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How to write the TOEFL Integrated Essay

(note:  advanced students might prefer to just skip to our TOEFL writing templates)

The first essay on the TOEFL is the integrated task.  In this section you will first read a short article about an academic topic and after that you will listen to a lecture on the same topic.

The lecture will oppose the reading.  Your job is to describe how the lecture opposes the article.  You may only listen to the lecture once, but you will have access to the article while you are writing your essay.

You need to be a good listener in order to complete this task.  You must also be a good note-taker.  These are skills that you should practice before taking the test.

How the Article is Structured

Be aware of the structure of the material you will be given. The article will have a main idea which will be supported by three reasons.  For example, the main idea of the reading might be:

 

"Living in the city is better for children than living in the country."

 

While the supporting reasons might be:

  1. The city has more educational opportunities
  2. The city has better recreational facilities
  3. The city has more job opportunities for children when they grow up

The main idea will be stated in the first paragraph of the article, while each of the reasons will be stated in individual paragraphs.

How the Lecture is Structured

The lecture also has a predictable structure. It will have an opposite main point, like:

"Living in the country is better for children than living in city."

The lecture will then address the points from the reading one by one.  In the above case, the reasons it gives might be something like this:

  1. City schools have more violence and drugs than country schools.
  2. The country has lots of nature for children to play in and enjoy
  3. Children don't need jobs, and they can move to the city when they grow up, if necessary

The points made in the lecture are always given one at a time.  They always directly oppose the points made in the article.

How to Take Notes

Good note-taking is essential to this part of the test.  I teach my students to use a note-taking and outlining system like the following:

 

Writing the Essay

It is best to use a four paragraph structure for your essay.  Write an introduction and three body paragraphs. 

The Introduction

Start with a sentence like "The article and the lecture are about..." followed by "The author of the article feels that..."  Continue with a transitional sentence like "The lecturer disagrees with the author of the article."  Conclude with "He says that..."

For the above topic our introduction would be something like this:

 

"The article and the lecture are about the best place for a child to group up.  The author of the article feels that living in the city is best for children.  The lecturer disagrees with the author.  He says that it is better for a child to live in the country than in the city."

 

And that's it.  Keep your introduction short and sweet.  You don't have much time to write this essay!

The Body Paragraphs

You should write one short body paragraph for each of the points (and counterpoints/supports) in the outline above.  Be sure to include as many details as you can.  Details from the lecture are more impressive (since you only get to listen to it once), but remember that it is also necessary to include details from the reading.  Keep in mind that you cannot COPY details from the reading.  Use your own words.

Here are some basic tips:

  1. Begin your first body paragraph with "First" your second with "second" and your third with "third."
  2. When transitioning from discussing the article to discussing the lecture, use transitional phrases like "the lecturer challenges these claims by stating that..." or "the lecturer casts doubt on this claim."  If the lecture supports the reading, try phrases like "the lecturer supports this claim by..." or "the lecturer reinforces the reading by..."
  3. Don't use boring phrases like "he says that."  Try something like "he observes that," "he claims that" or "he suggests that."

Here's a sample body paragraph using the example given above:

 

"First, the author claims that living in the city is better because cities have more educational opportunities for children.  He points out that there are more schools for parents to choose from.  He also mentions that there are more amenities like museums, art galleries and academic clubs for students to join.  The lecturer casts doubts on these claims by referring to the problems with urban schools.  He observes that schools in cities have higher violence and drop-out rates than schools in the country.  He suggests that this can have a negative effect on the academic future of children."

 

And that's how you write a body paragraph for the integrated task.  Just remember that it is essential that you write about both the article and the lecture.  You will get a very low score (or zero) if you write only about the article.

If you haven't seen it already, you might want to read our article about the independent writing task.