The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task may be the hardest part of the TOEFL. You need to bring together different, opposing ideas from the lecture and passage. This is a complicated job. And to make things even harder, the task comes almost at the very end of the test, when most test-takers are exhausted.
Some TOEFL Integrated Writing Tasks are harder than others. And if you get a hard Integrated Writing Task, you could be in danger of “blowing” your whole TOEFL Writing section– doing badly on both tasks! An unusually difficult Integrated Writing task can leave you so tired and frustrated that you aren’t able to focus on the easier second TOEFL Writing Task.
So if you come across a harder-than-usual Integrated Writing Task on test day, make sure you handle it carefully. With the right strategies, a really tough TOEFL Writing Task 1 doesn’t need to hurt your TOEFL score at all.
Early detection of a hard TOEFL Integrated Writing Task
The worst thing you can do is not notice how hard an Integrated Writing Task is. If you mistakenly think an Integrated Writing task is relatively easy, you won’t plan for it correctly.
So try to immediately notice how complicated a task is. You should be able to tell just by looking at the reading passage, since the passage is the basis for the lecture. If the passage seems unusually complex, make note of this and proceed carefully. Don’t miss anything important, and don’t lose track of time. It’s really easy to leave out key facts or run down the clock in TOEFL Integrated Writing.
When you come across a potentially hard Integrated Writing Passage, start trying to mentally paraphrase the passage right away. Figure out whether you are able to paraphrase the passage effectively. Paraphrases should be shorter than their source, and should change the original wording significantly. If you are having a lot of trouble doing this, the passage may be too difficult for you to paraphrase.
Strategies once you’ve found a hard TOEFL Integrated Writing Task
If the ideas in the passage are really hard to paraphrase and shorten, don’t panic. For these more difficult Integrated Writing passages, there’s a simple solution: put less of the passage information into your essay. If necessary, put nothing directly from the passage into your essay.
This advice may sound strange. After all, the official TOEFL Writing Rubrics say it’s important to include all the big ideas from the passage and the reading. But for a harder Integrated Writing Task, it really does pay to adjust your approach in this way.
Think about it. If the passage is really complex, then the lecture that follows will also be complex. And if the passage and the lecture are both very complicated, it can become almost impossible to correctly summarize them both. You won’t have enough time, and it’ll be too hard to focus on absolutely everything in the prompt. The lecture will need to be the main focus, since the task itself asks you to focus on the way that the lecture challenges the passage.
The lecture will of course contain ideas from the passage, since the lecturer is challenging the key points from the reading. So paying attention to what the lecturer says will allow you do indirectly use parts of the passage. And with this approach, you run less of a risk writing an unfocused or incomplete essay.
How this strategy can affect your score
Also remember how the TOEFL scoring system works. If you get a task that is harder-than-average, the TOEFL will adjust your task score upwards at least a little. Relying only on lecture content might hurt your score a bit. But you have a good chance of recovering those lost points when ETS adjusts your score. On the other hand, if you try to take on all of the complicated content in the task and fail, your score could really suffer, even with ETS’s score adjustments for difficulty.