Some people argue that …, while others advocate …’) and plan to use a few grammar structures on purpose (e.g. 2nd or 3rd conditional, inversion, modal verbs, passive, etc.)

Finally, make sure you can type in English fairly quickly, and remember – Writing Section is the last one on TOEFL iBT, so it is the last push before you achieve the summit!

Anna Classing (Nikolaeva)

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