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TOEFL Writing

Besides speaking, the other main way we communicate is through writing. If you attend a native English speaking university you will be writing many reports, essays and term papers. You won't get far if you can't get your assignments done. And using the Internet to borrow other people's work could get you expelled. The TOEFL test Writing section isn't as challenging as writing a term paper, but you definitely have to prove you know how to write a few paragraphs using proper grammar, and how to get your point across clearly and convincingly.

The IBT test Writing section has 2 tasks. For the revised TOEFL test effective July 26, 2023, 30 minutes is the total time allowed to complete the Writing section. Each of the questions is given a mark of 0-5. Your total score is then scaled to a value out of 30. For a decent score you must get at least 4 out of 5 for both writing tasks.

The only way you'll get scores of 4 or 5 is to practice your writing skills. However, you aren't expected to write a perfect response for these 2 tasks as the amount of time given just doesn't allow it. Don't think that writing lots will get you a better grade. If it has many spelling errors, and/or has bad sentence structure, and/or has poor grammar, and/or goes off topic, and/or doesn't express your thoughts clearly, and/or doesn't give examples that support your reasons, your response will get a low score. The reasons and examples you give need to be based on your own knowledge and experience. Do not try to quote or refer to studies, supposed facts, figures, statistics, references of any kind that would have to be validated with a reference. Something else to remember is that there is NO access to the Internet while doing the TOEFL exam. Memorizing essay templates from online resources to use during the exam isn't the way to go either.

What score you get from 0-5 for your writing responses is based on a variety of factors: language use, organization, clarity, and development. Language use means how well you can use grammar and vocabulary. Do you use the same words over and over, or do you have variety? Did you use the right word? How many spelling mistakes did you make? Do you use more than one kind of sentence strucure? Or are your sentences all basic like, "The banana in the basket is green." Don't use any slang or swearing. Formal English must be used. You are not writing a text to a friend or posting a blog entry. Development refers to how well you answered the question. Is your response coherent? It should go from one idea to the next logically. It should be easy to understand, not confuse the grader to death. Your response should provide reasons – more than one – with details or examples to support the reasons you give. Below is a guideline of what grade to expect for a response for each of the 2 writing questions.

TOEFL Writing Grades:

Score Reasons for Score Reasons for Score
  Integrated Task Academic Discussion Task

  • Didn't write ANYTHING, or is not in English
  • Wrote an answer that is completely off topic
  • Copied entirely from the reading passage

  • Didn't write ANYTHING, or is not in English
  • Wrote an answer that is completely off topic
  • Copied content entirely from the prompt

  • Badly organized
  • Very hard to understand
  • Little meaningful or relevant content from the talk
  • Only includes information from the reading passage

  • Badly organized
  • Very hard to understand with frequent and serious grammar errors
  • Very underdeveloped with specific details and examples
  • Does not effectively contribute to the online discussion

  • Some relevant content from the talk but with errors
  • Poorly represents the connections between the reading and talk
  • Frequent grammatical errors which makes it difficult to understand
  • Limited use of grammar and vocabulary

  • Attempts to contribute to the online discussion, but is rather unsuccessful
  • Organization is poor, connections between points are unclear
  • Inappropriate or underdeveloped explanations or details provided
  • Frequent grammar and structure errors
  • Limited range of grammar, usage and vocabulary

  • Some relevant content from the talk but is imprecise or vague
  • Some key points from talk and/or reading are missing or wrong
  • Grammatical errors obscures the meaning at times
  • Limited range of grammar and vocabulary

  • Fairly relevant, and a fairly easy to understand, contribution to the online discussion
  • Some variety of structures and vocabulary used, but with grammatical and language use errors
  • Progression but is somewhat lacking in coherence and organization
  • Some ideas/details/examples not developed enough, or are unclear, or are irrelevant

  • Contains important information from the talk and reading
  • All important information from the talk is accurate
  • Minor omissions or errors in connections between talk and reading
  • Minor language use errors that don't affect meaning

  • A relevant and fairly successful contribution to the online discussion
  • Generally well organized and well developed
  • Variety of structure and good range of vocabulary
  • A few noticeable errors but doesn't interfere with meaning

  • Accurately presents all the important information
  • Successfully communicates all the key points from the talk
  • Connections between talk and reading presented accuately
  • Well organized and easy to understand
  • Only minor grammatical errors

  • A completely effective contribution to the online discussion
  • Fully developed explanations and details that are expressed clearly
  • Effective use of a range of structures and word choice
  • Well organized, coherent, progresses logically
  • Only minor grammatical errors

TOEFL Writing Question 1: Integrated Task

Writing question 1 is similar to the second question of the second format in the Speaking section. The reading passage is longer and obviously you'll write, not speak, your response. To start, you will have 3 minutes to read a short text (generally around 300 words long). The reading passage will become available again once you get to the question. You will then hear an academic talk (about 2 to 3 minutes long) on the same topic. You should take notes while listening since the talk will only be heard once.

Keep your headphones on as you will hear and see the question. The question asks about a relationship between the text and the talk. Using information from the reading passage and talk, answer the question as completely as you can. You will not be asked to give your opinion. Please do not state your opinion. You will have 20 minutes to write your essay, and you should write at least 150 words.

You are being tested on your ability to summarize and compare information from more than one source (the reading passage and the academic talk). You will need to summarize ideas from the academic talk and be able to explain how they relate in some way to points in the reading passage. The most common type of question, but not the ONLY possible one, is one where what you hear in the talk will go against what you have read.

Do NOT rely heavily on the reading passage to form your response. The whole point of this task is to be able to use information from both the listening and reading passages. Do not copy entire phrases or sentences directly from the reading passage. You need to at least rephrase the text.

Sample prompts:

How does the information in the listening passage cast doubt on the information in the reading passage?
Compare and contrast the information in the passage you read with the information in the lecture that you heard.
Summarize the points made in the talk you just heard, explaining how they differ from the points made in the reading.

TOEFL Writing Question 2: Writing for an Academic Discussion

Since the TOEFL IBT began, the second Writing task has been an independent essay, where you were expected to write an essay based on your own personal experience and ideas. For the revised TOEFL test taking effect July 26, 2023, the second task is very different now. The essay has been replaced with a Writing task type introduced in the TOEFL Essentials test: Writing for an Academic Discussion. What's this? The question is set up as an online academic discussion. A professor (their picture and name are seen above the text) presents a topic to the class, and asks one or more questions in relation to the topic. Responses by two students (their image and name are seen beside their response) are also included. Your response needs to add to the discussion. You type your reply in a text box which has a word counter, and options to cut and paste as well as to undo/redo.

Depending on the type of question from the professor, this may require you to follow up on the ideas expressed by the two students. As of now, there are three main types of Professor prompts. One is an open-ended (there is no single answer to the question, one answer is not any better than another) type where the Professor asks what the most significant/more important/best option is regarding the topic. This is usually followed by "Why?" or "Why, or why not?" The response by the second student may add to something the first student said. Your own response can follow up (agree or disagree with) on something stated by the first student, or the second student, or both of them, or your response can be entirely your own thoughts to the Professor's question(s). For the other two types, there are only two ways to respond. The second type you may see will ask you to make a choice between two options. As in you need to state a preference between the two options given, and support your choice with reasons and examples. You may, or may not, follow up on ideas expressed in the responses from either of the two students. An example question could be this: Do you think a government should use tax dollars to ensure quality health care for its citizens, or should paying for health care be the responsibility of individuals? Why? The third type of prompt is a question where the only options are to agree or disagree, essentially a "Yes/No" question, and to support your choice. Whatever the first student's response is (for or against), the second student's response will be the opposite choice. Typically, in your own response, you should follow up on points made by both students (but you can also ignore how both students answered, or how just one of them answered), as well as adding in further reasons or explanations and ideas of your own.

Although this task is an academic discussion, the topics will be something you should be able to easily relate to, or an issue you are familiar with, or perhaps something covered in the news recently. It definitely won't be something as simple as explaining what your favorite color is, but you're also not going to have to argue the pros and cons of cloning human DNA. As with the other sections of the TOEFL, the subjects can be from any field of study available to a first year student at university: education, political science, environmental science, sociology, economics, health, etc.

You will have 10 minutes (the timer counts down in the upper right of the page) for this task. It is not 10 minutes JUST to write your response, but 10 minutes to read the directions (the wording of the directions is always the same except for the type of class (what subject the Professor teaches) the discussion is in), the Professor portion, and the two students' responses too. The text section for the Professor and the two students will in total be about 200 words to read. Your response should be at least 100 words long. You need to write in your own words. On the actual exam, you cannot use or rely on AI, or use content from the Internet, or use any templates (unless you have them memorized). Expect a lower score (even 0) if ETS decides your response wasn't in your own words. Also remember that while it is an online discussion, and the tone of the two students' response may be a bit casual, it is not a chat room, you need to still use formal English.

The main factors that are used to grade this response are how well it adds to the online discussion, development, organization, and language use. Development is how much support do you give to your opinion. Did you give enough details, examples and reasons that relate to the topic, and contributes to the online discussion? For organization, does your response make sense? Does it progress logically? Would a person easily understand what you are trying to convey, or would they be confused? Language use covers grammar, spelling, vocabulary, word choice and sentence structure. How many errors did you make? Are the errors bad enough that the grader would have a hard time understanding what you mean? You also want to show a range of vocabulary and sentence types. How well you communicate your ideas in comparison to a native speaker is also a factor.

Sample question:

You can get a good feel for what the different Writing question types are like if you do all of our free mini-TOEFL tests. So be sure to check them out.

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