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How to write the TOEFL Integrated Essay

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.  Note that ETS no longer uses questions where the lecture supports the reading.

As an example, this article will use an integrated writing question from the Official Guide to the TOEFL.

If you prefer, you can watch a video lecture of this guide!


First:  The Article

First, you will read a short article about an academic topic.  It is important to understand how the article is structured, because every article is structured in the same way. 

The article begins with a main idea.  The main idea is clearly expressed in the first paragraph of the reading.  In our example question from the Official Guide, the main idea is:

Rembrandt did not paint 'Portrait of a Woman in a White Bonnet.'

The main idea is followed by three paragraphs.  Each paragraph explains one point that supports the main idea.  In the sample question, the points are:

1.  The painting pairs a simple servants camp with a luxurious coat.

2.  The light and shadows in the painting are inaccurate.

3.  The portrait was painted on wood panels that were glued together.

The reading also includes supporting details, but we'll talk about those later.


Second:  The Lecture

After you are done with the reading, you will listen to a short lecture on the same topic.  At the beginning of the lecture, you will hear the lecturer's main idea.  It will always be the direct opposite of the main idea of the reading.  In our example question, the main point of the lecture is:

Rembrandt did paint 'Portrait of a Woman in a White Bonnet.'

See?  It is the complete opposite of the main idea from the reading!

After stating his main idea, the lecturer will describe three counter-points that support his main idea.  It is important to note that these counter-points directly challenge the points made in the reading.  Not only that, but they challenge them in the same order.  In our example question, the counter-points are:

  1. The luxurious fur collar was added later by another artist.
  2. When the collar is removed, there are no errors in light and shadow.
  3. The wood panels were glued together at a later date.

These reasons are also called counter points.


How to Take Notes

Now that you know how the sources are structured, note-taking should be easy.  Do it just like this:

However, it is important to notethat in addition to noting the points and counter-points, you need to get some of the supporting details.  In the reading, these are mentioned in the same paragraph as each point, and in the lecture they are mentioned at the same time as the counter-point.

Here are my notes from the example question (supporting details are in red):

  Reading Lecture
Point 1 + Counterpoint 1 Pairs servant’s cap with luxurious coat // R. would not make such a mistake Fur collar added at a later date // Done to increase value of painting
Point 2 + Counterpoint 2 Poor light & shadow // R. would not make such an error

When collar is removed no errors // original version up to R’s standards

Point 3 + Counterpoint  Painted on panels glued together // R. never did this Wood panel was expanded later // original painting on one panel, just like R.


Writing the Essay

Your essay must include an introduction and three body paragraphs. 

The Introduction

Write your introduction using the following template:

  • The reading and the lecture are both about ________, which is _________.
  • The author of the reading believes that ______________________.  (Main idea)
  • The lecturer casts doubt on the claims made in the article.
  • He/She thinks that _______________.  (Main idea)

So for our sample essay, the introduction would look something like this:


         The reading and the lecture are about “Portrait of an Elderly Woman in a White Bonnet,” which is a painting that may or may not be a work of Rembrandt.  The author of the reading believes that the painting was not done by the Dutch master.  The lecturer casts doubts on the claims made in the article.  She thinks that it was, in fact, painted by Rembrandt.


You should be able to use this template every time you write an integrated essay.

Your First Body Paragraph

Here's a template to follow for your first body paragraph:

  • First of all, the author claims that __________________.  (point 1)
  • She believes _________________.   (supporting detail)
  • This point is challenged by the lecturer.
  • She says that _________________. (counter-point 1)
  • Furthermore, she points out _____________________. (supporting detail)

In our example question, the first body paragraph would look something like this:


          First of all, the author claims that the woman’s outfit is inconsistent, as it pairs a servant’s cap with a luxurious coat and fur collar.  She believes that Rembrandt would not have made such a mistake, as he paid very careful attention to detail.  This point is challenged by the lecturer.  She says that the woman’s fur collar was added to the painting by another artist at a later date.  Furthermore, she points out that this was likely done to increase the value of the painting.


Your Second and Third Body Paragraphs

Your second and third body paragraphs are done in the exact same way; you mention the point and a supporting detail.  Then write a transition.  And then mention the matching counter-point with a supporting detail.  Just remember to change your verbs!  If you don't know which verbs to use you use our complete templates for both paragraphs.

Here's some paragraphs for our sample essay:

       Secondly, the author states that the depiction of light and shadow in the portrait is poorly done.  He argues that Rembrandt would not have made the mistakes which are seen in this particular painting.  The lecturer rebuts this argument.  She suggests that when the aforementioned fur collar is removed, no mistakes with light and shadow remain.  She elaborates on this by mentioning that the original version of the painting is up to Rembrandt’s usual standards.

      Finally, the author mentions that the portrait was painted on a series of panels which were glued together.  He notes that while Rembrandt often painted on wood panels, there is no evidence that he ever used panels that were glued together in such a fashion.  The lecturer disagrees with this. She states that the wood panel was expanded many years after the painting was originally done.  She puts forth the idea that  this is evidence that the painting was originally completed on just a single panel like other works by Rembrandt.


Your Conclusion

You do not need to write a concluding paragraph.  Don't waste your time trying... instead use it to proofread your work!


Sample Essays

We maintain a collection of complete sample essays written using the above technique.


How about the Independent Essay?

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


Video Lesson

We have also produced a video lesson about how to write an integrated essay: