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There is an expression in Portuguese, which translates as “Complaining with your belly full”. I got 115/120 in the TOEFL iBT, so I should be grateful and count my blessings! Still, I was not entirely happy with my 26/30 in the TOEFL writing, but I was extra annoyed to discover that it was my TOEFL integrated writing skills that had let me down.

I’d love to share what I wrote with you, but without being able to look over my actual essay, I’m going to have to speculate on what went wrong for me.

TOEFL integrated writing
Poor TOEFL integrated writing score? Huh … even for a native speaker!

What is involved in the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task?

In this task, you have to read a short passage then listen to a lecturer addressing all of the topics you have just read about. The lecturer may be agreeing or disagreeing with the passage.

I’m not allowed to go into any specifics about the TOEFL integrated writing task I encountered in my own TOEFL iBT – I have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the ETS, as will you come test day – but I can say that Jamal and I had a short, uncomplicated passage to read on a people from ancient history and proof of their origins. The writer had proposed three pieces of evidence as to why it was clear that these people had come from elsewhere.

We then heard a lecture by a woman who was negating all of the evidence we had read about. It was very clear what she was referring to as her counter-arguments followed the same order as the written piece.

TOEFL Integrated Writing
So, what went wrong then?

By the way, you can fill out the form below to download a free TOEFL ‘independent writing’ essay sample!

Where did I go wrong on the TOEFL integrated writing task?

I am going to use the marking rubric used by the ETS to suggest reasons for my relatively poor showing in the integrated writing section of the TOEFL iBT and what you should do to get a better mark.

‘An important idea or ideas may be missing, unclear, or inaccurate’

  • Make your notes accurate and to the point.
  • You have got to blend the template that I’ll give you in this blog post with the notes you’ll be making while you listen/read during the test.

‘There may be unclarity (sic.) in how the lecture and the reading passage are related’

  • This is irritating: ‘unclarity’ is a made-up word. Suggested synonyms for the ETS to use in the future include obscurity or lack of clarity.
  • Be blatant about the connections between the two elements about which you are writing.
  • There will be links between the topics covered in the lecture and the passage, so be sure to write about those.
  • Don’t write a long, rambling introduction or conclusion. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I suspect this may have been my main problem. Perhaps the introduction and conclusion were a bit over-the-top.

‘Grammatical mistakes or vague/incorrect uses of words may make the writing difficult to understand’

  • This one leaves me stumped, to be honest. Maybe I suffered a mini-stroke and didn’t realize… or maybe I just used complex sentence structure and should have kept it simple!

Below is a very useful template to follow when you’re confronted with an integrated writing task where the lecture contradicts the passage, such as the one I was faced with in my TOEFL iBT. Where I have used XXX or YYY, use specific information taken from either the passage or the lecture.

While the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that (YYY). There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.


First, while the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture implies that (YYY).

Next, the lecture mentions that (YYY). However, this contradicts the claim of the passage, that (XXX).

Finally, while the passage stated (XXX), the lecture says that (YYY).

To flesh this out, your essay would read something like this:

While the passage stated that hamburgers are one of the healthiest sources of protein in the world, the lecturer did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that hamburgers are high in unhealthy fat and are often even carcinogenic. There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.

First, while the passage stated that hamburgers were invented in Hamburg in northern Germany by servants of the king who were unsure what they could make with unexpected quantities of ground beef, the lecture implies that it was nineteenth-century German immigrants to the United States who first brought this foodstuff to prominence.

Next, the passage mentions that hamburgers were widely consumed by the Confederate Army during the US civil war in unprecedented quantities. However, this contradicts the claim in the lecture that fresh meat was scarce during that conflict and many soldiers’ diets were entirely bereft of meat for the duration of their service.

Finally, while the passage stated that hamburgers are today considered the height of fine-dining by many across the world, the lecturer says that, although they are very popular, one would not find the world’s best restaurants selling them on their menus.

Do you need help preparing for the TOEFL integrated writing task? We’re here to help! 

Check out this video from our E2 TOEFL YouTube channel:

Don’t be underprepared on test day! Ensure that you start planning your TOEFL preparation time

Written by Colin David

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