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How to write the TOEFL Integrated Essay
The second type of essay question you will face is the integrated writing task. For this question you will first read a short article about an academic topic after which you will listen to a lecture on the same topic.
The lecture will either oppose (challenge) the article or support it. Your task is to describe how the lecture either supports or challenges the article. You may only listen to the lecture once, but you will have access to the article while you are writing your essay.
Many think that the integrated task is more difficult than the independent task, but I disagree. This is because:
- You will write a shorter essay than in the independent section
- This essay requires no original thought - you are just summarizing what you read and heard
- You can look at the reading while writing your essay.
Of course, you need to be a good listener in order to complete this task. You must also be a good note-taker. Find some audio resources to help you practice your listening skills. Practice taking notes and this essay will be much easier.
I teach my students a few strategies on how to handle this essay.
The first strategy is to be aware of the structure of the question. You will read an article and hear a lecture on the same topic. The reading will have a main idea which will usually be supported by two or three reasons. For example, if the reading is about the best place for a child to live, the main idea might be:
"Living in the city is better for children than living in the country."
While the supporting reasons might be:
- The city has more educational opportunities
- The city has better recreational facilities
- The city has more job opportunities for children when they grow up
The reading will usually present one reason after another and provide details to support the reasons. This is the normal structure that you can expect.
The lecture also has a predictable structure. If it is opposing the lecture, if 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:
- City schools have more violence and drugs than country schools.
- The country has lots of nature for children to play in and enjoy
- Children don't need jobs, and they can move to the city when they grow up, if necessary
If the lecture is supporting the reading it will have the same main point and similar reasons... but with different details than in the lecture.
Note Taking and Outlining
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 three or four paragraph structure for your essay. Write one introduction and three body paragraphs. These will be fairly short paragraphs, though, as this essay doesn't need to be as long as the independent writing task.
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/agrees with 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 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:
- Begin your first body paragraph with "First" your second with "second" and your third with "third."
- 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..."
- 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 affect on the academic future of children."
And that's how you write a body paragraph for the integrated task. Not too hard, right? You just need to write two more and you will be done the essay. 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. For extra practice, I do recommend the human-graded practice tests at TestDEN. Now available are four graded tests (plus study materials) for $90.90.
If you haven't seen it already, you might want to read our article about the independent writing task.