Getting the Main Idea of TOEFL Passages + Integrated Speaking and Writing Templates

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Objectives for this Article:

Understand the importance of note-taking during all sections of the exam.

Learn how to use your notes to answer main ideas questions during the reading and listening sections.

Learn how to use notes to frame sentences during the speaking and writing sections so that you accurately state the main points.

Become familiar with the structure of the integrated speaking and writing tasks.

During the reading section, you will be asked what the main idea is of 7-8 paragraph passages. In the listening section, you will also be asked to explain what the main idea is for passages which are 3-5 minutes in length. During the integrated speaking tasks, you will be asked to explain the relationship of reading and listening passages by identifying the main points and showing how they relate. Lastly, during the integrated writing task, you will need to explain the main points of reading and listening passages and show what the relationship is between the two sources. Here are some examples of what this type of question might look like during the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the exam.

Reading Section: What is the main idea of the passage?

This type of question will be multiple choice, and, to answer the question, you will need to skim through the reading passage by especially focusing on the first couple of lines of each paragraph. On some scratch paper, write down 2-3 words which best describe the primary purpose of each paragraph. Your idea here is to create a mind map of the reading passage so that you do not have to keep reading it over and over.

For example, suppose you read an 8 paragraph essay about social media. You could write down the following notes:

Paragraph 1: FaceBook causes isolation, addiction

Paragraph 2: Twitter disorients users

Paragraph 3: SnapChat creates obsession

Paragraph 4: Increase in depression w/ social media users

Paragraph 5: Social media + smartphones = distraction

Paragraph 6: Social media limits social interaction with users

Paragraph 7: Social media fosters fake friendships

Paragraph 8: States consider legislation on social media

In addition, you can use your notes to answer the main idea and other reading question types. Once you have key words written about each paragraph, look at the multiple choice question and then choose the answer that best explains the main idea expressed in all the paragraphs.

What is the main idea of this reading passage?

A. Smartphones

B. Problems with FaceBook and Twitter

C. Dangers of social media

D. New technologies

Based on your notes, answer choice C best expresses the purpose of the paragraphs.

Listening Section: What topic is the professor mainly discussing? or Why does the professor….?

Similarly, you will be required to understand the main idea or gist of the listening passages, and, since the listening passages sometimes have two main ideas, you may be asked to choose two multiple choice options instead of just one. A main idea or gist question will always be the first question you will get during the listening section of the exam.

You can figure out the answer to main idea or gist questions by focusing on the main point of the conversation or lecture, so make sure that you take legible notes that you can use later on to answer this type and the other types of questions during the listening section of the TOEFL.

Integrated Speaking Task 3: The man expresses his opinion about the new campus policy about bicycling. State what his opinion is and why he holds that opinion.

The purpose of getting the main idea of reading and listening passages during this integrated speaking task is so you can create a short introduction at the beginning of your response that frames the main points of both the reading and listening passages. Therefore, you will also need to carefully take notes, and, to help you keep the reading and listening passage notes separate, draw a vertical line down the center of a sheet of paper. On the left side, write down the main point and most important support points of the reading passage, and, on the right side, jot down the main and support points of the listening passage. Using your notes, the structure of your response will look something like this:

The reading passage discusses a new campus policy about bicycling parking on campus, and, in the listening passage, a student reacts to the new policy.

First of all, the reading passage explains about a new policy that prohibits bicycle parking in certain parts of the campus…

Second of all, in the listening passage, a student explains why the new bicycle parking regulations are unreasonable…

Integrated Speaking Task 4: Explain the economic term inflation and how the example in the lecture illustrates the concept.

Like integrated speaking task 3, you will also need to state the main point of the reading and listening passage, so you will need to take careful notes clearly separating the two sources so that you can see the relationship between the two sources. Using your notes, the structure of your response will look like this:

The author in the reading passage defines inflation, and, in the listening passage, the speaker gives an example to further clarify the economic concept.

The reading passage defines inflation as…

In addition, the speaker gives an example to illustrate how the economic concept can be applied in business…

Integrated Speaking Task 5: Briefly summarize the problem the speakers are explaining. Then explain which solution you would recommend and why. Provides reasons for your recommendation.

Typically, in this type of listening/speaking task, a student has a problem, and either one or both of the speakers will discuss solutions to the problem.

Each solution mentioned will have an disadvantage so make a note of that on scratch paper. In this case, your notes should focus on the following: the problem being discussed, solution one + drawback, solution two + drawback, and which solution you like and why.

Note that the disadvantages mentioned about each solution can be used as you state your personal opinion. Be careful as you answer this question that you do not spend too much time summarizing the problems + solutions mentioned.

According to ETS, most of your response should be spent explaining which solution you like and why. In other words, spend roughly 20-30 seconds summarizing the points and spend the remainder of your response explaining which solution you like and why. Using your notes, the structure of your response will resemble the following:

In the conversation, the man has a problem with his biology class, and the woman offers him two solutions to help him excel more academically.

The man’s problem in his biology class is that he is…..

To help him with this problem, the woman offers him two solutions: 1) study for his next exam with other students in the class, or 2) attend the study sessions outside of class which are taught by grad assistants…

Personally, I like the second solution better because of reasons A and B….

Integrated Speaking Task 6: Providing examples and facts from the talk, describe the economic term given by the professor.

In this listening speaking academic task, you will listening and then speaking about an academic concept in which the lecturer typically provides two examples or two support points about the concept. Therefore, as you are taking notes, focus on the main idea and its two important support points. Using your notes, your response can be structured in the following manner:

In the lecture the professor explains the law of supply and demand and provides two examples to illustrate how the concept is applied to an economy.

First, the professor defines the law of supply and demand as……

Second, to illustrate this ecocomic principle, the professor gives an example…..

Third, the second example used by the professor to explain the economic idea is…

Integrated Writing Task: Summarize the points in the lecture and explain how they contradict the points made in the reading.

In this writing task, you will want to organize your notes similarly to how you organize them for integrated speaking tasks three and four. Getting the main ideas of the reading and listening passages helps you to organize your introduction and frame your main points in the body paragraphs as you use a sequencing or chunking compare and contrast pattern of organization. With your notes, here is what the topical organization will look like as you focus on the main ideas throughout your response:

Paragraph 1: The reading passages discusses three effective forms of leadership in the business world, and, in the lecture, the speaker casts doubt on each of the claims.

Paragraph 2: First of all, the reading passage claims that……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

However, the lecture disagrees with this idea because………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Paragraph 3: Second of all, …………….., argues the author in the reading passage,…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

In contrast, the speaker contradicts the idea that……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Paragraph 4: Finally,………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………, asserts the author in the reading passage,……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..On the other hand, instead of accepting that idea that……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………., the speaker contends……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Paragraph 5: Clearly, the reading and listening passages differ with what qualifies as effective leadership among successful businesses.

 

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com

https://onlinetoeflcourse.com