Here’s how the TOEFL Integrated Essay works:

  • It is the first writing task on the test.
  • First, you will have three minutes to read an article (four paragraphs, 250-300 words) about an academic topic.
  • Next, you will listen to a lecture (2-3 minutes) that opposes the argument in the article.
  • Finally, you must write an essay (280-300 words) about the relationship between the two sources.
  • You can read the article while writing your essay, but you cannot hear the lecture again.
  • The TOEFL does not include questions where the lecture supports the reading.

Essay Evaluation

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The Questions

There are three types of questions, and the templates given below work for all three.  In 2020 I surveyed students about what they got.

Opposition Style (80% of the time)

The reading makes a claim about a topic using three specific arguments. The lecturer opposes the claim and challenges the three arguments.  The question looks 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 (10% of the time)

The reading mentions three problems related to a topic or theory.  The lecturer provides solutions to these three problems.  The question looks 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 (10% of the time)

The reading suggests three solutions to a problem.  The lecturer feels that the solutions will not work.  The question looks 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.


The Article 

The article begins with an introductory paragraph which mentions the topic.  The author describes his opinion, or states that there are some problems.

The introduction is followed by 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).

After three minutes, the article disappears and the lecture begins.  But you can see the article again while you are writing your essay.

 

The Lecture

After three minutes the article disappears, and you 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 (opposition style), or says that there are solutions to the problems (problems and solutions style), or states that the given solutions are faulty (solutions and problems style).  

The rest of the lecture consists of three opposing arguments, three solutions, or three problems.  These 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 counterpoints, 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 _____. 
  • While the author of the article argues that _____, the lecturer disputes the claims presented in the article.
  • His position is that _____.

The Body Paragraphs

Use 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 Notes

Here are some notes based on the reading and lecture pictured above.  They are also contained in the following video (skip to about 1:30 to get right to the reading).

My notes about this question look like this:


TOEFL Notes

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 

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

The reading and the lecture are both about Easter Island. While the author of the article argues that there are three possible reasons the civilization there declined, the lecturer disputes the arguments made in the article. His position is that the theories do not explain what caused the collapse.

According to the reading, the collapse might have been caused by rats that ate the seeds of palm trees. The article mentions that this caused erosion which made it difficult to grow food on the island. This specific argument is challenged by the lecturer. He claims that soil loss would not have totally disrupted the food supply because the people were effective fishers and sixty percent of their diet came from the ocean. Additionally, he points out that they built special rock gardens which were used to grow potatoes.

Secondly, the author suggests that the collapse may have been caused by warfare. The article notes that the presence of thousands of blades used in large-scale conflicts have been found. The lecturer, however, asserts that the shape of the blades proves that they were not used as weapons. He goes on to say that they are neither sharp nor pointy, so they were probably just used to cut rocks during the construction of homes and statues.

Finally, the author puts forth the idea that the population on the island could have been wiped out by diseases brought by foreign visitors. The author contends that the locals did not have immunity to these diseases. In contrast, the lecturer’s stance is that when contact was made, the population was only 3000. He says that since the population was twenty thousand many years before then, the collapse must have started before Europeans arrived.


More Tips

  • The lecture summary is the most important part of the essay.  That should make up about 60% of each body paragraph. Shorten the reading summary if you need to save time.
  • 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.
  • 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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