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The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task

The integrated writing task is one of the more interesting parts of the TOEFL, because it gives you a chance to draw together information from multiple sources and synthesize it into one clear argument. It’s a more difficult task than the independent essay in most cases, but it’s also more engaging. The independent essay topics are necessarily simple—otherwise, you wouldn’t have time to answer the question fully. But with the integrated tasks, you have more information to work with, so you can deal with slightly more complex, academic topics.

Started the writing task

Before you write your integrated essay, you’ll read a paragraph and listen to a lecture excerpt. Both of them will deal with the same topic, although they will likely offer different opinions or interpretations of it. You’ll generally have about 3 minutes to read the topic, and the lecture will be about the same length. Needless to say, it will be very difficult to keep all that information straight in your head without taking notes. You will be able to view the reading passage while writing your essay, but if you have time in the three-minute reading period, you still should consider beginning to write down the key points from it for easy reference.

Remember: The Integrated Writing task is not about you

In the independent essay, you were asked to give your opinion of an issue. That’s not the case in the integrated task. As much as possible, keep your thoughts and opinions out of it; the questions are generally phrased in a way that encourages you to compare the resources you were given with little to no consideration for what you think. Any time you spend writing about your opinion is wasted time. Focus on the material that you heard in the lecture.

There are, naturally, several sample integrated writing assignments in the Official Guide. But if you don’t have the guide or want more examples, you can find them on the ETS website. If you want more detailed information about the structure of the integrated writing question, check out this document from ETS (or watch our Magoosh TOEFL writing lesson videos).

Keep it short

If you looked at the document I linked to above, you may have noticed this fact: “…typically an effective response would be 150-225 words.” That’s not much. It’s about as much as the first two paragraphs of this article combined. So from the beginning, set out with an idea of what you want to say and where you want to end up, and when structuring your essay, take the most direct route to get you there.

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20 Responses to The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task

  1. Sani July 24, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Hi Kate,

    thanks for all the valuable information in this article. I have a question. When I’m writing the integrated writing essay is it better if I Write a summary of the primary source and then a summary of the secondary source in a separate paragraph or is it better if I write a summary of the primary source and refer to the secondary source between the ideas in the primary source?

    Thanks again for your help.

    • Kate Hardin
      Kate Hardin July 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks for the question, Sani– it depends on the resources, but in general you want to integrate them as much as you can. Often, it helps to use the background information from the reading to introduce the topic, but after that, if possible, you should try to address similar topics/points from both sources simultaneously. Ideally you want your essay’s structure to be governed not by the source that you’re working with, but by the points/arguments that you’re making. Does that help? Thank you for writing!

      • Sani July 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

        So I guess it’s somehow like the speaking task 4. This was so helpful and thanks for your advice !

    • Kajol Adhikari September 25, 2016 at 8:09 am #

      I want to know,what will be the effect on toefl scoring if the minimum word requirement is not fulfilled and if the sentences are incomplete? I gave my toefl test today but I could not finish on time and my words were only 284. How much should I guess the score?

  2. Sherya November 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Do you think it is better to paraphrase and use words other than used by the author and lecturer in the answer?Or is it better to use the same words and not their synonyms?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 18, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Good question! In general, it’s better to paraphrase with synonyms. Using the same words that you heard sounds like mimicking, which might mean you didn’t really understand the meaning.

  3. amir March 12, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

    hello

    i have got two questions.

    first, what if we write more than 225. for example 250-300. just for the purpose of better clarification and including more details especially from the professor. Is it correct to say that the more relevant details you include from the professor, the better score you deserve?

    second, does integrated writing necessarily need conclusion paragraph?

    thanks

    • David Recine
      David Recine March 15, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

      Amir,

      That’s a good point. Notice that ETS talks about the amount of words you “typically” need to get a good score. “Typically” just means usually or on average. There’s no strict word count requirement. If you add more words in a way that makes your thoughts more complete, it can help your score. But be careful! The TOEFL is a timed exam. Learning to say what you need to say in fewer words can help you with pacing and time management on test day.

      If you can write more than 225 words in the Integrated Writing 20-minute time limit, that may help you get a higher score. But again, you’ll want to be careful that you are meeting TOEFL requirements. The true measures for getting a good Integrated Writing score can be found on the official Independent Writing Rubric on the ETS website: https://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/TOEFL/pdf/Integrated_Writing_Rubrics_2008.pdf .

      As you read over that rubric, notice there is no mention of the amount of words you should use. When you practice writing, try to write essays that are good according to the rubric. Also get yourself to the point where you can write a good essay within the 20 minute time limit. Rubric requirements and good pacing are more important than exact word count.

      That being said, if your word count is a lot more than 225 words or a lot less than 150, check your writing carefully against the rubric. Unusual word counts can be acceptable, but they can sometimes also be a sign of a problem in your writing.

  4. Ann June 26, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Hi,

    While working on the integrated writing task, would I be able to listen to the lecture again or would it played only once? I’m asking this because I seem to miss out on certain important points (as I simultaneously take notes while reading and listening).

  5. Fjolla January 6, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    Hello

    In the integrated task, does it matter if you refer to the reading first and then the lecture? Also, is it necessary to find three differences between the reading and the lecture or can it be only two?

    • David Recine
      David Recine January 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

      You don’t absolutely need to refer to the reading first and then the lecture in your Integrated Writing essay. However, you’ll probably have an easier time writing a good Integrated essay if you refer to points from the passage first, and then points from the lecture. Because you read the passage first before listening to the lecture, it’s usually easier to organize your thoughts, notes, and actual essay in the same way.

      Additionally, the lecture itself is always presented as a professor’s response to the reading, so there’s an orderly logic to mentioning the passage point first, then mentioning the professor’s response. Of course you can alternate— mention one point from the passage, then the professor’s response to the point… then the next point from the passage, and the next corresponding response from the lecture. And so on.

      The makers of the TOEFL specifically design the passage and lecture to each have three corresponding points. So be sure to look carefully for those three points in the passage and lecture. If you’re pretty sure you only see two points, there’s a good chance you’ve missed— or misinterpreted— something from the reading and listening.

  6. Gerald Lee August 9, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    Analyzing the Integrated Writing concept, it is a recommendation to paraphrase the points made in the reading. How about the points made in the lecture? Does one write the professor’s words as it is, or is it better to paraphrase? Thanks.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 13, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      You’ll definitely want to paraphrase everything. An important part of TOEFL Writing is the ability to put ideas into your own words in English. If you are heavy on direct quotes or make minimal changes when you paraphrase, this can hurt your score– both for content in the reading and content in the lecture.

  7. Reza Akbar August 24, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    Hello,

    in integrated writing, is it okay to side with the lecturers by giving more portion to the lecturers points? or should it be balance?

    how should i formulate a good conclusion in integrated writing? i found it hard to make a “proper” conclusion if i have to balance between passage’s points & lecture’s points

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 25, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

      Great questions! In TOEFL Integrated Writing, you don’t actually “side” with the lecturer or the writer.. but you do want to give more space to the lecturer’s point of view. Remember, the main task in Integrated Writing is to “summarize the main points in the lecture.” So your focus should be on what the lecturer says. But all you need to do is summarize the lecturer’s argument. You don’t need to take sides and add your own argument to support the lecturer.

      Now here’s the really good news. You don’t need a proper conclusion in TOEFL Writing Task 1. You don’t really need a standard introduction either. Your Integrated Writing Essay is a summary of two sources, not a regular academic essay. So you don’t need to follow the usual introduction>body>conclusion structure at all.

  8. hasib shah September 26, 2016 at 1:02 am #

    hello!

    in integrated section which kind of essay is so suitable. should I write an comparative essay?
    or describe the lecture and the reading separately?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 29, 2016 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Hasib,

      You would want to write a more comparative style essay. This will be the best for showing your deep understanding of the text and lecture. 🙂

  9. SUE November 17, 2016 at 1:07 am #

    I have a question. During the Integregrated task can I read the passage while I am writing the essay?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 17, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

      Great question! The reading passage in TOEFL Integrated Writing is available to you as you write. You can see the passage in a sidebar while you write your response.

      However, you won’t be able to view the passage while you listen to the lecture. The sequence goes like this:
      1: Read the passage only
      2: Listen to the lecture, but without access to the passage
      3: Write, while you get to see the passage, but are NOT able to replay the lecture.

      Because you won’t have access to the passage while listening, it’s probably a good idea to take at least a few basic notes on the passage before you go on to hear the lecture. These passage notes can help you know what to listen for and write down as you hear the professor talk. And they can help you be more prepared to start writing, without having to carefully reread the passage once it appears on the screen again.


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