A Brief Overview of the TOEFL iBT Writing Section

The following will serve as an introductory feeler for students who want to have a very basic overview of what is included in the TOEFL iBT writing section.

The table below represents a basic structure of the TOEFL iBT exam:

SectionTime limitQuestionsTasks
Reading60-80 min.36-56Read 3 or 4 passages
Listening60-90 min.34-51Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations
Break10 min.
Speaking20 min.6 tasksExpress opinion on topics based on reading and listening tasks
Writing50 min.2 tasksWrite essay responses based on reading and listening tasks


The Three Parts of the Recorded Passage

Your writing passage will be graded by two raters:

  • A computer rater
  • A human rater

Generally, raters will grade you according to the sequence mentioned below.

  • Word count
  • Structure/Organization
  • Content
  • Accurate development
  • Grammatical strength/language use
  • Punctuation
  • Vocabulary

The Two Questions

Question 1 of the writing section of the exam will be an integrated (i.e. combined) writing task. You will be asked to read a passage about an academic topic for three minutes, and then you will hear a short lecture related to that topic. You will be asked to summarize the points in the listening passage and explain how they relate to specific points in the reading passage. Your essay should be between 150 to 225 words.

You will be graded according to the quality of your written response, with particular attention paid to how well you are able to present the points that were in the lecture and the reading passage.

The purpose of this task is to show that you can effectively communicate in writing about academic information you have read and listened to.

In this essay you are not asked to express your opinion, but to present the information from the listening excerpt and how it connects to the main ideas of the reading passage. 

Question one would normally be structured in the following manner:

Introduction – A presentation of the essay topic such as what the reading and listening passages are about; whether the listening passage supports and adds to the information in the reading passage or contrasts it. Your introduction should contain a general statement and thesis statement. The thesis statement targets the points of discussion in the body related to the question. It consists of the main topic and its controlling idea that you will discuss.

The controlling idea identifies the scope (i.e. extent) of discussion in the body, and is often just a rephrasing of the original essay question.


Body – The number of paragraphs in the body will depend on the number of main points and supporting details. In the following example of essay structure, we can see that there are three paragraphs in the body, with each one containing a main point from the listening passage which clearly outlines the relationship this main point has with the reading passage:

  • main point from the listening passage and its relation to the reading passage
  • main point from the listening passage and its relation to the reading passage
  • main point from the listening passage and its relation to the reading passage


Conclusion – Conclude your essay by rewriting the introduction and the thesis statement, with a final comment added which contains a summary of the main points you have written.

Question 2 of this section of the exam will be an independent writing task. In this task, you will be presented with a question, and will have 30 minutes to write the essay. The question asks you to give your opinion on an issue.

Here is how the question is typically phrased:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

[A sentence or sentences that present an issue appear here.]

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.


An effective response would normally be around 300 words long, and would also have the following structure:


The introduction addresses the topic on the one hand, and on the other, ensures a smooth transition towards the body of the passage. It includes several key components, so in order to create a smooth transition and have a sound connection of thoughts, it should contain a main topic and a balanced statement, often comparing the two things mentioned in the question with an unbiased voice. That is how you should make your balanced statement.

The balanced statement would normally be followed up by a sentence to clarify the balanced statement (i.e. ass a bit more detail), followed by the thesis statement, which targets the points of discussion in the body related to the question.

The thesis statement consists of the main topic and controlling idea. Your thesis statement should address the aspects to be discussed in the essay, rather than only providing an opinion on the topic.

To illustrate this, the “choice of different types of career opportunities” would be the main topic, while “students have to carefully analyze all the advantages of either a home based or workplace based career” would be the controlling idea.

The essay should revolve around the controlling idea.


The Essay Body

The body consists of two to three paragraphs

You will begin the paragraph by mentioning the controlling idea

Then you can state the major points on which your essay will be based. These key ideas should be given plenty of support.


The conclusion

The conclusion should begin with a balanced statement, similar to the introduction.

The conclusion should include your personal opinion on the topic. It should be clearly linked to the thesis statement, which consisted of the main topic and controlling idea. Here, your most powerful argument presented in the body should be reinforced to strengthen the point you are attempting to prove.

You should finish with a bang by making your final sentence effectively conclude your main point.