Here’s how the TOEFL Integrated Essay works:

  • It is the first writing task on the test.
  • First, you will read an article (four paragraphs) about an academic topic.
  • Next, you will listen to a lecture that opposes the main argument of the reading.
  • Finally, you must write an essay about the relationship between the two sources.
  • You can read the article while writing your essay, but you cannot hear the lecture again.
  • Note that the TOEFL no longer includes questions where the lecture supports the reading.

Styles of Questions

Opposition Style

The reading makes a claim about a specific topic. It supports its claim using three specific arguments. The lecture opposes this claim and challenges the three arguments.  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.”

Problems and Solutions Style

The reading mentions three problems related to a topic or theory.  The lecturer provides solutions to these three problems.  The question will look something like this: “Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they answer the specific problems presented in the reading passage.”

Solutions and Problems Style

The reading suggests three solutions to a problem.  The lecturer feels that the solutions will not work.  The question will look something like this: “Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific solutions presented in the reading passage.


Understanding the Structure of the Article and Lecture

The article and lecture are structured the same way every week. The article begins with an introductory paragraph where the main topic is mentioned.  Here the author describes his opinion, or states the topic which has problems or solutions.

The introduction of the article is followed by three body paragraphs.  Each body paragraph contains one supporting argument (opposition style), one problem (problem and solution style), or one solution (solution and problem style).

After a few minutes the article will disappear, and 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. Here he states the opposite of the reading’s main argument, or says that there are solutions to the problems, or states that the given solutions are faulty.  

The rest of the lecture will consist of three opposing arguments, three solutions, or three problems.  It is important to note that these counter-points directly challenge the three arguments/problems/solutions mentioned in the reading.  Not only that, but they are in the same order

This is illustrated in the following image.  Note how the reading and lecture points match up perfectly in the same order.

TOEFL Integrated essay reading and lecture structure


Taking Notes

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

Taking Notes for the TOEFL integrated essay

Remember that in addition to noting the points and counter-points, you need to get some of the additional supporting details that are mentioned with them.  In the sample essay below, I’ll show you some actual notes from a real question.


Writing Your Essay with Templates

Your TOEFL integrated essay must include an introduction and three body paragraphs. The following templates demonstrate how to write them.  For more ideas about how to fill in the blanks, refer to the sample essay at the end of this guide.

The Introduction

No matter what question style is used, write your introduction using the following template:

  • The reading and the lecture are both about _____.
  • The author of the reading feels that ______.
  • The lecturer challenges the claims made by the author.
  • He is of the opinion that _____.

The Body Paragraphs

Use the following templates for the body paragraphs:

  • To begin with, the author argues that _____.
  • The article mentions that ____.
  • This specific argument is challenged by the lecturer.
  • He claims ____.
  • Additionally, he says ______.

  • Secondly, the writer suggests ______.
  • In the article, it is said that _____.
  • The lecturer, however, rebuts this by mentioning ______.
  • He elaborates on this by bringing up the point that ______.

  • Finally, the author posits that _____.
  • Moreover, it is stated in the article that ____.
  • In contrast, the lecturer’s position is  _____.
  • He notes that _____.

You don’t need to write a conclusion.


 Sample Essay Notes

To illustrate how to use these templates, I am going to use a sample opposition style question about Easter Island.  The reading and lecture are contained in the following video (skip to about 1:30 to get right to the reading).

My notes about this question look like this:


Sample Notes for a TOEFL integrated essay writing question

You can see how my reading notes are on the left-hand side of the page, in the same order as the paragraphs in the article.  You can also see how my listening notes are on the right-hand side of the page, in the same order as in the lecture.  I’ve used arrows to make the connections clear.  Remember that since you will be able to see the reading while you write the essay, you may not need to take detailed notes about it.

Sample Essay Paragraphs

Using those notes, and the above templates, I created the following essay:

The reading and the lecture are both about the collapse of the civilization on Easter Island. The author of the reading feels that there are three possible explanations for the collapse. The lecturer challenges the claims made by the authorHe is of the opinion that these explanations are faulty.

To begin with, the author argues that the collapse might have been caused by rats that ate the seeds of palm trees. The article mentions that this caused erosion and soil loss, which made it hard to grow food. This specific argument is challenged by the lecturerHe claims that even if deforestation occurred the people on the island would have had enough food. Additionally, he says that 60% of their diet came from the sea, and they also used rock gardens to grow potatoes in weak soil.

Secondly, the writer suggests that the collapse may have been caused by warfare. In the article, it is said that many curved blades used as weapons have been found on Easter Island. The lecturer, however, rebuts this by mentioning that the shapes of the blades suggest that they were not actually weapons. He elaborates on this by bringing up the point that they are neither sharp nor pointy, so they were probably just used as tools for cutting stone.

Finally, the author posits that the society on the island could have been destroyed by exposure to diseases brought by foreign visitors. Moreover, in the article it is stated that thousands died as a result of this. In contrast, the lecturer’s position is that when contact with Europeans and South Americans began the population of the island was only about 3000. He notes that since the population was twenty thousand before contact, whatever caused the decline must have started long before then.


More Tips

  • The lecture summary is the most important part of the essay.  That should make up about 60% of each body paragraph.
  • Aim for between 280 and 300 words in total.
  • Avoid copying from the reading word for word. Paraphrase as much as you can.
  • Save about one minute to proofread your work.
  • We 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 our article about the independent writing task.

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