TOEFl Writing Section

Basics

The TOEFL Writing Section measures the ability to write academically. The section contains two essays that are scored based on how clearly thoughts are organized and expressed. The section takes 50 minutes to complete. The Integrated Writing essay involves listening to a lecture and reading related material. It has a 20 minute time limit. The Independent Writing essay has a 30 minute time limit and involves expressing an opinion. The essays are typed into the computer and sent to ETS's Online Scoring Network, where they are scored by trained raters.

While the essays involve different types of writing, there are common skills that ETS raters evaluate for both. Primarily, the raters will assess whether writers are able to articulate a main idea and major points, and support the main points with details, reasons and examples. The essays should show coherent organizational structure. To achieve this, it is best to organize thoughts into a brief outline before beginning to write.

Transitional words and phrases (such as however, therefore, consequently) can be helpful in smoothly connecting similar or contrasting thoughts. In fact, ETS mentions that raters view usage of transitional words as proof of strong proficiency in written English. Lists of transitional words can be found in books and Web sites devoted to writing style and composition. It is worthwhile for test takers to familiarize themselves with these words and how they are used effectively in writing. Raters will also evaluate the writer’s command of grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation.

Integrated Writing Essay

The first essay is the Integrated Writing essay, which involves reading a 250-300 word academic text and then listening to a speaker discuss the same topic, usually from a different perspective. Test takers may take notes during both the reading passage and the listening portion. The reading passage disappears from the screen during the lecture, but reappears when it is time to begin writing. The listening portion is about two minutes long.

Test takers are asked to summarize, compare and contrast the two materials. An example of an Integrated Writing essay prompt is: "Summarize the points made in the lecture you just heard, explaining how they cast doubts on the points made in the reading."

When referring back to points in the written or spoken portion of the materials, ETS likes to see that test takers can paraphrase, meaning they can describe the points made in their own words rather than quoting them directly. It is important to properly cite which points came from which source.

ETS suggests a response length of 150 to 225 words for this essay, but writing longer is ok as long as the essay is answering the task appropriately and written clearly. There is a word count at the top of the screen so writers can measure how much they have written. The word count can be hidden if it is distracting.

Independent Writing Essay

The second and longer essay is the Independent Writing Essay. Test takers are given a statement or choice and they must write an essay that explains their opinion on the issue.

Examples of Independent Writing essay prompts are, "Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?" or "Some people believe X. Other people believe Y. Which of these two positions do you prefer/agree with?"

The topic of the essay will likely be an abstract one that anyone could have an opinion about. The most crucial requirement is that writers support their answers with examples and details, rather than simply listing preferences. If the question is an either-or choice, writers should be sure to both support the choice chosen with details and fully explain why the other choice was not chosen. ETS suggests a 300-word response for this essay question.