The TOEFL exam writing section includes an integrated task and an independent task, which work together to test your ability to communicate through writing in an academic environment. This is the last section of the test, and it will take about an hour to complete. The TOEFL integrated writing task will require you to read a passage, listen to a lecture, and then write an essay that uses information from both these sources. The independent task will be on a topic similar to those in speaking task #2—that is, it will ask you to use a personal experience to explain an opinion of yours.

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The TOEFL writing section will include one opinion question and one integrated question on an academic lecture and a reading passage. Both topics will be designed to suit a variety of people. The independent task will require no cultural knowledge and will only assume experience that almost everyone has, with a tendency to choose topics appropriate to students. It will not test you on outside knowledge. It will ask you to indicate a preference or choose which of two options you support.

How is the writing section scored?

The TOEFL writing section is scored by two trained graders. Each will give your essays a score on a scale of 1-5. If they give you very different scores, a third grader will review the essay to decide your final score. A high-scoring essay will be well-organized, will give clear arguments and examples to support them, and will include all of the important information from the given sources. To get a high score, you need to have a clear main point, and everything in your essay should contribute in some way to that point. As in the speaking section, a few minor language errors are not a major problem—this section is about communicating fully, so as long as your mistakes don’t interfere with communication and are not that numerous, then you probably don’t have much to worry about.

The integrated task may be on a wide variety of topics, including business, fine arts, history, anthropology, and so on—as in the reading section, almost everything that could be taught in an entry-level course is fair game, although you won’t encounter the hard sciences, math, and so on, since these would be unnecessarily difficult to write about. Reading about a variety of topics in your free time will help prepare you to write about whatever topic the integrated task may throw at you.

20 minutes for the essay

Altogether you will have 20 minutes to plan and write your integrated essay. The essay will not be long—most responses are between 150 and 225 words—but there’s still no time to waste. Remember that your organization and content are just as important as your language. Your essay needs to have a clear structure with separate points that transition smoothly. Most of all, it’s very important to draw from both the written and the spoken sources. If you only reference the written passage, the very best score your essay can get is a 1. In many ways, the integrated essay is a summary of the lecture that you heard, but be sure to mention both sources.

After you have finished the integrated essay, you’ll move immediately on to the independent essay. For this essay, you’ll be asked a question about your opinion on a given issue or topic. Your essay should explain your position on that issue. Usually, the independent essay is a little longer than the integrated one, since you’ll have more time to write it (30 minutes as opposed to 20).

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No wrong answers

Essay graders are told to accept any viewpoint, so it’s not possible to answer the question incorrectly. The most important thing is to support your argument and write as clearly as possible. Sometimes, this may even mean defending an opinion contrary to your own. If your real opinion is based on emotional arguments or abstractions rather than concrete facts or personal experiences, it may be better to choose the side that is easier to support. Usually, your real opinion will be easier to support (there's a reason you believe it, after all!), but it’s never a bad idea to rehearse defending positions which you don’t support in your practice essays, as this will teach you to be a good advocate in debates.