TOEFL iBT Skills - Summarizing

Summarizing means condensing or expressing in short something you have read or heard. A summary should include the main points or ideas, key words or phrases, and crucial details. The objective is to write just enough – not too much and not too little.

Summarizing differs from paraphrasing in that paraphrasing involves restating all the information in your own words, while summarizing includes only the key ideas.

The Reading section of the TOEFL iBT usually includes a question asking for the main idea of the passage. It is important for you to know how to identify the answer which best expresses the core ideas, without going either off topic or too much in detail.

Similarly, in the integrated writing section of the TOEFL iBT, you are usually asked to summarize what you have heard and read. You must explain how the reading passage either supports or differs from the spoken lecture. You have only 20 minutes to complete this task, which implies clearly that you will need to summarize.

On the integrated speaking section of the TOEFL, two tasks require effective summarizing skills. In one task, you hear a conversation between two people and then are asked to describe what was discussed. In the other, you read a short passage, hear a short lecture and then have to summarize both, by comparing and contrasting them, restating the main points or something similar.

You will need the feedback of an experienced TOEFL teacher to know whether you are summarizing effectively, in speech and writing. It is difficult to do this on your own, as there is usually a fair amount of fine-tuning involved before the student gets it just right. That's because summarizing is not only a matter of using fewer words to sum up what you have heard or read. It’s a matter of expressing the main ideas in fewer words.

Barron's TOEFL iBT provides helpful techniques and practice exercises to learn how to summarize effectively. The related chapter shows you how to combine sentences, identify the topic sentence, find the major and minor points, and organize the information, while retaining the original emphasis. Similarly, Longman's NorthStar series Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT provides lots of practice, while addressing a wide range of subject areas.

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