How TOEFL writing tasks are scored

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored is, in the fourth section, that ETS rates TOEFL iBT writing tasks from 0-5.  Furthermore, ETS bases these wholistic scores on the iBT writing rubrics. Lastly, ETS combines the sum of these two writing tasks to a total of 0 -30 points:

24-30 = Good

17-23 = Fair

1-16 = Limited

0 = Incompetent

This blog post familiarizes you with the scoring system ETS uses.  Understanding how ETS scores your writing will help you understand what you need to do to score in the 24-30 points. ETS uses both human raters and eRater®  to score your writing tasks. According to ETS, human raters will judge your writing for content and meaning. In addition, ETS uses an automated scoring engine called eRater®  to score your essay for linguistic features.

ETS bases your integrated writing task score on the following: development, organization, grammar, vocabulary, and accuracy and completeness.

Similarly, specific factors relating to development, organization, grammar, and vocabulary will determine whether or not you have an overall high writing quality as it relates to the TOEFL independent writing task.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The development of your integrated writing task

Development refers to how well you explain the most important points from the reading and the listening passage.  Keep in mind the following tips to help you score as high as possible in this area:

  • Limit the first paragraph to about 25-30 words.
  • Each body paragraph should be around 100 words, which is halfway between the 50-150 word suggestion in most writing handbooks. You should use three body paragraphs.
  • To avoid being biased, spend about 50 words in each paragraph discussing an important point and a detail from the reading passage. Then spend another 50 words discussing an important point from the lecture plus a detail.
  • Write a 25 word conclusion.

See a mock integrated writing practice test plus a model response: CLICK HERE.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The organization of your integrated writing task

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored
How TOEFL writing tasks are scored

Organization means that there is an overall connectedness to your ideas and that your sentence to sentence organization is also apparent.

To improve your overall organization, follow these tips:

  • Separate your integrated writing task into five paragraphs: introduction, three body paragraphs, and a twenty-five word conclusion.
  • The introduction can be a compound sentence connecting the main points of the reading and the listening passage.
  • Each body paragraph should have clearly marked topic sentences. In addition, you will need another topic sentence in the middle of each paragraph as you transition from the main point in a reading passage to a main point in a listening passage.
  • Use a transition word at the beginning of each body paragraph (i.e., first, second, third…); after you finish discussing the reading, use a transition word of contrast (i.e., in contrast, however, on the other hand, conversely…) to introduce the points in the listening.
  • From one sentence to the next, use words in one sentence that repeat or rephrase  words in the previous sentence:  The reading passage discusses the idea that successful businesses should encourage employees to read documents in their entiretyReading everything in all reports, according to the author, will help employees to master the concepts needed to perform their jobs.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The grammar of your integrated writing task

E-rater scoring engine will be analyzing your grammar in addition to having a human rater read your essay. Therefore, keep in mind a few things that you should follow so that you can get the highest marks possible with your grammar.

  • Use a combination of longer sentences (20-40 words) with medium (15-20 words) and short sentences (10-14 words). Generally, the short sentence is the exception in your writing. Use short sentences when you want to emphasize important ideas.
  • Keep your reporting verbs in the simple present as you discuss information from the reading and the listening passage.  Learn more about to use reporting verbs in your integrated writing task.
  • Write from the third person point of view by using some of the following phrases: the author in the reading passage states; according to the lecture, the speaker asserts; and another point the speaker makes is.
  • Avoid personal pronouns such as I, you, we, or any other words that affect the objective tone that you are trying to convey in this writing task.
  • Take the following TOEFL grammar diagnostic post-test: CLICK HERE. Then, based on your errors, study the recommended web sites to improve your grammar proficiency. Also, check out the following article, which includes further information about syntactic variety.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The vocabulary of your integrated writing task

In addition to a human rater, ETS will use eRater to score your integrated task. Therefore, keep in mind the following:

  • The more you copy from the reading and the listening passage, the lower your score will become. Instead, you should be summarizing the two texts. As a result, you should use different vocabulary and grammar to explain your ideas.
  • You should use a variety of reporting verbs as you explain the information from the reading and listening passages.  Do NOT rely on the same words over and over to explain the main points of the reading passage. Learn more about reporting verbs.
  • Do NOT use the same transition words over and over. eRater will infer that you have vocabulary limitations if you do that. Learn more about transition words.
  • Since eRater can check every word you use against a database of 1000’s of college-level words, it makes sense that you increase the number of college-level words that you can use when you write. The idea is that you have a good enough base so that you can use college-level words to paraphrase and summarize content.  A good start is to make sure that you can use every word on this vocabulary list: Get 1,700 college-level words right now.
  • In your conclusion, restate the introduction using different vocabulary and grammar. The idea is that you show that you have a wide range of vocabulary and grammar choices.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The accuracy and completeness of your integrated writing task

Typically, a reading passage will include three ideas of about a topic. Then the author will include some supporting details for each topic.  Similarly, the lecture will also present three main points.  These three points will contradict the information in the reading passage. The speaker will also present some specific details to illustrate each of these points. To make sure that you do not leave out any important information, heed these suggestions:

  • Before taking the TOEFL exam, make you have a good note-taking system that can record the most important points from the reading and listening passages. Learn more about note-taking.
  • During the TOEFL exam, focus on getting three main points plus three supporting details from the content in the reading passage.
  • In the same manner, during the listening passage, concentrate on getting additional three main points plus three supporting details. Organize your notes so that you can juxtapose reading point 1 with listening point 1, reading point 2 with listening point 2, and reading point 3 with listening point 3. See below example:


How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The development of your independent writing task

Improve your TOEFL writing
Improve your TOEFL writing

To get the highest score in this area, I recommend the following: 100 word introduction, three 100 word body paragraphs,  and a 25 word conclusion. As a result, about 425-450 words will showcase your ability to develop your topic.  Here are some general guidelines to help you develop your ideas with more depth and complexity of thought.

  • In the introduction, make some general statements about your topic. Include a hook to engage readers’ interest. Narrow topic down to the main ideas relating to your writing prompt. Finally, include a sharply-focused thesis.
  • Generally, each body paragraph should start with a topic to frame the paragraph’s purpose.  Then use an example to illustrate that purpose.  Finally, spend about 80 words discussing one example. In your explanation, make it obvious how it relates to your paragraph’s purpose.
  • As you elaborate on the examples, you should provide specific words or concrete details to illustrate your ideas.
  • Remember you should be developing your ideas at three coherent layers of meaning: main ideas, support ideas, and sub-support ideas.  Your thesis includes your main ideas for the entire essay. Each body paragraph begins with a support point. Lastly, after each topic sentence, your body paragraphs should state your sub-support points. Do NOT include general statements or imprecise words in the middle of your body paragraphs.

To understand more about how to develop your ideas,  read this article I wrote.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The organization of your independent writing task

To score high, you must clearly connect old and new information.  A few guidelines here will help you create a highly coherent essay:

  • Make sure that you have a sharply-focused thesis statement in the introduction.  Learn more. In addition, the following web page will show you a simple trick for creating a sharply-focused thesis for the TOEFL independent writing task: Learn more.
  • Restate each point from the thesis in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs. Get some practice creating topic sentences right now: CLICK HERE.
  • Keep all the details you use focused around the topic of that paragraph.  If possible, only bring up one detail per paragraph and spend about 80 words explaining that detail. Go here to see a TOEFL independent model essay that has paragraph unity:  CLICK HERE.
  • Use TOEFL connecting words to link the old and new information.
  • Tie your conclusion back to your introduction.  To do this, restate the thesis and its key points in different words and grammar.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The grammar of your independent writing task

Improve your TOEFL grammar
Improve your TOEFL grammar

In addition to a human rater, eRater will also evaluate your writing as it relates to grammar. As a result, following these general guidelines:

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: The vocabulary of your independent writing task

Like the integrated task, eRater will compare your vocabulary against a database of 1000’s of words. Hence, using mostly basic vocabulary will cause you to score lower. Thus, you need to improve your vocabulary.  Here are some general tips to help you:

  • Make sure you are familiar enough with all the words on this 1,700 college-level word list.
  • Be careful of using the same word repeatedly. Your goal is to use a wide range of precise words to help you articulate your argument. If you use “student” in  one sentence, you might consider using “classmates” or “pupils” in another sentence.
  • Avoid generic words that do not have much meaning: good, excellent, bad, stuff, things, and so on.
  • Do not use the same transition word more than once.  For example, if you use “however,” the next time choose a word like “in contrast.”
  • Here are some additional web pages to help you improve your vocabulary: basic and advanced vocabulary usage, how to learn vocabulary words quickly, and effective method for learning vocabulary words.

How TOEFL writing tasks are scored: Final comments

Now you know how your writing tasks are scored.

  • For only $45 monthly, you can begin sending me speaking and writing practice tests every day. I will score each of your speaking and writing practice tests so you can monitor your progress.
  • In addition, you will have unlimited access to STEALTH, “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.”
  • Finally, the first week of subscribing to my course is free. That way you can try before you buy.
  • Join my course today:

Thank you for visiting my web page. I hope that you found this lesson useful.

Michael Buckhoff,

2 thoughts on “How TOEFL writing tasks are scored”

  1. Pingback: Free TOEFL Writing Feedback - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.