Module 4

Writing

1. Writing Section Strategies

Now we are ready to look at the writing section, which will be the final portion of your TOEFL exam.

Good writing skills will help you not only on the TOEFL exam, but also in your future career. Whether in college or at your workplace, you will need to submit many assignments and projects. In this section of the module, you will learn how to write an effective essay. You will also learn the structure of the TOEFL writing section, and discover tips and strategies that will help increase your score.

Efficiency and speed: Typing quickly using the QWERTY keyboard
Following structure: Outlining your essay
Writing your essay in accordance with the seven factors that examiners expect from you
Language enhancement: Use of transitions
Writing question types: Independent and integrated writing tasks
Combining all this into one checklist

Efficiency and speed: Typing quickly using the QWERTY keyboard

The TOEFL iBT exam is computer based, which is why you must type relatively fast for the writing task. You will need to improve your typing skills because the whole exam is done on a computer. Though almost everybody uses computers, as a non-native English speaker, you might not have much experience typing on an English keyboard. Numerous drills are available online to improve your typing skills. The best technique is touch-typing. Touch-typing requires that you familiarize yourself with the keys on the QWERTY keyboard, as you will be looking at the screen (not the keyboard) while typing. Using touch-typing, you can type much faster and utilize your time more efficiently than if you used the hunt-and-peck method.

In short, you need to start getting rid of the hunt-and-peck method immediately, and accustom yourself to touch-typing.

Get started by using www.typing.com or Typesy, a typing tutor software which can be purchased from Amazon. Other free apps can be accessed online such as KeyBlaze and Klavaro.

Following structure: Outlining your essay

Outlining is the process of organizing and structuring your ideas by making them into bullet points that represent the ideas which you plan to expand upon in your essay. You can outline your essay by either typing the outline on the computer, or listing your ideas on paper.

When you start the writing task, your brain has fresh ideas. However, once you start to write, those ideas lose focus. The writing process distracts you and you forget your initial thoughts. If you do not write down your points first, you might lose other, very valuable points later. Do not limit yourself to the ideas you outlined before you started writing the essay, as you may generate new ideas while writing.

Some students consider outlines to be a waste of time. However, in reality, outlining your essay means less time spent thinking about new ideas or trying to remember an idea you thought about previously. You will need a maximum of five minutes to generate three or four main ideas upon which you will later elaborate.

Do not spend more than five minutes outlining your essay. If you cannot generate more than two ideas in five minutes (the allotted time), do not panic. Remember that panic and stress factors may affect your ability to come up with new ideas. Do not worry, as ideas will pop up once you start writing.

Once you feel an idea developing, stop your work and quickly write down the idea using short forms or symbols.

Writing your essay in accordance with the 7 factors that examiners expect from you

There will be two raters: a computer rater and a human rater.

Generally, raters will grade you according to the following sequence.

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

Word Count

For a perfect score, you will need a word count of 250 words. It is no easy task to write everything you want to say in 250 words. However, anything more than that might indicate that you are repeating your ideas, while anything much less than that might indicate that you have not sufficiently supported your ideas, or that you do not have enough ideas.

Structure/Organization

You must know how to structure an essay. Well-structured essays encourage the reader to keep reading and allow the reader to easily navigate from one paragraph to another.

The following is a diagram displaying how your essay should be structured. You need to repeatedly practice using this structure so that it becomes second nature to you before you write the exam:

Content

Content is the amount of high-quality material you can produce. Your ideas must be expressive and well-understood.

Have meaningful content that you can develop and support. Provide connections to avoid confusing your raters.

Avoid redundancy, as it will make your content less constructive and significant. In pursuit of a longer answer, some students depart from the subject. However, this will lower your final grade. Be as clear and precise as possible. Transitions will allow you to better connect your ideas.

Accurate development

Accurate development means to elaborate on an idea by providing support and detail for it. There are no correct or incorrect ideas, but your ideas should make sense and be expressed well.

Grammatical strength/language use

You must know the basics of grammar. If you cannot use tenses correctly, you will receive a lower grade. Familiarize yourself with simple and complex sentences.

Punctuation

Punctuation consists of the marks the English language uses to express the beginning and end of a sentence, as well as a pause in a sentence. Basic punctuation includes capitalization, full stops, and commas. Not capitalizing a word or not using a comma correctly will affect your grade. Misused punctuation gives the rater the impression that the student cannot write well. Meanwhile, the robot-rater is set to look for punctuation errors. Therefore, avoid making punctuation mistakes, as punctuation contributes significantly to your overall grade.

Vocabulary

The word “vocabulary” describes the number of different words you use in your writing task. Many students worry that they will not be able to use a variety of different words in the writing task, which leads them to memorize numerous vocabulary books and lists. This strategy is not efficient, as it prevents students from focusing on the important factors mentioned above. Vocabulary can also be a risk factor if you have not practiced using the word many times. The misuse of a word will lower your grade. Therefore, it is better to use a limited number of words that you clearly understand than to use many words that you misunderstand and misuse.

You will want to familiarize yourself with important words that might enrich your essay by making those vocabulary words into flash cards and using them frequently. Also, create a list of synonyms for words you regularly use. This is important because repeating the same words more than once does not reflect well on your writing.

Learning the synonyms for words you regularly use is the most efficient way to discover new words and expand your vocabulary.

Stay cautious by managing your time

During the exam, you must manage your time. If you feel that you are running out of time, list your most important ideas first and provide sufficient support; then write a good conclusion. Finally, leave the less-preferable ideas for last to determine whether they are worth including given the remaining time.

Language enhancement: Use of transitions

As a non-native speaker, you may find it difficult to correctly use transitions. The following are the basic transitions you should use in your exam. However, feel free to use transitions that are not mentioned below. Make sure you can use all of these words in a variety of contexts:

For ordering and listing points:

  • First
  • Second
  • Third

For additional points:

  • In addition to
  • Another
  • Related to
  • Also
  • Furthermore

For countering points:

  • Nevertheless
  • However
  • Even though
  • On the other hand

For cause and effect:

  • Thus
  • Therefore
  • As a result of
  • Consequently

Writing question types: Independent and integrated writing tasks

The Integrated Writing Task

The following is a breakdown of the integrated writing task:

Question 1 of this section of the exam will be an integrated writing task. For this question, you will read a passage centered around an academic topic for three minutes, then 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. Avoid taking too long to read the passage. Spend no more than three minutes reading the passage and 20 minutes planning and writing your response. Aim to write somewhere between 150 to 230 words.

Summarize the points made in the lecture you just heard, explaining how they cast doubt on points made in the reading.

This task allows you to demonstrate your ability to communicate in writing about academic information you have read and listened to.

You will be judged according to the quality of your written response and your ability to present the points in the lecture and reading passage.

Structuring the Integrated Writing Task

This is how your essay for question 1 of the writing section should be structured:

Introduction – The introduction presents the essay’s topic. Remember that an integrated task presents what the reading and listening passages are about. It also includes details such as whether the listening passage supports and augments the information in the reading passage, or whether it contrasts it.

For example The writer states that…   On the other hand, the professor argues that…

Body – The number of paragraphs in the body will depend on the main points and supporting details. This pattern will repeat itself depending on the number of main points, in the following manner:

  • 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 – Although many sources state that a conclusion is not necessary in the integrated essay, it is a good idea to write one. Conclude your essay by rewriting the introduction and the thesis statement. This will show the examiner that you have understood the question and followed the instructions carefully. We will expand upon the concept of a thesis statement quite soon.

Your answer should contain:

  1. whatever you find in the way of relevant points in the lecture which contest/argue the points made in the reading passage
  2. a well-defined structure/organization of points that precisely relates what you read and heard in the passages
  3. evidence that you understood and assimilated the points well
  4. evidence that you were able to present these points in a rational, articulate and well thought out manner

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the integrated writing task has anything to do with giving your opinion on the passages. On the contrary, your task is simply to:

(1) impart/communicate the relevant points made in the listening passage

(2) show how these points are related to the relevant points in the reading passage. Think of yourself, then, as a go-between of sorts.

Furthermore, you should also think of yourself as a facilitator, in that you will need to effectively assimilate the points from both passages in such a manner that someone who has never read and heard them will have a well-rounded understanding of the discourse contained within them.

Remember that we used the term relevant when referring to the points, so your job is also to be a filterer of information who sorts the relevant information from the irrelevant information.

Are you ready to give it a go?

Here is an example of the integrated writing task:

The reading passage:

Do computers think? It isn’t a new question. In fact, Alan Turing, a British mathematician, proposed an experiment to answer this question in 1950, and the test, known as the Turing Test, is still used today. In the experiment, a group of people are asked to interact with something in another room through a computer terminal. They don’t know whether it is another person or a computer that they are interacting with. They can ask any questions that they want. They can type their questions onto a computer screen, or they can ask their questions by speaking into a microphone.

In response, they see the answers on a computer screen or they hear them played back by a voice synthesizer. At the end of the test, the people have to decide whether they have been talking to a person or to a computer. If they judge the computer to be a person, or if they can’t determine the difference, then the machine has passed the Turing Test.

Since 1950, a number of contests have been organized in which machines are challenged to the Turing Test. In 1990, Hugh Loebner sponsored a prize to be awarded by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies—a gold medal and a cash award of $100,000 to the designer of the computer that could pass the Turing Test; however, so far, no computer has passed the test. (Barron’s TOEFL iBT, 13th Edition, p.272)

The listening excerpt:               

The following is a typical audio segment you might hear on an exam, so consider it carefully, and write down any key points that come up in the passage:

Narrator: Now listen to a lecture on the same topic as the passage that you have just read.

Professor: Philosopher John Searle has challenged the validity of the Turing Test because it’s premised on behavior rather than on thought. To prove his argument, he’s suggested a paradox, which he refers to as the Chinese Room. If a monolingual English-speaking person receives questions on a computer terminal from a Chinese person in another room, naturally the English-speaking person won’t understand the questions. However, if there’s a large reference that can be accessed, and if the reference is detailed and comprehensible, then the English speaker could, conceivably, break the code.

For example, if a sequence of Chinese characters is received, the reference could indicate which sequence of Chinese characters would be expected in response. In other words, the behavior would be correct, although the English speaker wouldn’t be thinking at a level that included meaning. The person would be manipulating symbols without understanding them, or, as Searle suggests, the person would be acting intelligent without being intelligent, which is exactly what a computer could be programmed to do.

Therefore, at least theoretically, a computer could be designed with complex input that would allow it to provide adequate behavioral output without being aware of what it’s doing. If so, then it could pass the Turing Test. But the test itself would be meaningless because it doesn’t really answer the most basic question about artificial intelligence, which is, can the computer think? (Barron’s TOEFL iBT, 13th Edition, pp.611, 612)

The question

Summarize the points made in the lecture you just heard, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on points made in the reading.

Try to make your own answer closely following the strategies we have outlined above.

Once you have finished, try to compare what you have written with the model answer we have written for you below. What differences are you able to note between your essay and the model answer below?

A model answer:

In the lecture that was played, the professor put forward several arguments about the validity of the Turing Test mentioned in the reading passage. Basing his main assertion on the writings of a philosopher named John Searle, the professor argues that the Turing Test is premised on behavior, rather than on thought.

The 1950 Turing Test model in the reading passage contends that when a group of people were asked to network with either a person or computer in another room through a series of questions, they would be able to decipher whether or not this was a computer.

The professor casts doubt that this would truly prove that a computer can think by mentioning Searle’s testing model called a Chinese Room. The test shows how a series of normally incomprehensible Chinese characters can become known to an English speaker with the presence of a reference base, even if they are not truly understood.

The professor casts doubt on the very foundations of the test itself, arguing that the behavior of the computer would be correct, but that the computer would not be reasoning in a manner that included actual meaning.

In conclusion, the points raised in the lecture refute those made in the reading passage. Indeed, the professor casts serious doubt on the validity of the Turing Test, stating the test has no way of addressing whether the positive behavioral output of the computer shows that it can actually reason like a human

The following points should help you reflect further on the type of answer you should be writing.

Reflection on the Model Answer

Now that you have taken a close look at a model answer for the integrated writing task, try to consider the following:

Firstly, you should take note of the fact that the model answer successfully expressed throughout the essay, how the lecture cast doubt on the points made in the reading. This is exactly what was requested in the question, so the author stuck to this directive very effectively throughout the essay. Likewise, you will need to consistently stick to what you are instructed to do in the question you are given.

You will also note that no opinion was given, precisely because you are not being asked to give one. Rather, the writer accurately presented the information as it is, and showed the connection of contrasting thoughts that exist between the listening excerpt and the reading passage. This was done using clear, coherent structure that enables the reader to understand the points in the lecture and to relate them to the points in the reading passage.

Indeed, the points were successfully summarized in a very concise way that would allow someone who did not have access to the two passages to understand their main points. You, too, need to be able to do the same on your exam.

Now that we have finished looking at the integrated writing task, we are ready to move on to the second type of writing question, which is the independent writing task.

The Independent Writing Task

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 be given 30 minutes to complete your 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?

(Then, you will be given a sentence or series of sentences about a particular subject.)

Support your answer with details and examples.

An effective response for the independent writing task is typically over 300 words long.

Structuring Question 2 of the writing section

Here are some simple steps to follow for the independent task:

  • Understand and conceptualize the topic.
  • Prepare a table of all the key ideas you want to include.
  • Write the introduction of your essay.
  • Write the body of your essay.
  • Write the essay’s conclusion.

Let us see how that works.

Here is an example of a question from the independent writing task:

Some teachers prefer being very friendly with their students. Others prefer to maintain their authority over their students by being polite, but reserved. Outline the advantages of both approaches. Next, specify which kind of teaching approach you favour. Support your writing with details and reasons for your points.

Now that we have seen the question, here is how we can approach it:

Understand and conceptualize the topic

  • Start by addressing the general topic.
  • Write about the advantages of each.
  • Talk about your opinion. Which of the two ideas do you prefer?

Address the general topic first – identify the background idea. In this case, it is “different teaching approaches” (Some teachers prefer being very friendly with their students. Others prefer to maintain their authority over their students by being polite, but reserved.)

For the second step, discuss the advantages of the more friendly and reserved approaches to teaching.

The third step asks for your opinion; you must indicate which type of teaching approach you prefer.

In other words, discuss the differences between a friendly teaching approach, and a more reserved one. State what each one offers and indicate your choice based on the arguments you presented.

Before you start writing, create a short plan (outline) of the main ideas related to both of these teaching approaches. Try to draw out a table (such as the one seen here), because you can always go back to it and approach the essay one point at a time. It does not need to look so nice as this one, but the essence of its organization should be kept like the one you see here.

Advantages to being very friendly Advantages to being polite, but reserved
win over students students will respect teacher more
capture students’ attention students will not be disruptive in class
increase attendance and performance students could benefit from serious environment

The introduction

Here is the introduction that we have written as a model for you. Read it, and think about what writing elements it contains. We will tell you what they are, but first, it will help if you ponder over the passage yourself:

When considering different approaches to teaching, one should take into account each type. Both friendly and reserved teaching approaches can be beneficial to students in their own distinctive way. While some students prefer a more sociable style to being taught, others favor a more conservative approach. Before judging in this matter, one should carefully analyze the various advantages of both approaches.

Writing the introduction

The introduction serves two functions. For one, it deals with the topic at hand. It also helps you make sure that the rest of the essay can be written in a clear and smooth manner. Therefore, try to connect your thoughts well, starting from the introductory paragraph. It functions as your starting point and base for the rest of the essay.

The following is how we constructed the introduction for the question, and this is how you, too, should construct your introduction:

  • The first sentence of the introduction focuses on the main topic of the question, which in this case, will be the different approaches to teaching.

When considering different approaches to teaching, one should take into account each type.”

  • The second sentence usually is a balanced statement. It shows that you are taking an impartial and reasonable approach to writing the essay.

“Both friendly and reserved teaching approaches can be beneficial to students in their own distinctive way.”

  • The third sentence explains or clarifies the previous sentence.

“While some students prefer a more sociable style to being taught, others favor a more conservative approach.”

  • The final sentence of the introduction is called the thesis statement. The thesis statement deals with the points of discussion in the body, which are of course, directly related to the question. Your thesis statement should contain both the main topic and controlling idea, which we will discuss below.

“Before judging in this matter, one should carefully analyze the various advantages of both approaches.”

Here, the “different approaches to teaching” is the main topic, while “one should carefully analyze the various advantages of both approaches” is the controlling idea.

What is the controlling idea? The controlling idea identifies the scope of discussion in the body.

In other words, the controlling idea is framed like the essay question for the independent task. Therefore, the controlling idea can often be seen as a rephrasing of the essay question.

Remember that the main task set out in the question was:

(1) To “discuss the advantages of each” approach.

(2.) To “then indicate which type of teaching approach you prefer.”

(3.) To use specific reasons and details to support your answer.

So, the controlling idea directly deals with task number 1. This should be included in the final sentence of your introduction: “Before judging in this matter, one should carefully analyze the various advantages of both approaches.”

The controlling idea has now set up the remaining portion of the essay to deal with tasks number 2 and 3. Consequently, the controlling idea can be seen as an extension of the main topic, and in fact sets up the extension of the main topic throughout the composition by allowing you to deal with tasks number 2 and 3 later on in the essay.

Therefore, the essay should revolve around the controlling idea. You will need to keep referring back to the controlling idea throughout your essay, or at the very least, in the body of your essay, if not in the conclusion, too.

So, when you are writing, you should continue to base your passage on this controlling idea, in this case, being a careful analysis of all the advantages of both of these contrasting teaching approaches.

The Essay Body

Here is the essay body that we have written as a model for you. Read it, and think about what writing elements it contains. We will tell you what they are, but first, it will help if you ponder over the passage yourself:

There are advantages to both friendly and reserved approaches to teaching. Polite but reserved approaches to teaching are good because they help the teacher gain the respect of their students. Once this respect has been gained, they can be sure that any type of rudeness or disruptiveness in class will be minimal, thus creating a good learning environment in which everyone can concentrate on the lecture at hand. This type of serious learning environment will not only help students respect the teacher and subject matter; if they are highly motivated and self-disciplined, they can truly excel in such a serious atmosphere.

Friendly approaches to teaching, on the other hand, help teachers win over their students. Once this has been accomplished, they can demand things from their students which others would never be able to consider, precisely because they will have established a personal relationship with their students which would allow for such a thing to take place.

This type of congenial relationship tends to capture students’ attention, and once this has been accomplished, there will be more interaction and learning going on. This, in turn, leads to an increase in performance, and the more students like to come to class, the more likely they are to actually attend. Evidently, a positive and friendly approach creates a cascading effect of learning, particularly for those who do not have rigid expectations of their teachers having to fit into an ultra-traditional teaching mold.

Writing the essay body

  • The essay body should fulfill and support the objectives which have been outlined in the introduction.
  • The body consists of two to three paragraphs.
  • You will begin the paragraph by mentioning the controlling idea, which is to analyse the advantages of friendly and reserved teaching approaches.

There are advantages to both friendly and reserved approaches to teaching.”

  • A paragraph of the body should have three elements – topic sentence, key ideas and supporting details.
  • When writing the essay body, you will mention the major points that you have already outlined before writing the essay as contained in the previous ‘outline of your ideas’ table.

Here they are again:

Advantages to being very friendly Advantages to being polite, but reserved
win over students students will respect teacher more
capture students’ attention students will not be disruptive in class
increase attendance and performance students could benefit from serious environment

Now, check to see how these points have been effectively included in the body of our essay:

There are advantages to both friendly and reserved approaches to teaching. Polite but reserved approaches to teaching are good because they help the teacher gain the respect of their students. Once this respect has been gained, they can be sure that any type of rudeness or disruptiveness in class will be minimal, thus creating a good learning environment in which everyone can concentrate on the lecture at hand. This type of serious learning environment will not only help students respect the teacher and subject matter; if they are highly motivated and self-disciplined, they can truly excel in such a serious atmosphere.

Friendly approaches to teaching, on the other hand, help teachers win over their students. Once this has been accomplished, they can demand things from their students which others would never be able to consider, precisely because they will have established a personal relationship with their students which would allow for such a thing to take place.

This type of congenial relationship tends to capture students’ attention, and once this has been accomplished, there will be more interaction and learning going on. This, in turn, leads to an increase in performance, and the more students like to come to class, the more likely they are to actually attend. Evidently, a positive and friendly approach creates a cascading effect of learning, particularly for those who do not have rigid expectations of their teachers having to fit into an ultra-traditional teaching mold.

Since we have completed the essay body, we are now ready to construct the essay’s conclusion.

The conclusion

Here is the conclusion that we have written as a model for you. Read it, and think about what writing elements it contains. We will tell you what they are, but first, it will help if you ponder over the passage yourself:

To conclude, a student can always have their own taste in what type of teaching approach they prefer, as clearly, both friendly and reserved teaching approaches both have various advantages. In the end, a student’s preference in this matter will depend very much on their own personal and cultural expectations of how a teacher should interact with their students. I personally prefer a more friendly and interactive approach to teaching in which I am actually involved in the learning process. Although I can understand why some people with more traditional expectations might get turned off by a more personal approach, I believe that a collaborative and friendly atmosphere is more conducive to learning than a more formal and reserved one.

Writing the conclusion

  • The purpose of the conclusion is to sum up the general viewpoint of the writer that has already been discussed.
  • The conclusion should begin with a balanced statement. This means that you should be showing that there are arguments for both sides.

“To conclude, a student can always have their own taste in what type of teaching approach they prefer, as clearly, both friendly and reserved teaching approaches both have various advantages.”

  • The conclusion should include your personal opinion on the topic.

I personally prefer…”

  • The most powerful argument presented in the body should be reinforced to strengthen the point you are attempting to prove. Your opinion should be based on a convincing point. It should contain the reason for why you have formed your opinion.

            “I personally prefer a more friendly and interactive approach to teaching in which I am actually involved in the learning process.

  • The last sentence of the essay should be very effective. End with a bang. This is called the sign-off. Make sure that it effectively summarizes your personal opinion on the matter at hand:

Although I can understand why some people with more traditional expectations might get turned off by a more personal approach, I believe that a collaborative and friendly atmosphere is more conducive to learning than a more formal and reserved one.”

So there we have it. This is the method which you should consider for the independent writing task.

Here is a final look at the model answer as a whole which we have put together:

MODEL ANSWER: When considering different approaches to teaching, one should take into account each type. Both friendly and reserved teaching approaches can be beneficial to students in their own distinctive way. While some students prefer a more sociable style to being taught, others favor a more conservative approach. Before judging in this matter, one should carefully analyze the various advantages of both approaches.

There are advantages to both friendly and reserved approaches to teaching. Polite but reserved approaches to teaching are good because they help the teacher gain the respect of their students. Once this respect has been gained, they can be sure that any type of rudeness or disruptiveness in class will be minimal, thus creating a good learning environment in which everyone can concentrate on the lecture at hand. This type of serious learning environment will not only help students respect the teacher and subject matter; if they are highly motivated and self-disciplined, they can truly excel in such a serious atmosphere.

Friendly approaches to teaching, on the other hand, help teachers win over their students. Once this has been accomplished, they can demand things from their students which others would never be able to consider, precisely because they will have established a personal relationship with their students which would allow for such a thing to take place.

This type of congenial relationship tends to capture students’ attention, and once this has been accomplished, there will be more interaction and learning going on. This, in turn, leads to an increase in performance, and the more students like to come to class, the more likely they are to actually attend. Evidently, a positive and friendly approach creates a cascading effect of learning, particularly for those who do not have rigid expectations of their teachers having to fit into an ultra-traditional teaching mold.

To conclude, a student can always have their own taste in what type of teaching approach they prefer, as clearly, both friendly and reserved teaching approaches both have various advantages. In the end, a student’s preference in this matter will depend very much on their own personal and cultural expectations of how a teacher should interact with their students. I personally prefer a more friendly and interactive approach to teaching in which I am actually involved in the learning process. Although I can understand why some people with more traditional expectations might get turned off by a more personal approach, I believe that a collaborative and friendly atmosphere is more conducive to learning than a more formal and reserved one.

Paraphrasing

In countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, etc., plagiarism is strictly forbidden. Therefore, the TOEFL prepares you to practice paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is using your own words to rewrite a sentence you have obtained from a certain source. In your writing task, do not use any sentences from the reading passages; if you do so, you will be penalized. Therefore, you need to start practicing how to re-word what you hear or read.

Create a checklist!

Create a checklist of your weak points in terms of writing. Before you write an essay, review those points. When you finish writing, review the checklist again to determine whether you avoided those mistakes. Your teacher or tutor might show you your weak points in writing. Take this advice into consideration, as it is the best way to improve your writing skills.

Combining all this into one checklist

We have now essentially completed the e-course. Before we finish, we need to take a final look at the independent and integrated writing tasks by creating a checklist for you.

Make sure you stick to the checklists provided in this e-course when doing your practice tests. This way, when you come to do the actual exam, all the strategies you learned will become like second nature to you.

The independent task

  1. Begin by reading the question and understanding the task assigned to you. If necessary, read the question a few times until you feel confident enough to proceed.
  2. Next, carefully examine the question for a main keyword/s.
  3. Collect enough paper to prepare your notes. At the top of the page, write the question’s main keyword (usually the topic about which you are asked to write). This will give you direction for structuring the rest of the answer and for returning to the topic as you write.

A keyword or phrase at the top of the page will act as a starting point whenever you lose track of the assigned task.

Write the keyword at the top of the page.

  1. Make new notes to outline the writing essay. Divide the page (on which you are taking notes) into a standard five-paragraph essay.

  1. After dividing the page into five parts, start with the outlining process. The outlining process consists of an average of three main ideas with supporting details and examples.
  2. Generating ideas is the hardest step in the answering process, as it requires general knowledge and an ability to find reasons to support or oppose an argument. You must conduct a quick but thorough brainstorming procedure.
  3. Next, convert your ideas into a structured essay by expanding on the points you have outlined. You will elaborate on what you have written in your notes, including examples and supporting details to create a concise, well-reasoned paragraph.
  4. Manage your time carefully for this task.

3 minutes for the introduction

5 minutes for paragraph #1

5 minutes for paragraph #2

5 minutes for paragraph #3

2 minutes for a short conclusion

  1. You must write a minimum of 300 words. If you find yourself running out of sentences, follow these tips to expand your passage:

Go in depth into the topic by explaining your ideas in a more detailed manner.

Expand your ideas by using interesting examples that add value to your essay

If you are running out of ideas to support an argument, discuss the counterarguments that others might use in response to your supporting arguments.

  1. Ensure that the quality of your content meets or exceeds the examiners’ expectations.

Make sure your content has no punctuation errors. Begin your sentences with capital letters and end them with full stops.

Use correct grammar, focusing mainly on articles, tenses, and prepositions.

Spell all words correctly.

Establish a connection between your ideas. Transitions are essential for moving from one idea to the next.
Without proper linking words and phrases, an essay comes across as fragmented and ineffective. You must establish links between sentences and paragraphs. We discussed this in greater detail earlier in the e-course, so please refer to the first part of the writing section for a better understanding of this issue.

Finally, you will be tested on how well you generate words that make your passage more exciting. However, be sure to use these words in the correct context.

  1. If you finish before the allotted time is up, edit the text and add some finishing touches.

Check for errors in spelling, tenses, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.

The following is a summary of additional tips that will prove helpful:

Ensure that you comprehend exactly what has been asked of you.
Write a well thought out outline of the main points you will discuss.
Make sure to stick to the points you have written down in your outline.
Stick to the organization of points summarized in your outline.
Write coherently, supporting your main points with relevant details.
Read the essay before you submit it. It must flow naturally, and you must present the points clearly, with appropriate links.

Integrated writing task

  1. A reading passage will appear on your screen for approximately three minutes. You will have little time to read and digest the topic. While reading, use a combination of three techniques:

Speed reading: This is a skill you will develop with time and practice. Special online applications can improve your reading speed, as will the simple act of reading a lot.

Skimming: Skimming is a skill in which you quickly read through a text to obtain an idea of what the passage or paragraph discuses without paying much attention to minor details. Your focus is on the important ideas and concepts.

With time and practice, you will be able to distinguish between the most relevant information and the unimportant details. The key concepts typically appear in the first sentence of each paragraph. Therefore, you must carefully scan the first sentence to obtain the important information.

Scanning: Scanning is the skill of carefully reading the passage’s core concepts at least once. With scanning, you try to absorb information because of its importance.

Quickly review the tips we provided earlier in this section as to when you should use these different techniques.

If you do not understand something the first time, quickly read it again and then write it down. Doing this will activate the parts of your brain that enhance your learning experience, thereby sharpening your thought process.


You must master these techniques before the exam by practicing a lot. Once you have received your reading passage, you must take notes while reading – in other words, you must multitask. At first, this might take some time; however, with practice you will be able to complete these techniques in the given time frame. Do not be disappointed if you are unable to do so the first time you try it.

30 sec author’s POV (point of view)
50 sec argument #1
50 sec argument #2
50 sec argument #3

  1. Next, you will hear a listening excerpt that will likely oppose the author’s ideas as expressed in the reading passage. The TOEFL does not typically provide an excerpt that agrees with the author, as the goal is to test your ability to present opposing arguments. This being said, it is always possible that you could receive two passages which are essentially in agreement with each other.

The recording will last for an average of two to three minutes. It will talk about the same topic, but from an opposing perspective. For a second, forget everything you learned from the reading passage. Focus entirely on the speaker’s point of view.

Record the reasons why the speaker opposes the author’s arguments. Immediately write in your notes whatever point the speaker makes.

ALERT! This task focuses primarily on how much information you can retain from both the reading passage and the recording and on your ability to present the information effectively. Your notes are your most important asset because they will enable you to recall factual information from both sources.

  1. Once you have finished reading the passage and listening to the recording, a new page will appear on your screen. This page will contain a question for the integrated writing task.

You will receive 30 minutes to complete the task; therefore, you must manage your time wisely.

Give yourself five minutes to prepare. During those five minutes, you should:

  1. Structure your notes by drawing the necessary lines.
  2. Note the question’s main keyword/phrase at the top of the page. The keyword is usually the specific task the question asks you to answer.
  3. To more easily outline your essay, review the notes you previously made about the passage and the recording. Scan your notes for arguments that refute each other. For example, if author (X) states point #1 in the reading passage while speaker (Y) refutes point #1, discuss both arguments in a paragraph.

To further clarify, you will want to devote each paragraph to an argument both sides have made. Therefore, in your notes simplify the arguments into “Statement X” vs “Statement Y”. However, in the essay you will be able to elaborate on those simplified arguments and explain them further by providing details or additional examples. This will enhance your essay’s quality.

Here is the best way to structure your notes:

  1. Once you have finished outlining your notes, start writing your essay. With only 25 minutes left, you must manage your time wisely. Divide your time in the following manner:

4 minutes for the introduction
6 minutes for paragraph #1
6 minutes for paragraph #2
6 minutes for paragraph #3
3 minutes for a short conclusion

  1. The following is an answer template you can begin to use in order to give you a scaffold to work on. You can make your own adjustments to this template following the guidelines outlined in this section:

Looking at the statements obtained from the reading passage, it is to be concluded that the author supports the idea that ______________. On the other hand, the speaker opposes the author’s position, as he believes that _______________.

The first argument made by the author states that ______________. The speaker, however, disagrees because ________________.  He/she uses __________ as an example to explain why the author’s opinion of __________ is incorrect.

Through contradictory arguments, the speaker casts doubt on the validity of the author’s claim that ______________.

 

  1. If you finish before the allotted time, edit the text and add some finishing touches.

Check for errors in spelling, tenses, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.

The following is a summary of additional tips that will prove helpful:

Ensure that you comprehend exactly what has been asked of you.
Write a well thought out outline of the main points you will discuss.
Make sure to stick to the points you have written down in your outline.
Stick to the organization of points summarized in your outline.
Write coherently, supporting your main points with relevant details.
Read the essay before you submit it. It must flow naturally, and you must present the points clearly, with appropriate links.