For many students taking the TOEFL, scoring a 5 out of 5 on each of the two TOEFL essays—which would lead to a perfect score of 30 in the writing section—is the ultimate goal. Getting there takes a lot of practice, but it pays off nicely! Scoring so high in one section can counterbalance slightly lower scores in other sections, helping you to get to your total target score with more ease (be sure to check your institution’s requirements, however; some universities will require a minimum score per section).
Because the two essays require slightly different skills, the ETS (the organization that administers the TOEFL) provides two separate rubrics for how to obtain a top score on the TOEFL essays. For those of you who are curious about the criteria for other scores, you can find that information here: https://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/TOEFL/pdf/Writing_Rubrics.pdf. For those of you aiming to get a five, let’s keep going! Let’s start where the TOEFL writing section itself begins: with the integrated task.
The integrated essay will provide you with a lecture and a written passage on different aspects of the same topic. According to the ETS, the criteria for a top score on this essay include:
“A response at this level successfully selects the important information from the lecture and coherently and accurately presents this information in relation to the relevant information presented in the reading. The response is well organized, and occasional language errors that are present do not result in inaccurate or imprecise presentation of content or connections.”
Breaking that down, the first important task in getting that top score is going to be selecting the relevant information from the lecture, and then the reading. Good note-taking is vital here, and good note-taking takes practice! Listen to the emphasis that the speaker places on keywords, and look out for the thesis statement and supporting examples in the reading. Circle them in your notes.
The second important task is relating the lecture to the reading. Look at what you’ve circled. Does one contradict the other? Build on the other? Elaborate on a different aspect of the other? Figure out how they relate before you go on to the next important step: writing a well-organized response. To do this, you’ll want to create an outline.
Make sure that your outline has your thesis statement clearly defined. This thesis statement should explain how the lecture and the reading relate to one another. You’ll also want to have a brief summary of the lecture and the reading (one to two sentences is sufficient for this!) Then, build your body paragraphs around your main examples, which you’ll already have circled in your notes.
As you write, don’t worry about everything being perfect. That said, leave 2-3 minutes at the end of the exam to proofread what you’ve written. Because these essays are graded holistically, you won’t lose points for minor errors as long as they don’t change the meaning of your ideas. However, a lot of errors can add up to a confusing essay, which will definitely lead to a lower score.
The integrated task is only one of the two essays you’ll write on test day. Next time, we’ll take a look at the independent task, and how that differs from the integrated task you’ve mastered!