TOEFL BOOSTER / Support or challenge? Write it out

Lawrance J. Zwier / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Many people who take the Internet-based TOEFL (iBT) worry a lot about the writing section–especially about the part called the “integrated task.” As we’ll see shortly, this worry may be misplaced. You can actually prepare pretty well for this part if you understand the nature of the task before you begin.
You probably know that the writing section asks for two pieces of writing. One is called the independent task. It comes second in the writing section. A prompt asks you to express a personal opinion or describe personal experiences. It’s called “independent” because you get all necessary information from inside your own mind. You don’t have to read or listen to anything in order to gather information.
The integrated task is the other task. It’s called “integrated” because it calls for a combination of skills–not only writing but also reading and listening skills–to complete the task. It comes first in the writing section. You will have three minutes to read a short passage. After that you will listen to a short lecture (about two minutes) about some academic topic. You must use information from these sources in order to answer a question.
Of course, this exercises your English skills quite broadly–you read, listen, and write. A person who does well on this part of the test probably is quite proficient in English. However, that does not mean you should be frightened by the task. If you approach it confidently, knowing what to expect, you can produce an essay that truly shows off your writing skills.
Most importantly, you should know that the prompt for the integrated task always asks for one of two possible things: (1) Explain ways in which the listening passage “supports” (or “strengthens the points in”) the reading, or (2) Explain ways in which the listening passage “challenges” (or “casts doubt on”) the reading.
These are the only two relationships that are tested in the iBT. The prompt will never ask you to write a cause-effect essay, comparison-contrast essay, or any of several other types. You only need to know how to express “support” or “challenge.”
To see how these relationships could be expressed, let’s look at some very small samples of reading and listening passages and try answering a sample prompt.
SAMPLE READING PASSAGE
Primary credit for inventing the Internet should go to a U.S. government agency named the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was created in the late 1950s, at about the same time as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which is famous for its space program. Both agencies set up in response to Sputnik in 1957, the first satellite launched by the former Soviet Union. The Eisenhower administration wanted to set up an agency that could do a lot of advanced research very fast. One of the best features of DARPA is that its projects do not have to be individually approved by legislators or other top bureaucrats. If DARPA sees value in a project, it can proceed quickly. DARPA also needs to keep its work largely under wraps for fear that other organizations steal their research and beat the agency to the market. Secrecy is important, and so far DARPA has been trustworthy with taxpayers’ money.
SAMPLE LECTURE PASSAGE
Today, let’s talk a little bit about scientific innovation. In particular, there’s this thing about who invented the Internet. A lot of people credit a government agency called DARPA. Others say it was some early techie like Tim Berners-Lee. The correct answer is…no one person or organization invented the Internet. Lots of people put the basics together and then it grew organically as more used it. DARPA was founded in the 1950s because the U.S. techie community was shocked by the success of the Soviet space program. DARPA, by the way, is a great source of inventions, but I have a few problems with it. It’s very secretive. We probably hear about only one-third of what DARPA is working on. It’s all great stuff–like road surfaces that won’t crack–but how can we know that they aren’t wasting our public tax money?
SAMPLE PROMPT
Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.
“Cast doubt on” means “make something seem untrue.” This prompt wants you not only to summarize the lecture’s points but also say how they make parts of the reading seem untrue. Here are a couple of things you could say:
SAMPLE PARTIAL RESPONSE
(Numbers indicate sentences)
(1) The lecture is about the birth of the Internet and about an agency named DARPA. (2) Unlike the reading, the lecture does not portray DARPA as the inventor of the Internet. (3) Instead, it credits a large number of people as the inventors. (4) The listening passage is also more negative about DARPA than the reading is. (5) The reading portrays DARPA’s secrecy as a good thing, as a feature that allows the agency to produce inventions quickly. (6) The lecture, on the other hand, says that DARPA’s secrecy is a bad thing. (7) The lecturer feels that the secrecy prevents taxpayers from knowing whether their money is being spent wisely.
Our sample response (105 words long) is much shorter than what you’d produce on a real iBT. For the real iBT, you are expected to write between 150 and 225 words for the integrated task within 20 minutes. However, the sample response does demonstrate some useful structures. Notice these: “does not…instead” in sentences (2) and (3); “more negative…than” in sentence (4); “on the other hand” in sentence (6).
Notice also that the sample response does specifically address points from the reading–who invented the Internet and how DARPA works. The people rating an iBT response like this would probably give it a good rating because it does exactly what the prompt requires.
As you get ready to take the iBT, remember these clear characteristics of this writing task. It will increase your confidence and help you get a high score.
Next month, we’ll turn our attention to some techniques for doing well in the integrated writing task.
Zwier teaches in the English Language Center at Michigan State University. He has written numerous books about the Internet-based TOEFL test.
(Mar. 25, 2010)

TOEFL BOOSTER / Support or challenge? Write it outLawrance J. Zwier / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Many people who take the Internet-based TOEFL (iBT) worry a lot about the writing section–especially about the part called the “integrated task.” As we’ll see shortly, this worry may be misplaced. You can actually prepare pretty well for this part if you understand the nature of the task before you begin.
You probably know that the writing section asks for two pieces of writing. One is called the independent task. It comes second in the writing section. A prompt asks you to express a personal opinion or describe personal experiences. It’s called “independent” because you get all necessary information from inside your own mind. You don’t have to read or listen to anything in order to gather information.
The integrated task is the other task. It’s called “integrated” because it calls for a combination of skills–not only writing but also reading and listening skills–to complete the task. It comes first in the writing section. You will have three minutes to read a short passage. After that you will listen to a short lecture (about two minutes) about some academic topic. You must use information from these sources in order to answer a question.
Of course, this exercises your English skills quite broadly–you read, listen, and write. A person who does well on this part of the test probably is quite proficient in English. However, that does not mean you should be frightened by the task. If you approach it confidently, knowing what to expect, you can produce an essay that truly shows off your writing skills.
Most importantly, you should know that the prompt for the integrated task always asks for one of two possible things: (1) Explain ways in which the listening passage “supports” (or “strengthens the points in”) the reading, or (2) Explain ways in which the listening passage “challenges” (or “casts doubt on”) the reading.
These are the only two relationships that are tested in the iBT. The prompt will never ask you to write a cause-effect essay, comparison-contrast essay, or any of several other types. You only need to know how to express “support” or “challenge.”
To see how these relationships could be expressed, let’s look at some very small samples of reading and listening passages and try answering a sample prompt.
SAMPLE READING PASSAGE
Primary credit for inventing the Internet should go to a U.S. government agency named the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was created in the late 1950s, at about the same time as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which is famous for its space program. Both agencies set up in response to Sputnik in 1957, the first satellite launched by the former Soviet Union. The Eisenhower administration wanted to set up an agency that could do a lot of advanced research very fast. One of the best features of DARPA is that its projects do not have to be individually approved by legislators or other top bureaucrats. If DARPA sees value in a project, it can proceed quickly. DARPA also needs to keep its work largely under wraps for fear that other organizations steal their research and beat the agency to the market. Secrecy is important, and so far DARPA has been trustworthy with taxpayers’ money.
SAMPLE LECTURE PASSAGE
Today, let’s talk a little bit about scientific innovation. In particular, there’s this thing about who invented the Internet. A lot of people credit a government agency called DARPA. Others say it was some early techie like Tim Berners-Lee. The correct answer is…no one person or organization invented the Internet. Lots of people put the basics together and then it grew organically as more used it. DARPA was founded in the 1950s because the U.S. techie community was shocked by the success of the Soviet space program. DARPA, by the way, is a great source of inventions, but I have a few problems with it. It’s very secretive. We probably hear about only one-third of what DARPA is working on. It’s all great stuff–like road surfaces that won’t crack–but how can we know that they aren’t wasting our public tax money?
SAMPLE PROMPT
Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.
“Cast doubt on” means “make something seem untrue.” This prompt wants you not only to summarize the lecture’s points but also say how they make parts of the reading seem untrue. Here are a couple of things you could say:
SAMPLE PARTIAL RESPONSE
(Numbers indicate sentences)
(1) The lecture is about the birth of the Internet and about an agency named DARPA. (2) Unlike the reading, the lecture does not portray DARPA as the inventor of the Internet. (3) Instead, it credits a large number of people as the inventors. (4) The listening passage is also more negative about DARPA than the reading is. (5) The reading portrays DARPA’s secrecy as a good thing, as a feature that allows the agency to produce inventions quickly. (6) The lecture, on the other hand, says that DARPA’s secrecy is a bad thing. (7) The lecturer feels that the secrecy prevents taxpayers from knowing whether their money is being spent wisely.
Our sample response (105 words long) is much shorter than what you’d produce on a real iBT. For the real iBT, you are expected to write between 150 and 225 words for the integrated task within 20 minutes. However, the sample response does demonstrate some useful structures. Notice these: “does not…instead” in sentences (2) and (3); “more negative…than” in sentence (4); “on the other hand” in sentence (6).
Notice also that the sample response does specifically address points from the reading–who invented the Internet and how DARPA works. The people rating an iBT response like this would probably give it a good rating because it does exactly what the prompt requires.
As you get ready to take the iBT, remember these clear characteristics of this writing task. It will increase your confidence and help you get a high score.
Next month, we’ll turn our attention to some techniques for doing well in the integrated writing task.
Zwier teaches in the English Language Center at Michigan State University. He has written numerous books about the Internet-based TOEFL test.
(Mar. 25, 2010)

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