TOEFL iBT Writing Skills

The last section of the TOEFL is Writing, which lasts for about 50 minutes. It consists of two parts: the integrated writing task (150-225 words) and the independent writing task (300-350 words).

If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing so much in such a short time, remember that writing is a skill that can be developed. Many TOEFL guidebooks, such as Delta, Longman, Cambridge, and Barron's, present detailed strategies to help you organize and focus your writing. They also provide sample essays and an analysis of high- and low-scoring responses. In addition, you will need to work with an experienced TOEFL teacher or register in a TOEFL exam prep program so that you can receive corrections and meaningful feeback on how to improve and strengthen your writing skills.

The integrated writing task comes first and is organized in the following way:

You read a passage - 3 minutes

You listen to a related lecture - 2 minutes

You write an essay - 20 minutes

In your response to the integrated question, you will be asked to summarize the points made in the lecture and either show how the lecture supports the points made in the reading passage or show how the lecture casts doubt on the points made in the reading passage.

It is helpful to make notes of the main points as you read, though the reading passage does reappear when it is time to write. More importantly, you must make notes while listening, as you have only one opportunity to hear the lecture. Listen carefully for arguments, explanations and examples which support or challenge the points made in the reading. It is essential that you take detailed notes while listening or you won’t have enough material to write about.

Your essay may be set up as one long paragraph or three paragraphs. In terms of organization, you have two ways in which you could structure your response: You could compare and contrast each point as you go along. For example, “The reading passage states that….” , “On the other hand, the lecture argues that… .” Alternatively, you could list all of the points made in the reading passage in one paragraph and all the points made in the lecture in the next paragraph.

The Princeton Review’s Cracking the TOEFL iBT gives a detailed essay structure you could follow in developing your integrated answer.

Bear in mind that for the integrated task, you are not being asked to give your opinion, but to relate what you have read and heard. Do only what the question asks you to do - no more and no less.

The second task in the Writing section is the independent essay. You have 30 minutes to write a four or five paragraph essay (about 300-350 words) in response to a single question.

The first thing you need to do is to identify the task clearly. The question may ask you to agree or disagree, make an argument, give an explanation or state a preference. Make sure you understand what you are being asked to do.

The next point is to take up to 5 minutes to plan your essay. Sometimes students avoid doing this because they feel it will take away from the limited time they have to write the essay. However, by planning in advance, you focus first on what to write and can then concentrate on how best to express your ideas.

You will also be able to organize your essay more effectively by setting out the points and examples in advance. Use concept maps, venn diagrams, mind maps or other brainstorming tools to help you conceptualize your essay. These planning techniques, along with practice exercises, are explained at length in Barron's How to Prepare for the TOEFL Essay.

If, while planning, you discover that you can’t think of enough reasons or examples to write a convincing essay, then you might consider adopting the opposite point of view. The emphasis is on generating lots of ideas and examples to write a strong essay, even if it’s not your true view on the subject. Having enough "meat" in your essay is more important than choosing a particular point of view.

You then have 20 minutes to write your essay. After deciding on your approach, state your position clearly in the first line or at least in the first paragraph. The examiner should not be left guessing where you stand on the given topic. After the introductory paragraph, you need to write two or three supporting paragraphs, which provide reasons and examples, and last, the conclusion. Always begin your essay with a strong introduction and end with a powerful conclusion so that the first impression and the last one are powerful and convincing.

Try to allot about 5 minutes at the end to review your essay and correct any obvious spelling, grammatical or vocabulary errors. If you're running out of time, try to add at least a one-line conclusion, so that your essay gives the impression of being complete.

Practice writing essays within the 30-minute time limit so that you feel comfortable doing so on the day of the test. Lastly, familiarize yourself with the full list of topics given in the ETS guidebook, The Official Guide to the New TOEFL iBT, so that you know the kind of topics to expect on your test. 

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