Writing Study Guide for the TOEFL Test

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General Information

There are two tasks on the TOEFL Writing test, and both of them require a short essay. You will have a total of 50 minutes to complete the entire Writing section of the test. Here are descriptions of what to expect from the two tasks, which will be completed in this order.

  • Integrated Writing Task: You will be given 3 minutes to read a passage of 230 to 300 words and 2 minutes to listen to a spoken passage of the same length, on the same topic. You are allowed to take notes as you listen and read. Then, you will have about 15 minutes to write a summary of what you have read and heard. The summary should have approximately 150 to 225 words.

  • Independent Writing Task: You will have 30 minutes to write an answer to one essay question about a choice or an opinion. In doing so, you will need to support your position with details. The question will involve agreeing or disagreeing with a stated opinion or choice. The essay should have approximately 300 words.

To write a thorough and complete response (and get a good score), your written material should follow the recommended word count, although going over those numbers will have no penalty.


The trained scorers for the Writing test will take into consideration that the text you produce is a first draft, so they will not be looking for perfection. Here is how your Writing test will be scored.

Integrated Writing Task

Your performance on this task is graded by two ETS®-trained human scorers. You will be given a score of 0 to 5, based on these criteria:


One of the most important points in the scorers’ evaluation of your writing is organization. In other words, how you put your thoughts together. The scorers will look for signs that you really understand how to explain your response. When typing your response, make sure that you have an introduction and a good strong topic or main idea. This should be followed by supporting paragraphs and sentences that are in logical order.

Additionally, did you do what the task asked of you? Did you summarize, link ideas, compare and contrast, and did you develop them according to the task? In the integrated writing section, the tasks are different than that of the independent section. In the integrated section, you should not include your opinions.


Grammar is critical in the writing section. It is a way for the scorers to evaluate your language. Therefore, your grammar needs to be correct. It is easy to get it wrong. Let’s look at some areas in which your writing should be appropriate and precise.

  • Mixing tenses—Do not mix verb tenses in a sentence. There are instances where mixing tenses is allowed; however, for this test, it’s best not to risk it. Keep your tenses the same in the same sentence.

  • Sentence variety—The TOEFL scorers will also look at your ability to correctly write different types of sentences. Your responses should include simple sentences (“The university book club has a weekly meeting.”), compound sentences (“The university book club raised the fees, so she decided to quit.”), and complex sentences (“Though she was very rich, she still didn’t want to pay the higher fees.”). If you only use simple short sentences, your response won’t receive a high score.

  • Subject-Verb Agreement—When taking the TOEFL writing section, you must be certain that the subject and verb agree. You need to double-check your sentences and ask yourself, if the subject is singular, is the verb singular? Is the subject plural? Then the verb should be plural. Sometimes, the subject and verb are separated. They can be separated by a prepositional phrase. Remember that the prepositional phrase has no effect on the verb. For example, this is correct:

The effects of that rise in fees are likely to be devastating to the club.

These are the major grammatical areas that the scorers will consider. It’s important to practice grammar through online sites and/or practice books.


Vocabulary is another important area at which the scorers will look when evaluating your response and includes:

  • Word choice—You should choose words that are appropriate and accurate. Practice looking up synonyms for key words you know so that you can use those words in your writing.

  • Variety—Use a variety of words in your response. Don’t use the same words over and over again. Again, using synonyms is a good way to improve your writing and, thus, your score.

  • Idiomaticity—Idiomaticity involves how natural-sounding your writing is. Are you writing in the same manner as a native speaker? Are you using expressions that are associated with native speakers? For example, “Happy New Year” is preferred over “Merry New Year.”

The best ways to build your vocabulary are to study idiomatic expressions, read sample responses, and look up synonyms for keywords.

Content Completeness

An important skill in the writing task is content completeness. To improve your score here, it is important that your response shows that you understand the major ideas, important information in the passage and lecture, and their relationship. It is also important to finish. Your response should be complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end that reflects the task. Appropriate language and sentence structure also contribute to content completeness.

Content Accuracy

The TOEFL scorers will be asked to look for specific areas of accuracy in content. They will look to see if the writer accurately responded to the task (summarizing, paraphrasing, comparing, etc.). Therefore, it is important that you practice writing essays, as well as reading and reviewing sample TOEFL writing responses, and noting how they are developed.

Independent Writing Task

This task will be scored by one human scorer and one computer scorer (e-rater®). The score you receive will be between 0 and 5 and will only reflect the quality of your writing, regardless of which position you took in your essay. These things will be considered:


Just as in the integrated writing section, it is crucial that your response is developed naturally, accurately, and logically. When developing your response, remember that every TOEFL independent prompt will ask for specific reasons and details. Your response will receive a score based on the number of reasons and examples you give. To get the highest score, you’ll need three different, well-written reasons along with specific details. It can be difficult to think of specific examples when you have a time limit, but it is an important part of good writing. Don’t use statistics because you won’t be able to research during the exam. Instead, practice using experiences or facts from your general knowledge to support your thesis statements.

Organization, Grammar, and Vocabulary

Scoring for the independent essay includes the same three criteria as the integrated essay. Be sure to consider these, as described above, when preparing for either writing task.

Total Writing Score

From your scores on the two writing tasks, ETS will take the average and convert it to a scaled score. This just means that a total of 16 points will not convert to a total score of 16. You can see how the scores are converted on the chart on page 85 of this resource.


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