Here’s how the TOEFL Integrated Essay works:

  • It is the first writing task on the TOEFL test.
  • First, you will have three minutes to read an article (four paragraphs, 250 to 300 words) about an academic topic.
  • Next, you will listen to a lecture (about 2 minutes) about the same topic.
  • Finally, you will have 20 minutes to write an essay about the relationship between the two sources.  I recommend that you write about 280 words.
  • You can see the article while writing your essay, but you cannot hear the lecture again.

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The Relationship

The relationship between the article and the lecture will be one of the following.

Argument Style (Frequent)

The reading presents an argument and the lecture presents a counter-argument.

Problems and Solutions Style (less common)

The reading presents a problem and the lecture presents solutions to the problem.

Solutions and Problems Style (less common)

The reading presents solutions to a problem and the lecture challenges the solutions.

The Article 

The article begins with an introduction which mentions the topic and the author’s main idea. Next are three body paragraphs.  Each body paragraph contains one supporting argument (opposition style), one problem (problems and solutions style), or one solution (solutions and problems style).

Here’s an example:

The idea of colonizing asteroids has long been a topic of fascination and speculation in science fiction and popular culture. In recent years, however, the idea of asteroid colonization has become more realistic and feasible, thanks to advances in technology and space exploration. There are many potential benefits to colonizing asteroids, and these benefits make the pursuit of asteroid colonization a worthwhile endeavor.

One of the most obvious benefits of asteroid colonization is the scientific potential. Asteroids provide a unique environment for scientific research due to their small size, low gravity, and lack of atmosphere. Research conducted in these environments could provide valuable insights related to many different academic fields. Not only that, but asteroids could also serve as stepping stones for future missions to other destinations in the solar system, such as Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Another benefit of asteroid colonization is the potential for economic growth and development. Natural resources mined on asteroids could create new industries and job opportunities, which would generate significant revenue for both governments and private companies. Asteroid mining could also reduce the need for resource extraction on Earth, which could help to preserve our planet’s natural environment.

In addition to economic benefits, asteroid colonization could also have important implications for the long-term survival of humanity. Asteroids could serve as potential refuge for humans in the event of a large-scale disaster on Earth, such as an asteroid impact or a nuclear war. Even if such a disaster doesn’t occur, asteroids could provide valuable information regarding the origins and evolution of the solar system, and how life emerged here in the first place.

You have three minutes to read it and take notes.  Then you hear the lecture. You will be able to see the article again when the lecture is finished.


The Lecture

The lecture is on the same topic, and it is about two minutes long.  You can only hear it once, so take notes.

At the beginning of the lecture, you will hear the lecturer’s main idea.  The rest of the lecture consists of three opposing arguments, three solutions, or three problems.  These directly respond to the three arguments/problems/solutions mentioned in the reading.  Not only that, but they are in the same order as the reading. 

Here’s an example:

Here’s a transcript of that:

While some people argue that starting colonies on asteroids could have many benefits, this claim is not necessarily supported by evidence. In fact, there are several reasons why starting colonies on asteroids may not provide the advantages that are often claimed.

One reason why asteroid colonization may not provide significant scientific benefits is our lack of knowledge about asteroids. Despite decades of space exploration and study, our knowledge of asteroids is still limited. We do not know how many asteroids exist, what resources they contain, or what conditions are like on their surfaces. Until we have a better understanding of asteroids, it is difficult to predict what scientific benefits colonization might provide.

Next, we can’t exactly predict the economic benefits of settling on asteroids. While asteroids are known to contain valuable resources, such as metals and minerals, it’s not clear how much of these resources exist on asteroids, or how much they would be worth when transported back to Earth. We don’t know whether mining for resources in space would be more cost-effective or efficient than simply getting them through conventional methods here on earth.

Finally, asteroids are just not suitable for long-term human settlement right now. Most asteroids are small and do not have enough mass to generate significant gravitational pull. This means that any human settlements on asteroids would need to be designed to cope with the challenges of low gravity, such as serious difficulty moving around and possible damage to our bones and muscles. These challenges could make living on asteroids extremely uncomfortable and dangerous.


The Question

After the lecture finishes, the question will be shown.  It 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.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they answer the specific problems presented in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific solutions presented in the reading passage.

After you see the question, you will have 20 minutes to plan, write and revise your essay.  Have fun!

Taking Notes

If you understand how the sources are structured, note-taking should be easy.  You can do something like this:

Taking Notes for the TOEFL integrated essay

Here are my notes from the above samples (colonizing asteroids):

Note-Taking Tips

  • Prepare your paper before the question beings by writing “reading” and “listening” and drawing arrows.
  • Even though you will see the article as you write, it is a good idea to take notes.  That will force you to pay attention during the three minutes you have to read it.
  • Use short forms like “grav” and “cond” and “effec” to save time.
  • Use “x” to refer to negatives (not, no, can’t, etc).
  • Immediately after the lecture finishes expand your notes with details still fresh in your head.  I used blue ink to show what I did.
  • You will use a pencil on test day.  Not a pen.  Practice with a pencil.

Writing Your Essay with Templates

Your TOEFL integrated essay should include an introduction and three body paragraphs. You don’t need to write a conclusion.

The following templates suggest a way to structure your paragraphs.  I don’t really think you should use the templates below word for word. Instead, use something similar to this and personalize it as you like.

The Introduction

No matter what question style is used, you can write an introduction that looks something like this.

  • The reading and the lecture are both about _____. 
  • While the author of the article argues that _____, the lecturer disputes the claims presented in the article.
  • His position is that _____.

The Body Paragraphs

You can use something like the following templates for the body paragraphs:

  • According to the reading  _____.
  • The article mentions that ____.
  • This argument is challenged by the lecturer.
  • He claims that ____.
  • Additionally, he points out that ______.

  • Secondly, the author suggests ______.
  • In the article notes that _____.
  • The lecturer, however, asserts that ______.
  • He goes on to say that ______.

  • Finally, the author puts forth the idea that _____.
  • The author contends that ____.
  • In contrast, the lecturer’s stance is  _____.
  • He says that _____.

You don’t need to write a conclusion.

Sample Essay 

Using the above notes and suggested templates I created this essay. Notice how I gently modified the template.  I didn’t use it word for word.  Feel free to follow it 100% or to personalize it to suit your preferences!

The reading and the lecture are about the possibility of starting colonies on asteroids. While the author feels that this is a good idea due to scientific benefits, economic benefits and the long-term survival of humans, the lecturer does not believe that the author’s claims are correct. His position is that it might not be a good idea to colonize asteroids.

First of all, the author argues that asteroids are a great environment for scientific research because they are small, with low gravity and no atmosphere. Moreover, the article notes that they could be a way to start missions to more distant locations in the solar system. This argument is challenged by the lecturer. He says that we just don’t know enough about asteroids to be sure of their scientific value. We don’t know how many exist, or about conditions on their surfaces so it is difficult to really predict the scientific benefits of colonizing them.

Second, according to the article, there could be great economic benefits of colonizing asteroids because they contain natural resources. Mining the resources could be very profitable, and reduce the need to mine them on Earth. In contrast, the lecturer notes that we don’t know exactly how many resources asteroids contain, nor how much they would be worth back on Earth. As a result, it isn’t clear if mining in space is more cost-effective than doing so on Earth.

Finally, the author claims that colonies on asteroids could ensure the long-term survival of humanity. To be more specific, we could survive on them if a war or disaster affects the Earth. In contrast, the lecturer’s stance is that human settlements would have to be designed to deal with the unique challenges of the gravity found on asteroids. These challenges could make living on them extremely uncomfortable and dangerous in the long run.

Pro Tips

  • The lecture summary is the most important part of the essay.  Shorten the reading summary if you need to save time.
  • I recommend between 280 and 300 words.
  • Use transitional phrases like “in contrast” and “moreover” and “finally” just like I did.
  • Always be sure to indicate where the details are from (the reading or the lecture).
  • Avoid copying from the reading word for word. Paraphrase as much as you can.
  • You don’t need fancy grammatical structures.  The accuracy of your details is more important in this task.
  • Save about one minute to proofread your work.
  • I maintain a collection of complete sample essays written using the above technique. Read them!

How about the Independent Essay?

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

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