The TOEFL assesses a student’s ability to use and comprehend English in an academic context. It includes four sections, one of which is a two-part Writing portion. Here is how to prepare for the TOEFL Writing section:
Understanding the Integrated Writing and Independent Writing tasks
The TOEFL contains two writing tasks that test your skills: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. The Independent Writing portion is fairly straightforward—you will be asked a question about an issue, and then you will have 30 minutes to give your opinion in writing. While the question will not be overly difficult, the task will require you to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of written English, as well as the ability to clearly state your thoughts.
The Integrated Writing portion is a somewhat different task. In this case, you will be provided with a passage that you should read carefully. Then, you will be asked to listen to a short pre-recorded lecture on the same topic, but from a different perspective. You will finally have 20 minutes to summarize the lecture and to explain how it relates to the passage—again, in writing. The purpose of the Integrated Writing portion is to measure your ability to read, listen, and respond appropriately in English.
Preparing for the Integrated Writing and Independent Writing tasks
As is often the case with standardized tests, the content of the TOEFL Writing section is specific to each exam, and you will not know what is included until test day. Nevertheless, by studying, you can develop and strengthen the skills you will need to successfully complete these tasks.
As previously stated, the Independent Writing portion tests your ability to use English to articulate and support an opinion. Given this information, you can practice using any number of sources, from magazines, to newspapers, to textbooks. For instance, candidates who are running for political office will typically have short briefs available on their websites, each of which details their position on a variety of issues. Using one such brief, you can choose four or five points to respond to in writing. When completing this exercise, ask yourself whether you agree or disagree with the issue. Then, ask yourself why you have taken this position, citing examples from the candidate’s argument to support or defend your outlook. This demonstrates your ability to identify a thesis statement or topic sentence, to weigh the evidence provided, and to draw, state, and support your own conclusion in English.
Like the Independent Writing task, it is important to remember that you are being tested on your writing ability in the Integrated Writing portion, not your outside knowledge of the subject. Thus, you can study for this task fairly easily as long as you have access to two different sources about the same topic, like a magazine article and a video. It may be helpful to locate sources that present a different perspective or that are in conflict, like two reviews of a movie.
Once you have two sources, read and listen to them carefully. The objective of this task is to test your ability to compare two different but related texts. Imagine, for example, that you have two separate accounts of a party. Both talk about the music, the food, the atmosphere, and the guests, but their descriptions are unique. As you consider how to respond, think about how each text discussed the main points—what was similar and what was different about their descriptions?
The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate your ability to identify and articulate the relationship between the two text. You might also consider which you find more credible, and why. For example, did the person in the video provide more detail or evidence than the writing sample? Your success on the Integrated Writing portion of the TOEFL will depend heavily on how well you can identify, articulate, and explain all of these elements.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.