The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task does not have to be scary.
However, if you are not prepared, it might seem like the most complex writing task in any test of the English language.
You may not be familiar with writing in English, and this TOEFL task gives you only 20 minutes to create your written response.
Unlike the TOEFL Independent Writing Task, you have to do more than write. You need to read and listen before you get started writing. Plus, you still need to do some good writing to score high in this part of the test.
Fortunately, if you follow these steps, you will be totally prepared to write on test day.
Achieve a High Score on the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in 7 Steps
1. Understand the Task
If you are taking the TOEFL test, you are probably preparing for university abroad. That is why you have to prove you can understand the main ideas of lectures and texts. Being able to understand spoken and written English is also important for anyone who wants to travel abroad, work abroad or work with English-speaking people in their home country.
In this part of the test, you have to read a passage that is 250 to 300 words long and listen to a lecture that is 1 to 2 minutes long. Both the written passage and the lecture are about the same academic topic. They present two perspectives on the same issue.
You should take notes while reading and listening so you can remember the important things you want to write about. After you read and listen, you need to be able to write a 150-225 word response about how the reading and the listening passages are related.
2. Use Directions to Your Advantage
The directions for the Integrated Writing Task will be the same on all tests.
Prepare by doing as many practice tests as you possible can before the exam. This way, you will know all the directions before the exam so you don’t need to waste time and energy reading them carefully during the actual test.
The more you know about the directions, the more prepared you will be. You will know exactly what to do! That sounds less terrifying already, right?
3. Take Excellent Notes
You are supposed to take notes while reading and listening in order to be able write about the main ideas in the two passages and show how they are related. Good notes are going to help you remember information. But how do you write good notes?
Use Key Words
Do not try to write in full sentences. Especially while listening, it can be very hard to concentrate on both understanding English and writing down sentences word-for-word.
You will have access to the reading passage while you do the writing task, so you can always look at it one more time while you are writing. However, this takes time! You want to maximize your writing time so you have extra minutes to work on creating your response. You do not want to look at the passage more than once if possible.
Try not to read passage again and again. Take brief notes while you are reading the passage the first or second time.
Taking notes also means that you will be writing down your ideas and opinions about the reading, and you will be writing using your own words. You do not want to copy any of the language from the passage when you are writing your response. You want to use original language and prove that you have a wide range of vocabulary.
You can save time while taking notes by replacing words with symbols. One symbol can replace an entire sentence! It saves you time to make only a couple of quick marks, rather than writing out an entire sentence.
For example, you could use <—> to show contrast between two ideas.
Use —>to show cause and effect.
You can come up with your own list of symbols while preparing for the exam. Create ones that make sense to you. If you use them repeatedly, you will be able to be very effective while taking notes on the test.
Practice Makes Perfect
Keep a notebook nearby whenever you are reading or listening to something in English. You can practice taking notes while doing reading in your spare time or while listening to science-related TED talks.
It’s best to practice with academic passages because these tend to be more structured, like the ones you get in the test.
Use a Table to Take Notes in a Structured Way
It is very quick and easy to draw a table while taking your test, and it will help you a lot. Draw a table before you start reading or listening.
This will help you focus on the main ideas in the two passages and how they are related. You will be able to see the main ideas and the connections between them at a glance. This will save a lot of planning time before writing.
You can use this model:
Stay Calm While Listening
You only get to listen to the spoken passage once, so you can feel a lot of pressure to understand everything, take great notes and get all the information you need to get the written response right.
There is no way to press “rewind” or play the passage again. When it is over, it is over.
That might sound really scary, but it is not that bad when you know how the test works.
Remember that you are only supposed to understand the main ideas and connect these to the main ideas of the reading passage. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand every single word! This is not a vocabulary test. You do not have to answer 30 specific questions after listening. You just have to understand the main points.
Try not to worry if you do not remember very specific information. When you do the writing task, you are the one who decides what to include. For this, you are going to need the main ideas and connections between them. If you can only take notes on just a few supporting ideas from the listening passage, remember you can access the reading passage for more details while writing.
4. Organize Your Writing
You should spend only 1-2 minutes to plan your written response, but do not panic while planning! Remember the table you made while you read and listened? Use it now and you can save time.
Divide Your Response into Paragraphs
You should attempt to write 4 paragraphs.
Try to target both the reading and listening passage in each paragraph. Do not write one paragraph about the text and then one about the lecture. It is better to discuss both.
You can follow the structure of the example paragraphs below:
- Introduction: State the main topic of the two passages and the main connection between the passages.
Example: Both the reading and the listening passage discuss__________. The author of the reading passage argues that__________, while the lecturer challenges the points made by the article. He/She claims that__________.
- 1st Paragraph: State the first main idea of the text and relate it to a main idea in the listening passage.
Example: First of all, the author of the reading passage states that__________. He/She claims that__________. However, the lecturer in the spoken passage implies that__________. Moreover, he/she believes that__________.
- 2nd and 3rd Paragraph: State more main ideas of the text and connect these ideas to main ideas from the lecture. You can use the 1st paragraph example above to structure these paragraphs.
- Conclusion: Write a short concluding paragraph about how the topic is seen differently by the two authors. If you don’t have time for a conclusion, don’t panic. You can turn the paragraph dealing with the last main idea into a conclusion like this:
Last but not least, the reading passage mentions__________. The author seems to believe that__________. In contrast, the lecturer argues that__________. He/She discusses__________. The two perspectives differ in their approach to__________.
Use connectors to make your writing more structured and logical.
- To sequence ideas: firstly, secondly, last but not least
- To contrast ideas: however, although, nevertheless, in contrast, on the one hand/ on the other hand
- To show cause and effect: as a result, consequently, therefore
5. Remember: This Is a Language Test
Do not worry if you know nothing about the topic, you are not supposed to know about the topic! You may even lose points for focusing on your personal opinion.
The Independent Writing Task will ask you about your point of view. However, the Integrated Writing Task is about reading well, listening well, understanding and discussing the ideas that were given to you.
The raters (the people who read your test and decide your score) are interested in how well you can synthesize information from the two sources and, of course, they are interested in your level of English writing.
You should try to use your most advanced knowledge of English here, but do not use words or phrases you are not sure about. You have a very important strategic advantage when you do writing: You have time to think!
When you are speaking you cannot stop and think about the words you are going to use, but when you are writing you can choose to use the vocabulary you are confident about.
Do some writing tasks and have a teacher or native speaker edit them for you. To find a native English speaker who’s trained to teach you about the TOEFL, visit Wyzant. This website will help you find a local TOEFL tutor anywhere in the United States, and you can even choose one who has specialized in English writing or English grammar.
If you’d prefer to meet with an English tutor online, search on Verbling. This huge website has thousands of professional tutors who you can choose from, and many offer very low, affordable prices for tutoring. And there are specialized TOEFL tutors here too!
While working with your TOEFL tutor, keep a “favorite mistakes” diary in which you record language mistakes so you avoid making them again.
Leave 1-2 minutes to proofread your work. Remember, you don’t have time for big changes. The raters know this is a first draft. What you can do, however, is correct spelling and punctuation mistakes.
7. Time Is of the Essence
Time is very important!
Exams are about using your time well so you can score as high as possible.
Time yourself as you do practice tests and do not waste any exam time on things that are not worth it. Do not waste valuable minutes to think about a word that you simply cannot remember. Use a synonym that you know very well instead!
Give yourself 1-2 minutes to do planning and editing work. All the rest of your time should be left for writing.
Use as much time as you can before the exam to do exam-like tasks, because practice makes perfect!
Before you take the real TOEFL exam, you should take at least one full practice TOEFL exam. An ideal place to do this is BestMyTest. When you take your practice TOEFL exam on this website, you will receive feedback from real, TOEFL-certified English teachers. They’ll read your writing and give you suggestions to help you improve your exam score.
If you need extra help with preparing for the TOEFL, you can visit Magoosh and get TOEFL lessons and video explanations of correct and incorrect TOEFL answers.
Remember that, even after you have passed the TOEFL test, the skills you developed while preparing for the Integrated Writing Task will stay with you. These skills will be your valuable resources when you study or work abroad.
The time you spend studying now can greatly improve your overall level of English.
So, get excited to study!
Ana Maria Hopartean teaches English as a foreign language at university level in Romania. She designed TOEFL and Cambridge exam preparation courses. She has a PhD in Psychology applied to language learning and her main focus is trying to help adult learners cope with anxiety while learning a foreign language.
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