Tips to Improve Your TOEFL Integrated Writing Score
TOEFL, TOEFL Writing, TOEFL Integrated Writing, TOEFL Independent Writing

TOEFL test takers are often afraid of the Integrated Writing task in the Writing Section, so they avoid preparing for it in advance. This is a big mistake. The Integrated Writing task is a complex writing task, but it is manageable. Just follow these 7 tips, and your score is sure to improve!

1. Understand What the Integrated Writing Task Is

The TOEFL Integrated Writing task is the first of two essays that you will have to write in the TOEFL Writing Section. This essay not only requires your writing skills, though, as you will also have to use your reading and listening skills before you start your essay.

The first part of this task is reading. You must read a passage which is around 250 – 300 words and you will be given 3 minutes to do so. In the passage, the author will discuss a particular academic topic, and then provide 3 main points that gives more details or supporting information on that topic. It is critical that you are able to identify and paraphrase the topic and the author’s 3 main points in your essay.

Next comes the more difficult part, the listening. After having 3 minutes to read the passage (and take notes!), you have to listen to a lecture for approximately 2 minutes. The lecturer is always going to talk about the same academic topic as the author. The lecturer will also provide 3 main points about the topic, and they are almost always at odds or in disagreement with what the author has written in the passage you have just read. The main counterpoints of the lecturer will follow the order of the 3 main points of the author. Usually the lecturer will explain why the author is wrong about his or her theory, or how there is other evidence that does not support the author’s ideas about the given topic. In your essay, it is critical that you are able to identify and paraphrase the lecturer’s 3 main points AND how they contradict or disprove the author’s main points.

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Finally, the reading passage will reappear (although the listening audio will not be repeated), and you are given the remaining 20 minutes to outline, write and edit your Integrated Writing essay answer. The TOEFL recommends writing 200-225 words, but we recommend writing more. A good integrated essay should actually be between 250-300 words.

The question prompt will ask you to summarize the points made in the lecture. These means you need to focus the majority of your answer on what the lecturer has said (in response to the author). The task will never ask you for your opinion of the topic, so don’t write about what you think. Never start a sentence with “I believe that” or “In my opinion” in the integrated essay; save that for the Independent Writing task.


2. Take Excellent Short-hand Notes

As mentioned above, your essay should focus on summarizing the (counter)points made by the lecturer. Therefore, while listening to the lecturer, it is important to take excellent notes. You will only get to listen to the lecture once! There is no way to rewind or pause the lecture, but don’t panic. You are not expected to remember every single word the lecturer has said! This is not a test of your memory but you are, however, expected to understand and recall the main ideas from the lecture. So, notes are important. Focus is also extremely important as you will need to focus when you are listening to the lecture in order to extract the main points. Practice listening with some test materials prior to sitting for the TOEFL exam and you should get better at it.

Since the lecturer will be in some way contradicting the author, you should start by taking notes on reading passage even before you hear the lecture. While reading, write down the topic of the passage (it will be the same as the lecture), and the author’s 3 main points in correct order. Remember the topic is in the introduction paragraph, and each main point is outlined in each body paragraph. It is important to put them in order because the lecturer’s main counterpoints will follow the same order as the author’s main points.

Then, during the lecture, write down the lecturer’s main counterpoints. Also, try to write down 1-2 details that the lecturer gives to support his or her position on each of the main counterpoints. These details can help increase your writing score. Here is a sample note-taking template that you can use on test day:



Author Lecturer
Point 1  


Detail 1  


Point 2  


Detail 2  


Point 3  


Detail 3  


When you take notes, you should not write in full sentences. Instead, only write key words and use short-hand words or symbols. For example, instead of spelling out a long word, write only a few letters, such as: information = info or technology = tech. Also, use symbols for words, such as: -> means cause, <-> means contrast or ^ means increase.

Whatever short-hand you use should make sense to you. This means you should practice your notetaking skills while reading or listening to academic passages and develop your own way of taking short-hand notes.


3. Use a Template

The TOEFL test graders will expect you to use a specific structure for your Integrated Writing answer. So, the best advice is to go into the TOEFL exam knowing how you will structure your Integrated Writing essay. You should plan to structure your essay with at least four paragraphs: an introduction and 3 body paragraphs.

In the introduction, you should only write three or four sentences. In the first sentence, state what the topic is from the reading passage and lecture. Then, write what the author’s position is on the topic from the reading passage. Next, explain what the lecturer’s contrary position is on the topic. Finally, state that both the author and lecturer have 3 main points supporting their positions.

The next three body paragraphs will all follow the same structure and should be three or four sentences each. In each body paragraph, write only one sentence about the author’s main point. Then write two to three sentences about the lecturer’s main counterpoint, and (this is important) provide supporting details for the lecturer’s counterpoint. Each body paragraph should cover each of the three main points from the reading passage and the lecturer.

Technically, in the Integrated Writing task you don’t need a conclusion paragraph. However, many TOEFL experts recommend writing a short, 1-2 sentence conclusion summarizing the opposing positions of the author and lecturer. It is rare to find an academic essay without a conclusion, and the purpose of the TOEFL test is to test your academic writing skills. So, if you have time (after proofreading your essay), you can write a short conclusion.

Also, you can save valuable time by preparing parts of your essay beforehand. This is called using a template. In order for your essay to be unique, you should develop your own personal template. However, here is an example of a template you can emulate when creating your own:

The reading passage is about (insert topic). The author believes (insert author’s opinion on the topic), but the lecturer in the listening passage disagrees. He/She feels (insert lecturer’s opinion on the topic). The author provides three main points as support, and the lecturer provides three contradictory points.


First, the author says that (author’s first main point). However, the lecturer explains (lecturer’s first main counterpoint). The lecturer goes on to state that (supporting details that link back to the reading).


Next, in the reading passage, the author claims that (author’s second main point). To the contrary, the lecturer provides (lecturer’s second main counterpoint). Furthermore, the lecturer also mentions (supporting details that link back to the reading).


Finally, the author in the reading passage states (author’s third main point). In contrast, the lecturer in the listening passage is of the opinion that (lecturer’s third main counterpoint). Additionally, he/she points out that (supporting details that link back to the reading).


4. Don’t Copy the Reading Passage

As you can see the structure of your Integrated Writing essay should be identical to the structure of the reading passage (4 paragraphs: 1 introduction and 3 body paragraphs). One major pitfall that students often have in the Integrated Writing task is that they write too much from the reading passage. The reading passage will reappear after the lecture for your reference, but don’t copy from the reading passage! Always remember, the question wants you to summarize the points from the lecturer. So, only write one sentence in each paragraph about the main point of the author.

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Also, when you do write about the author’s position, do not plagiarize the reading passage. Make sure you paraphrase the points that the author makes in your essay without copying word for word. Think about it, the testers are not there to find out how well you can copy, but rather to find out how good your English writing skills are. So, remember, don’t copy the reading passage!

5. Confidently Use Complex Grammar and Vocabulary

This is a language test, so even if you don’t know anything about the topic of the Integrated Writing task, don’t worry. What is important is how well you write your essay. So, show the examiners that your level of English is good by using complex grammatical structures and vocabulary. Also use connectors and transitional phrases to give your essay a nice flow from one point to another.

While using complex grammar and vocabulary is important, it is wasted if used incorrectly. Everyone has different areas in their English grammar that they struggle with, so make sure you practice essays before the TOEFL exam to see where you most often make mistakes. Then, on test day, only use grammatical structures that you are confident are correct.

The same is true for vocabulary. Don’t use words you don’t confidently know the meaning of or how to spell. Remember the TOEFL exam does not have a spell check function, so you are graded on your ability to spell as well. If you are not sure about the meaning of or how to spell a certain word, don’t use it. Think of another word or synonym that you can use and spell correctly.

6. Save Time to Proofread

Every writer needs to edit their work. Even when using grammar and vocabulary you are confident with, the time pressures of writing your essay (without spell check), will lead you to make mistakes. So, at the end, make sure your save 1-2 minutes to proofread your essay. Points that would be taken off for silly spelling or grammatical errors could be saved by spending a little extra time looking through your work.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

So, you have 20 minutes to structure your essay, follow a template, use a variety of grammatical structures and a wide range of vocabulary while not copying from the reading passage and saving time to proofread. This may feel overwhelming now, but the best cure is to practice, practice, practice in advance! There are hundreds of practice Integrated Writing tasks out there that you can do before taking the TOEFL exam.

Not only should you write practice essays, you should also review your essays afterwards to see where you went wrong. Revising and reflecting on how you did is the best way to improve.

The Integrated Writing can be a difficult essay to correct on your own. If you need someone to look at your practice essays, we have a team of TOEFL-trained teachers who will not only correct your mistakes, but also you give you an estimated score and detailed comments on how to improve. Click here for more information.

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