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.
- 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
How much is too much? Everybody knows that writing an essay that’s too short is a problem. But sometimes, students ask about the maximum essay length, thinking that either the graders will take off points or that the essay will simply be cut off, not able to continue.
But I can say in short, there is no maximum. You can write an enormous essay and get a perfect score.
Official recommendations from ETS
ETS (the company that makes the TOEFL) gives specific numbers for essay length in all their preparation material and during the actual test. The recommendations are simple:
- Integrated essay: 150 – 225 words
- Independent essay: 300 words
These aren’t maximum scores, nor are they minimums. But to be honest, an essay that’s shorter than these recommended lengths may not get a perfect score. Usually, top scoring essays are longer.
Still, writing much more does not mean a higher score.
Quantity and quality
There’s a clear reason why shorter essays might have lower scores—they don’t have enough room to include details. That means the essay is not just shorter, but also lower quality. A longer essay gives enough room to add those important details.
Still, a long essay can cause a problem. Imagine trying to write 1000 words in 30 minutes for the independent essay. How much will you be able to focus on grammar, vocabulary, structure, and clarity? Not much. The more you write, the less attention you can pay to each word and sentence.
In other words, it’s possible to write too much, but only because you’re not focusing on the more important aspects of your essay. It’s possible to write a 1000 word essay and get a perfect score, but I don’t recommend trying it. It’s much easier to write a 400 or 500 word essay with a perfect score.
So first, try to reach the recommended lengths from ETS. If you can write more, that’s best. But don’t worry about writing two times the recommended length—it’s better to focus on quality at that point, not quantity.