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How to write the TOEFL Integrated Essay

The first essay task on the TOEFL is the integrated essay.  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 reading.  You may only listen to the lecture once, but you can look at 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 Volume 1 of the TOEFL Quick Prep Collection.  Look for the question about wood certification.

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 Quick Prep Collection the main idea is:

American companies will not certify their wood products

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

1.  American consumers see too many advertising claims already

2.  Ecocertified wood is more expensive than regular wood because of inspection costs

3.  Certification is only good for companies selling outside of the USA

The reading also includes supporting details in each paragraph, 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:

American companies will eventually certify their wood

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.  Consumers recognize and care about claims from official agencies.

2.  Customers only care when there is a major price difference

3.  Wood companies need to worry about foreign competition

 

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 note that in addition to noting the points and counter-points, you need to get some of the supporting details that are mentioned with them.  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 final notes from the example question (supporting details are in red):

  Reading Lecture
Point 1 + Counterpoint 1 American consumers see too many advertising claims already // These claims very bold, so consumers ignore them

Consumers recognize and care about claims from official agencies // Will favor products certifications from trustyworthy groups

Point 2 + Counterpoint 2 Ecocertified wood is more expensive than regular wood because of inspection costs // Consumers prefer cheap wood

Customers only care about major price differences // Price is only a problem when the difference is more than 5%

Point 3 + Counterpoint  Certification is only good for companies selling outside of the USA// American companies sell domestically, and their customers are

Wood companies need to worry about foreign competition // Foreign companies that certify their products will steal their customers

You will never take notes that are this perfect, but make it your ultimate goal.  Remember, also, that you will have access to the article while you write your essay.

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 both about ecocertification of wood products, which is a way to show that they are environmentally friendly.  ​  The author of the reading believes that American companies will not adopt this practice.  The lecturer casts doubts on the claims made in the article.  She thinks that American wood companies will eventually certify their products.

 

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 points out that __________________. (point 1)
  • It is mentioned that _________________.   (supporting detail)
  • This point is challenged by the lecturer.
  • She says  _________________. (counter-point 1)
  • Furthermore, she argues _____________________. (supporting detail)

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

 

            First of all, the author points out that customers will likely ignore such a label. It is mentioned that many products are now given special labels, so shoppers no longer trust them. This point is challenged by the lecturer. She says customers actually do pay attention to claims when they are made by official agencies. Furthermore, she she argues that Americans will be enthusiastic about products that are endorsed by a trustworthy organization​.

 

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.  Finally, mention the matching counter-point with a supporting detail.  Just remember to change your verbs (states, mentions, etc)!

To make this easier, here are my recommended templates for the rest of the essay:

  • Secondly, the author contends that ______________.
  • The article notes ______________.
  • The lecturer rebuts this argument.
  • She suggests ________________.
  • She elaborates on this by mentioning that _____________.

 

  • Finally, the author states that _____________.
  • The article establishes that _____________.
  • The lecturer, on the other hand, posits that _____________.
  • She puts forth the idea that _______________________.

Here's some paragraphs for our sample essay:

          Secondly, the author contends that it costs a lot to have wood inspected, so certified products will be more expensive. The article notes that American consumers are strongly motivated by price, and will choose products that have not been certified. The lecturer rebuts this argument. She suggests that customers do not care too much about small differences in price. She elaborates on this by mentioning that certified products will only be about five percent more expensive, which will not affect the purchasing decisions of buyers.

          Finally, the author states that certification only makes sense for companies that sell products outside of the United States. The article establishes that American firms sell most of their products domestically, and their customers are happy with their merchandise as it is. The professor, on the other hand, posits that American businesses should be afraid of foreign competitors. She puts forth the idea that foreign firms could flood into America and win customers by selling ecocertified wood to people who care about the environment.

 

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: