What is Toefl Integrated Writing, & How Can I Prepare?

The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task checks your ability to combine several English skills. 

Photo of a young woman wearing earphones and using a computer.
text: 'Read, listen, then write about the differences...'

You will need to read, listen (& take notes), and then organize your thoughts into an essay.

These are skills you will use often at the university and in professional life, so the TOEFL Integrated Writing task tests all those skills.

You will have 20 minutes for this task.

First, you will have three minutes to read a short passage (about 250-300 words).

Next, you’ll listen to part of a lecture analyzing and challenging it (disagreeing with some points). That takes two or two-and-a-half minutes.

Then you will need to write a brief discussion comparing or contrasting their points of view. 

The reading selection will be available to review (if you need to), but you will not be able to listen to the lecture a second time. For this reason, you should take brief notes while listening. (That’s one skill the test looks at.) 

How Do I Write an Integrated TOEFL Essay?

The TOEFL website suggests that you should write about 150-225 words for an “effective response.” Don’t count your words!

That’s just an estimate of the words you will need to compare each main point in the reading selection and the lecture. Take a minute or two to plan your main points. Be sure to consider each main point of the reading and the lecture’s response.

If you have taken brief notes, they can make planning the essay easier. Notes should include only the main ideas, each expressed in a key word or two. If you write them in columns or draw a table, you can put the reading and lecture points next to each other.

In the essay, you need to show that you understand the main ideas of the reading passage and lecture as well as their differences. The examiners want to see how well you can organize your thoughts and express them in English. 

Remember, this task is NOT asking for your opinion. The examiners just want to know if you can identify the main ideas of the reading passage and lecture and also their differences in perspective.

It’s good (if possible) to leave a minute or two at the end to check for obvious omissions or spelling errors. However, the examiners understand that you do not have time to revise or polish your writing. They treat it as a rough draft, with possible mistakes.

Here is a link to their scoring rubric (a description of what you need to do to earn each ‘grade.’)

Notice how important accuracy—correctness-- is. If you misunderstand or cannot explain a main idea or the lecturer’s arguments about the reading, it is unlikely you will receive above a ‘3.’

This is one reason it’s so important to read and listen a lot in English—and to check your understanding. That’s why EnglishHints has a whole section on Comprehension Exercises.

How Should I Prepare for the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task?

Start by reading the official TOEFL ibt information and practicing with old test questions from ETS (the company that makes the TOEFL Exam). If you have a Windows 7 or higher computer, you can also download a larger set of interactive former test questions.

ETS also has excellent practice materials and guides that you can buy. It even has a free course on the complete TOEFL exam.

It isn’t easy to find free writing prompts for brief lectures that discuss short reading passages. However, at least three websites offer one free practice essay each. (Like the TOEFL Integrated Writing task, these provide a reading passage & lecture that you need to compare.)

See Strictly English (with a timer for the reading), Best My Test, & Magoosh (which also links to a level 5 sample response you can compare with your answer.) If you use them, be sure to practice with the same time limits as the actual test.

Is There Integrated Writing Practice on EnglishHints?

I’ve also wanted to match related reading and audio passages for essay practice. I finally found a couple and made a practice integrated task. Unfortunately, it isn’t as close to the official writing task as the sample tasks above. 

Feel free to use it if you need more free, timed, integrated essay practice after trying the ones above. I did provide some sample notes and the essay I wrote so you can see one way to do it.

None of these are official test practice, but they are a chance to practice needed skills and responding to writing prompts. For the most realistic practice, try to do each whole task within the official time limits, in one sitting. 

(If you allow yourself extra time, it will be harder when you have to take the actual test. It's better to practice each time with the exact time limits. It will get easier as you keep practicing.)

Remember to give examples! Also, use clear transitions to show the way your thoughts are organized: first, next, finally, because, although, however, in contrast, in spite of, etc.

Don’t forget to show exactly how the lecture responds to each point it discusses in the reading selection.

If you are not used to taking notes in English, it’s important to practice before the test! One way would be to listen to some of the talks in the listening section of Comprehension Exercises. As you listen, write down a few key words to remember the main ideas that were mentioned.

After listening, see if you can write a summary of the talk from your notes. Then check your summary with the original. Did you get it right?

It may be difficult to do in English at first, but it will get easier with practice! It will be an essential skill during university classes.

What about the Other Parts of the TOEFL?

For general information about the TOEFL and IELTS Exams, see English Language Test Prep. It has links to the official TOEFL (& IELTS) sites and an explanation of each test. It also gives you useful tips for preparing. Don't miss the important advice for the day before and the day of the test itself!

To prepare for TOEFL Writing task 2 (Independent Writing), see especially Essay Organization, TOEFL or IELTS Essay SampleWriting Test Vocabulary (to recognize exactly what test prompts are asking), and Transition Words.

To practice the TOEFL Writing task 2, see the hints at the top of Essay Writing Practice

Learn about the TOEFL ibt Speaking Test.

There’s information about the TOEFL Reading Section (and about a course to help you prepare) here. 

For both listening and reading practice, see English Listening & Reading Comprehension Exercises.

If this seems like a LOT of preparation, remember that these skills will help you long after you have taken your exam. They really are an investment in your future!

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