TOEFL iBT test Writing section
The TOEFL iBT test Writing section measures your ability to write in English in an academic setting, and to present your ideas in a clear, well-organized way.
On the TOEFL iBT writing section, students must complete two written essays. The first is the Integrated Writing Essay which essays involve both reading passages and listening excerpts. Students first read a brief text on a general or academic topic, and then listen to a portion of a lecture on that same topic. An essay prompt asks students to summarize what was discussed in the lecture and how it either supports or undermines the content of the reading passage.
On the Independent Writing Essay, students write an essay in response to a prompt that can deal with a wide variety of general topics. This task does not include any reading passages or lecture excerpts. Essay prompts typically ask students whether or not they agree with a certain statement, their opinions on issues of public interest, or what they would do in a given situation.
Total section timing is 50 minutes, which is divided into a 20-minute segment for an integrated writing task and a 30-minute block for an independent writing task. Writing tasks are scored based on the Writing Scoring Guides (Rubrics) (PDF) by a combination of AI scoring and certified human graders trained by ETS. Essays are assessed on a scale of 0 to 5 (on score reports, this is called a ”task rating“). Test-takers also receive a scaled writing section score of 0 to 30 along with brief and general comments on both essays. The primary criteria used by graders to evaluate essays are development, organization, and language use.
Integrated Writing Essay
The first task combines elements of listening and reading. You may be asked to listen to a lecture excerpt or a recording of a conversation, or you may need to read a short text. Taking notes during listening and reading is allowed. After listening or reading, you must then answer a question based on the content.
For this task, you will first read a passage about a topic. Then, you'll listen to a short lecture related to the same topic. And then, you will have 20 minutes to type your response at the computer. An effective response has between 150 and 225 words.
Now let’s look more closely at what the Integrated Writing question is asking you to do.
First, you'll see the reading passage, and you'll have three minutes to read it. So, as you read, look for the main idea of the passage, and take notes about key points that relate to that main idea. You don't need to memorize the passage because it will reappear on your screen when it's time to write.
Next, you'll listen to a lecture. The speaker will talk about the same topic from a different perspective for about two minutes. As you listen, you can take notes on your scratch paper. Listen for information that responds to the points in the reading passage.
You will only hear the listening passage once, and when it's finished the reading passage will reappear on your screen along with the question. The question will always ask you to summarize the points made in the lecture and explain how they relate to specific points in the reading passage.
Before the test, make sure you understand what the raters are looking for and how each question is scored. The tasks in the writing section will each be given an overall score from zero to five. For question one, the Integrated Writing question, raters are looking for three main things – accurate development, organization and language use.
First, accurate development: The raters are looking for how well you're able to select important information from the lecture, then clearly present it in relation to the relevant information from the reading.
Second, organization: This basically means the reader can read your essay from beginning to end without becoming confused. You can help the reader follow your ideas by writing in paragraphs and using good transitions; and avoid redundancy, which is saying the same things over and over, just using different words.
The third criterion is language use. Raters are looking for things like sentence structure, word choice and vocabulary. It's also important that your use of grammar is strong and consistent, though it doesn't have to be perfect to get a top score.
Independent Writing Essay
The second task is an opinion essay, where you are asked to offer your thoughts on a general question. The Independent Writing question will typically ask your opinion on an issue. So, often, you'll get a question such as, ”Do you agree or disagree?“, ”Which would you prefer?“, or ”Do you support or oppose this idea?“ Regardless of the question, you'll be expected to use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Let's look at some essay prompts:
- ”Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? A teacher's ability to relate well with students is more important than excellent knowledge of the subject being taught.“
- ”Some people like to travel with a companion. Other people prefer to travel alone. Which do you prefer?“
As indicated by the directions that accompany the essay prompt, the most effective independent essays are usually at least 300 words in length, have an the average sentence length of 25 words and the average word is five characters or longer.
ETS scores the Independent Writing Essay based on several criteria. The first measure is to “Effectively address the topic and task.” If the writing prompt asks you to compare and contrast an idea, you will need to organize your essay as such. Whatever the writing prompt asks you to write about, stay on topic.
The second descriptor that ETS lists “Is well-organized and well-developed, using clearly appropriate explanations, exemplifications, and or details.” In other words, have a main idea (this should be stated in your thesis), support points (these are stated in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs), and sub-support points (these are stated in the form of details such as explanations and examples). Typically, each body paragraph should contain a clearly framed topic sentence restating a key point mentioned in the thesis and should contain approximately 150 words. Do not use more than two details in each body paragraph.
Lastly, minimize vocabulary and grammar errors; show sentence variety, appropriate word choice, and idiomaticity. In other words, your writing should sound natural. Avoid generic, memorized details that could be used by anyone. Make your examples unique and personable.