Video Title: Inside the TOEFL® Test - Writing Question 1
People in this video
ETS® TOEFL® - Inside the TOEFL® Test
Michael: Hi, I'm Michael from ETS, and welcome to Inside the TOEFL test.
Michael: Today, we're going inside the TOEFL iBT writing section; specifically, question one, the Integrated Writing question. So, in the next few minutes we're going to look at how the question is structured, how to approach the question, how your response is scored. We'll look at a sample response that received a high score, and we'll give you some tips for improving your writing skills.
On-screen: ETS TOEFL® - Writing Question 1
- Question Structure
- Approach Tips
- Scoring Criteria
- Sample Response
- Skill-Building Tips
Michael: So, here's generally what question one will look like. 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. Then, you will have 20 minutes to type your response at the computer. There is no maximum length for your response, but typically an effective response has between 150 and 225 words.
- 20 minutes
- 150 to 225 words
Critics say that current voting systems used in the United States are inefficient and often lead to the inaccurate counting of votes. Miscounts can be especially damaging if an election is closely contested. Those critics would like the traditional systems to be replaced with far more efficient and trustworthy computerized voting systems.
In traditional voting, one major source of inaccuracy is that people accidentally vote for the wrong candidate. Voters usually have to find the name of their candidate on a large sheet of paper containing many names—the ballot—and make a small mark next to that name. People with poor eyesight can easily mark the wrong name. The computerized voting machines have an easy-to-use-touch-screen technology: to cast a vote, a voter needs only to touch the candidate; voters can even have the computer magnify the name for easier viewing.
Another major problem with old voting systems is that they rely heavily on people to count the votes. Officials must often count up the votes one by one, going through every ballot and recording the vote. Since they have to deal with thousands of ballots, it is almost inevitable that they will make mistakes. If an error is detected, a long and expensive recount has to take place. In contrast computerized systems remove the possibility of human error, since all the vote counting is done quickly and automatically by the computers.
Finally some people say it is too risky to implement complicated voting technology nationwide. But without giving it a thought, governments and individuals alike trust other complex computer technology every day to be perfectly accurate in banking transactions as well as in the communication of highly sensitive information.
Michael: Now, let's look more closely at what the Integrated Writing question is asking you to do.
On-screen: Reading Passage
- 3 minutes to read
- look for the main idea
- take notes on key points
- don't need to memorize
Michael: 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. 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.
- same topic, different perspective
- 2 minutes
- take notes
- listen for points that respond to the reading passage
Michael: 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.
- Summarize the points in the lecture
- Explain how they relate to specific points in the reading passage
Michael: 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.
Michael: Now that you understand how the question is presented, here are some strategies for what to do as you prepare and write your response.
Current voting systems are inaccurate and unreliable. They should be replaced by computerized voting.
Michael: As we mentioned about the reading passage, it's important to identify the main idea, which is usually in the first paragraph, and see how it's developed. Usually, there will be three points that support that main idea.
Michael: For this passage about computerized voting, the main idea is stated in the first paragraph. It basically says that current voting systems are inaccurate and unreliable, and should be replaced by computerized voting systems.
- Computerized voting would reduce mistakes by people when they vote.
- It would reduce mistakes people make when they count the votes.
- Not any riskier than other common electronic transactions like banking.
Michael: You'll find the three supporting points in the next three paragraphs. Computerized voting would reduce the mistakes people make when they vote. It would reduce the mistakes people make when they count the votes, and it isn't any riskier than any other widely used electronic transactions like in banking.
In the listening passage, the speaker's going to indicate his or her perspective near the beginning of the lecture. So, be sure to listen carefully. In this case, it's clear that the speaker opposes a change to electronic voting.
It's doubtful that computerized voting would solve the problems of voting.
Audio Example: It's doubtful that computerized voting will make the situation any better. [Audio fades out to background]
Michael: Then, when you're taking notes during the listening passage, remember you're looking for specific points that relate to the points in the reading.
Audio Example: These voters can easily cast the wrong vote or be discouraged from voting all together because of fear of technology. Furthermore, it's true that humans make mistakes when they count up ballots by hand, but are we sure that computers will do a better job? After all, computers are programmed by humans. So, human error can show up in mistakes in their programs, and in many voting systems, there is no physical record of the votes. So, a computer recount in the case of a suspected error is impossible. As for our trust of computer technology for banking and communications, remember one thing, these systems are used daily and they are used heavily, but voting happens only once every two years nationally in the United States, and not much more than twice a year in many local areas. This is hardly sufficient for us to develop confidence that computerized voting can be fully trusted.
Michael: In this example, the speaker makes several points. So, after you find those key points in the lecture, you may be able to match up those points with the main points from the reading.
- People not familiar with computers can vote incorrectly or not at all if they are afraid of them.
- Computers can also make mistakes counting votes if programmed poorly.
- Computer voting systems don't have written records that can be checked.
- Computers for banking are used every day. Voting machines are used only once or twice a year.
On-screen: Answer the question!
- Summarize the lecture
- How the lecture responds to the points in the reading passage.
Michael: Finally, and this may sound obvious, make sure you answer the question. The question will always ask you to summarize the lecture and it will always ask you how the lecture responds to the points made in the reading passage. So, if you only write about what's in the reading passage, you're not answering the question.
On-screen: Scoring criteria
Michael: 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.
On-screen: Accurate development
Michael: For question one, the Integrated Writing question, raters are looking for three main things – accurate development, organization and language use.
- How well you select important information from the lecture.
How well you present it in relation to relevant information from the reading.
Michael: 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.
- Write in paragraphs
- Use transitions
- Avoid redundancy
Michael: 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.
On-screen: Language use
- Sentence structure
- Word choice
- Use of grammar
Michael: 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.
On-screen: Sample response
Michael: Now, let's look at a sample response to this same question about computerized voting that received a score of five on a five-point scale. This response is very well organized and it does a very good job of selecting the important information from the points made in the lecture and explaining how the information relates to each of the claims made in the reading passage.
On-screen: Score of 5 on a 5-point scale
- Well organized
- Selects important information from the lecture
- Explains how the points in the lecture relate to claims in the reading passage
Michael: First, it says that many voters are unfamiliar with computers. So, some voters may end up not voting at all, and this counters the argument that computerized voting is more user friendly and prevents the voting results from being distorted.
Second, it directly challenges the argument that computerized voting will result in fewer miscounts by saying that computer programming errors could results in even larger miscount or the loss of voting records.
Third, it rejects the idea that computerized voting would be similar to computerized banking by pointing out that the computerized banking is only reliable because it is so frequently used, and that does not apply to voting.
On-screen: Score of 5 on a 5-point scale
Michael: So, overall, the response is well organized, and it shows the writer really understands how to explain the ways in which one source disagrees with another. There are occasional minor language errors like "Some people are not used of computers," instead of "Some people are not used to computers," and making "miscounted" two words instead of one, but there aren't very many of these kinds of errors. Most important, they don't make the content of the response unclear or inaccurate. So, this response would receive the highest score of five out of five. It's a good example of how your response doesn't have to be perfect to get a high score. For more details about scoring this type of question, look at the Integrated Writing Rubrics.
On-screen: Skill-Building Tips
Practice paraphrasing, which is expressing the same idea in different ways
Michael: Now here are a few tips that can help you improve your writing skills. First, practice paraphrasing, which is expressing the same idea in different ways. Knowing how to paraphrase is important because it gives you more options when you need to respond to a question. You can practice paraphrasing just about anything — a news article, a television ad, an email from a friend, a poem, basically anything you read or hear.
On-screen: Build your vocabulary
Practice using synonyms when you write.
Michael: To be able to paraphrase well and to write well, you need to build your vocabulary. It's important to be able to use synonyms of key words when you write.
On-screen: Practice identifying main points
Listen to recorded lectures and write down the main points.
Michael: Next, remember how we said it was important to be able to identify main points? You can practice this by listening to recorded lectures and writing down what the main points are. This is a great activity to do with a study partner because you can compare notes.
Read two articles on the same topic and write a summary of each.
Explain ways they are similar and ways they are different.
Michael: Here's another tip: Read two articles that are on the same topic, and write a summary of each. Then, explain the ways in which they are similar and the ways that they're different.
On-screen: ETS TOEFL® Writing Question 1
Michael: There are lots of ways to improve your English skills. Whatever you do, keep practicing and good luck on your TOEFL test.
Total length of video: 9:22
You only have thirty minutes to write an essay that showcases your awesome English skills.
But you’re paralyzed with anxiety, thinking “what if I make a huge mistake?”
You know what’s more important than avoiding major mistakes?
Knowing the best tips, tricks and strategies for TOEFL Independent Writing section success.
Writing while being timed is not a very natural activity.
I mean, when else do you have to race against a clock to finish an essay?
This is a challenging task even for native English speakers.
Needless to say, many TOEFL takers feel that this is the most intimidating part of the exam.
We totally understand what you’re feeling, and we have a way to help.
My goal today is to give you all the information you’ll need to succeed with the TOEFL Independent Writing section.
Why Practice TOEFL Writing?
The simple answer? You want a better score.
This isn’t the only reason to practice TOEFL writing though. If you’re taking the TOEFL, it’s probably because you want to go to a university in another country.
The TOEFL is based on a lot of the things that foreign learners struggle with. Studying for the TOEFL will prepare you for university abroad. If you can get a high score on the TOEFL, it likely means you’re more prepared for the university environment where teachers will ask you to discuss or write about unfamiliar topics all the time.
Top Mistakes English Students Make on the TOEFL (and Why I Know)
As a former TOEFL rater, I read hundreds of essays per week.
I saw the same mistakes over and over again.
Mistakes do matter, so I’m going to share the most frequent ones with you before we get started.
The first one is to apologize to your rater for your English skills. We know you’re not a native speaker, so do not apologize to us. You’ll lower our expectations of the rest of your writing, which can only make things worse.
Another is to freeze up and write down almost nothing. Some ideas are better than no ideas. Don’t try to be perfect when the clock is ticking.
One more thing: remember that there’s also an Integrated Writing Section of the TOEFL which is completely different. In that section, your opinions and ideas should not be included, so make sure to study for that section separately.
10 Simple Strategies to Pass the TOEFL Independent Writing Section
There are some ways you can improve your score by using some basic strategies. Today, I’ll share them with you, along with ways that you can practice them. Some of these things will probably surprise you because they might be different from what your English teacher taught you in school — but just stay with me! I know what I’m talking about here, and I won’t guide you down the wrong path.
1. Practice timed writing before the day of the test.
Preparing an essay for English class and writing on the day of the TOEFL are completely different experiences. With an essay for class, you have tons of time to formulate your ideas and write them down carefully.
When a timer is involved, things change. You need to think fast, write fast and correct writing fast. You must practice this, especially if you aren’t good at typing on a computer keyboard. Choose a topic and set a timer for thirty minutes. Try to spend the entire 30 minutes writing, without stopping.
When the timer is finished, read your writing carefully to see how you did. How was your grammar? How many sentences could you write?
Do this several times per week. Lots of practice can really help you improve on the TOEFL. With practice, you’ll be able to think about ideas faster and type your responses out more quickly.
Eventually, you’ll want to take a complete TOEFL practice exam—it’s the only way to be fully prepared for the TOEFL. When you’re ready, take a TOEFL practice exam on BestMyTest. You’ll get a real score and a full review of your writing from a TOEFL certified teacher.
2. Think quality, not quantity.
Shorter, well-written responses are fine. Many of the responses that receive scores of 4 or 5 are only one paragraph long. On the other hand, many longer responses receive only a 2 or a 3. If you use transitions and clear language, you can fit all of your reasons and details into one smooth paragraph. That will really impress your rater.
If the response is too long, you’ll be in a rush and you won’t be able to check your grammar and vocabulary. You also might repeat yourself or include irrelevant specifics. Of course, don’t make your response so short that you can’t show off your ability to make a good argument.
3. Learn some basic sentence patterns that you can use comfortably.
TOEFL raters look at your ability to make different types of sentences. Create your own toolbox of different types of English connectors, such as “but,” “however,” and “although.” Practice writing sentences and use them in your TOEFL response. If you only use simple short sentences, your response won’t receive a high score. You don’t need to be a grammar expert, but you do need to show sentence variety.
4. Learn the common types of TOEFL prompts.
You won’t have a choice of your topic on the day of the TOEFL exam.
The topic will be a complete surprise.
However, Educational Testing Services (the makers of the TOEFL) publish sample topics on their website. If you study these, you can be more prepared.
Look for keywords that are repeated over and over in the prompts, like “prefer” or “oppose,” and make sure you understand their meanings and how to respond to the questions they’re asking.
Ask yourself: “Should I make a choice? Agree or disagree?”
Once you notice these patterns, they’re be easier to identify and respond to correctly on the day of the exam.
5. Have (or Fake) an Opinion.
Don’t say that you don’t have an opinion.
This is an argumentative essay. In many cultures, people don’t express their opinions directly — but you’ve got to do it on the TOEFL Independent Essay.
If it’s new for you to have an opinion and express it strongly, practice. When you read something or listen to something, think: “Do I agree or disagree? Do I support or oppose this decision?”
Have coffee with another ESL student and practice discussing current events. Talking about your opinions will make it easier to write about them. On the day of the TOEFL, choose the side you can argue best, even if it’s not your true opinion. If you don’t have an opinion on the TOEFL topic, invent one!
6. Brainstorm before you start your response.
It’s good to make a little plan before you start writing your TOEFL response. Don’t immediately start writing.
Instead, take 1-3 minutes to decide what you’ll write about and think about some reasons and examples. Again, usually you’ll have to choose between two opposite arguments. That means it’s useful to quickly brainstorm both sides and see which one you have the most reasons and details for, even if you truly think differently.
7. Write a basic thesis statement.
This is the first thing your rater will see, so you should make a clear and grammatically-correct sentence that states the main idea of your response. You don’t need an introductory paragraph, but you should definitely write a thesis statement. This can be borrowed mostly from the prompt itself.
For example, if your prompt says, “In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students. Do you think this is a good idea?” I can write “I think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students” or “I don’t think it’s a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are still students.” Simply take the words from the original prompt and create a strong opinion sentence. The rest of your essay will be built around this sentence which strongly and clearly states your opinion on the topic.
As you’re looking at sample TOEFL prompts, practice writing a thesis statement like this for each one.
On the day of the exam, your topic will probably be different from any sample topics you’ve looked at. Even so, the topics will probably be very similar overall. You don’t need to have much specific knowledge on any topic to succeed. It should be easy to write the thesis statement if you’ve already studied and practiced how to write.
8. Give specific reasons and details.
Every TOEFL prompt asks for specific reasons and details.
One reason a response receives a higher or lower score is because of the number of reasons and examples they can give.
To get the highest scores, you’ll need three different, well-written reasons along with specific details. When you do your timed practices at home, be sure to practice doing this.
Many students have trouble thinking of specific examples, but it’s an important part of good writing. You can also practice brainstorming or planning reasons even if you don’t write a complete response. You shouldn’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.
9. Stay on topic.
Unfortunately, you can’t choose or change your topic. Write only about the topic that’s given to you by the exam.
Keep in mind: TOEFL raters are always looking for pre-made essays. Some students will memorize essays before the TOEFL exam and use them instead of writing on their own. Therefore, one of the lowest scores students can receive is for missing the topic. Writing about a different topic is an easy way to get a low score. I don’t recommend trying to memorize an essay.
Honest, dedicated practice is much more useful and effective.
If there are unfamiliar words in the prompt, use context to guess their meanings. Try your best to write about the exact topic given to you. Don’t include sentences that don’t connect to your thesis statement — these irrelevant sentences will lower your score.
10. Edit your response if you have time.
Even native speakers make small mistakes in their writing, but if we read our essays again we can find our mistakes. Try to save the last 1-3 minutes for fixing your errors. Of course, the more grammar you learn the better you’ll become at fixing and avoiding errors as you write, but anyone can identify small mistakes in typing (typos) that would bring the score down.
That’s all we’ve got for now. Just keep practicing until next time, and good luck!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for more ways to practice for the TOEFL, try FluentU.
It’s a really useful study tool, but it’s also a lot of fun.
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If you want to watch it, FluentU’s probably got it.
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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.
Tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:
FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.
Videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples for the word you’re learning. This way, you’re not just practicing listening. You’re also learning the grammar and vocabulary in the videos. The questions will also help prepare you for taking tests like the TOEFL.
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