The writing section is the final part of the TOEFL® test. You’ll have 50 minutes to write two complete essays. They are known as the TOEFL integrated essay, and the TOEFL independent essay. You’ll be graded on your ability to plan and organize your ideas, and on the quality of your grammar and language use.
The TOEFL® Integrated Essay
The first essay in this section is the integrated essay. For this task, you’ll first read a short article on an academic topic. Next, you will listen to a short lecture on the same topic. Finally, you’ll write an essay that includes details from both sources. You should write about 280 to 300 words in total.
The article will be about 300 words long. It can be about any academic topic that might appear in a first-year university course, but topics related to history and zoology seem to be most common. You’ll be given three minutes to read it and then it will disappear (don’t worry, you’ll be able to see it again when you write the essay). Remember that the article will always have a main argument and three supporting points. This is almost a guarantee, as the TOEFL rarely changes.
Next, you will listen to a lecture on the same topic. It will be about two or three minutes long. You can only listen once, so try to take detailed notes. Remember that the lecture will always challenge the article. This means, for instance, that if the article claims that the pyramids were built in Egypt to store grain, the lecture will explain that they were not built to store grain. If the article mentions three problems with using bacteria to clean up oil spills, the lecturer will mention three solutions to these problems. This adversarial relationship is another guarantee!
Finally, you will be given twenty minutes to write an essay that compares the reading and the lecture. The question will look something like this:
“Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they oppose specific points made in the reading passage.”
You can see the article as you write, but you cannot hear the lecture again (or look at a transcript). I recommend that you write between 280 and 300 words in total. Ignore the “suggested length” mentioned in the instructions for this section.
For more help with this task, check out our master guide to the integrated writing task. It’s got a complete sample question, a sample essay, and a template you can use.
The TOEFL® Independent Essay
The second essay is the independent essay. In this task you will be asked to give your opinion on a topic likely related to school, work or life in today’s world. A question will appear on the screen, and you’ll be given thirty minutes to plan and write your essay. You should write about 380 to 400 words.
Most commonly, this question asks if you agree or disagree with a given statement. That looks like this:
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Overall, the widespread use of the internet has a mostly positive effect on life in today’s world.
Sometimes, you’ll be asked to pick between two opposing choices. That might look like this:
Some people like to travel with a companion. Other people prefer to travel alone. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your choice.
Other times, you’ll be given a multiple-choice question that looks like this:
The people we work with have many different characteristics and all of them affect the quality of our time at work. Of the following, what do you think is the most important quality for a boss or supervisor to have?
- a serious attitude about their work
- a lot of related experience
- a tendency to always tell the truth
Use specific details and examples in your answer.
In rare cases, this question is about a hypothetical situation. Like this:
The administrators of a university are revising their budget and have decided to change their funding priorities. As a result, the university will now spend more money on sports and athletic facilities than they do on the campus libraries. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not? Use specific reasons and examples to explain your position.
In any case, remember that you’ll get just one question.
For more help with this task, check out our master guide. It contains sample questions, sample paragraphs and a detailed essay template.
How are you Graded?
Your grades come from two separate systems:
- First, a human grader checks your essays based on the official ETS rubrics. They give you a holistic score from 0 to 5. “Holistic” means that they consider the essay as a whole rather than looking at specific parts. The human score is based on your content, organization and language use. ETS is secretive, but research indicates that the human rater contributes 50% of the score in the independent task, and 66% of the score in the integrated task.
- Next, the ETS “e-rater” software checks your essays. It mostly focuses on structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. Again, ETS is secretive, but research indicates that it contributes 50% of your score in the independent task, and 33% of your score in the integrated task.
In the end, you will have two human scores (one for each essay) and two e-rater scores (one for each essay). These will be combined and converted into a whole number from 0 to 30, which will be included on your score report. Each essay has equal weight.
Get Help – TOEFL Essay Evaluation
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Guides, Templates, Sample Essays
- Complete templates for each essay task
- A detailed master guide to the integrated TOEFL essay task
- A detailed master guide to the independent TOEFL essay task
- Top 10 TOEFL Writing Mistakes
- A collection of 70 sample TOEFL essays
Some Helpful Blog Posts and Random Silliness
- How Long Should a TOEFL Essay Be?
- Recent Changes to the TOEFL
- TOEFL Vocabulary Rules
- How to get Ideas for TOEFL Essays (video)