Word Limit For Toefl Essays

Video Title: Inside the TOEFL® Test - Writing Question 1

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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.

On-screen: Lecture

  • 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.

On-screen:Approach Tips

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.

On-screen:Main idea
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.

On-screen:Supporting points

  • 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.

On-screen: Organization

  • 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
  • Vocabulary
  • 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

TOEFL iBT Writing Skills

The last section of the TOEFL is Writing, which lasts for about 50 minutes. It consists of two parts: the integrated writing task (150-225 words) and the independent writing task (300-350 words).

If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing so much in such a short time, remember that writing is a skill that can be developed. Many TOEFL guidebooks, such as Delta, Longman, Cambridge, and Barron's, present detailed strategies to help you organize and focus your writing. They also provide sample essays and an analysis of high- and low-scoring responses. In addition, you will need to work with an experienced TOEFL teacher or register in a TOEFL exam prep program so that you can receive corrections and meaningful feeback on how to improve and strengthen your writing skills.

The integrated writing task comes first and is organized in the following way:

You read a passage - 3 minutes

You listen to a related lecture - 2 minutes

You write an essay - 20 minutes

In your response to the integrated question, you will be asked to summarize the points made in the lecture and either show how the lecture supports the points made in the reading passage or show how the lecture casts doubt on the points made in the reading passage.

It is helpful to make notes of the main points as you read, though the reading passage does reappear when it is time to write. More importantly, you must make notes while listening, as you have only one opportunity to hear the lecture. Listen carefully for arguments, explanations and examples which support or challenge the points made in the reading. It is essential that you take detailed notes while listening or you won’t have enough material to write about.

Your essay may be set up as one long paragraph or three paragraphs. In terms of organization, you have two ways in which you could structure your response: You could compare and contrast each point as you go along. For example, “The reading passage states that….” , “On the other hand, the lecture argues that… .” Alternatively, you could list all of the points made in the reading passage in one paragraph and all the points made in the lecture in the next paragraph.

The Princeton Review’s Cracking the TOEFL iBT gives a detailed essay structure you could follow in developing your integrated answer.

Bear in mind that for the integrated task, you are not being asked to give your opinion, but to relate what you have read and heard. Do only what the question asks you to do - no more and no less.

The second task in the Writing section is the independent essay. You have 30 minutes to write a four or five paragraph essay (about 300-350 words) in response to a single question.

The first thing you need to do is to identify the task clearly. The question may ask you to agree or disagree, make an argument, give an explanation or state a preference. Make sure you understand what you are being asked to do.

The next point is to take up to 5 minutes to plan your essay. Sometimes students avoid doing this because they feel it will take away from the limited time they have to write the essay. However, by planning in advance, you focus first on what to write and can then concentrate on how best to express your ideas.

You will also be able to organize your essay more effectively by setting out the points and examples in advance. Use concept maps, venn diagrams, mind maps or other brainstorming tools to help you conceptualize your essay. These planning techniques, along with practice exercises, are explained at length in Barron's How to Prepare for the TOEFL Essay.

If, while planning, you discover that you can’t think of enough reasons or examples to write a convincing essay, then you might consider adopting the opposite point of view. The emphasis is on generating lots of ideas and examples to write a strong essay, even if it’s not your true view on the subject. Having enough "meat" in your essay is more important than choosing a particular point of view.

You then have 20 minutes to write your essay. After deciding on your approach, state your position clearly in the first line or at least in the first paragraph. The examiner should not be left guessing where you stand on the given topic. After the introductory paragraph, you need to write two or three supporting paragraphs, which provide reasons and examples, and last, the conclusion. Always begin your essay with a strong introduction and end with a powerful conclusion so that the first impression and the last one are powerful and convincing.

Try to allot about 5 minutes at the end to review your essay and correct any obvious spelling, grammatical or vocabulary errors. If you're running out of time, try to add at least a one-line conclusion, so that your essay gives the impression of being complete.

Practice writing essays within the 30-minute time limit so that you feel comfortable doing so on the day of the test. Lastly, familiarize yourself with the full list of topics given in the ETS guidebook, The Official Guide to the New TOEFL iBT, so that you know the kind of topics to expect on your test. 

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