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TOEFL integrated writing

TOEFL integrated writing task 2023 | Examples and sample essay.

Want to excel in the toefl writing task elevate your skills with the most up-to-date examples, carefully crafted sample essays, and insights in 2023. maximize your potential to succeed in the integrated writing task., table of contents, introduction, toefl integrated writing task structure and format , toefl writing task topics , toefl writing task sample , toefl writing task pdf and other resources , strategies for toefl integrated writing task , scoring criteria for toefl writing task , key tips for success , example 1: environmental conservation , example 2: technological advancements in medicine , introduction: , body: , key takeaways .

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a critical stepping stone for students who aspire to study in English-speaking universities. The TOEFL writing task is one part of this examination that can often become a cause for concern. It not only tests your ability to understand English but also your ability to express thoughts, ideas, and opinions in a clear and precise manner. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various aspects of the TOEFL writing task, including topics, samples, format, and specific answers to common questions. The information provided is tailored to the 2023 edition of the test, ensuring relevance and applicability to your preparation. So, if you’re planning to take on this challenge in 2023, let’s begin by understanding the structure and requirements of the TOEFL writing task. 

The TOEFL integrated writing task is the first of the two writing tasks in the TOEFL exam. It’s designed to assess your ability to combine listening and reading skills to write a coherent and well-structured essay. Here’s a detailed breakdown: 

  • Reading passage : A passage around 200-250 words long is provided. You’ll have three minutes to read it. 
  • Listening clip : A short lecture related to the reading passage is played. You’ll be given time to take notes to remember the content better. 
  • Writing task : You will have 20 minutes to write a response of about 150-225 words, summarizing the points made in the lecture and explaining how they relate to specific points in the reading passage. 

The topics for the TOEFL integrated writing task are generally academic and range from subjects like history, science, art, and social sciences. Here’s an example of how the topics will be given: 

  • Reading passage : An excerpt will be provided about Renaissance art and its influence. 
  • Listening clip : A lecture discussing a specific Renaissance painting. 
  • Writing task : Compare and contrast the information in the reading passage and the lecture.

Practicing in advance by working on such topics will help you write and format your writing tasks better. Here’s a sample for you to practice: 

TOEFL integrated writing

  • Reading passage: Brief description of climate change and its effects. 
  • Listening clip : A lecture discussing various solutions to combat climate change.
  • Writing task : Summarize the solutions from the lecture and relate them to the problems mentioned in the reading passage. 

To support your preparation, TOEFL writing task PDF materials, containing practice questions and samples are available online. These resources often include: 

  • Guides on TOEFL writing format 
  • Collection of TOEFL writing samples with answers PDF 
  • TOEFL writing task 1 sample answers and TOEFL writing task 2 sample answers 
  • Practice tests for TOEFL writing task 2 

These materials are instrumental in understanding the pattern and honing your skills to succeed in the TOEFL writing task. 

  • Understanding the structure : Familiarize yourself with the TOEFL writing format, including reading, listening, and writing phases. 
  • Time management: Allocate time for reading, note-taking, and writing, keeping in mind the 20-minute time limit for the writing task. 
  • Note-taking skills : Practice jotting down crucial points from both the reading passage and the listening clip. Focus on the main ideas, supporting details, and the relationship between the reading and listening parts. 
  • Creating an outline : Before diving into writing, create a rough outline to organize your thoughts. This helps in maintaining coherence and connection between various sections of the essay. 
  • Practicing with samples : Utilize the TOEFL writing task sample, TOEFL writing task 1 sample answers, and TOEFL writing task 2 sample answers for regular practice. 

Understanding the scoring can guide you in preparing effectively. The TOEFL integrated writing task is scored on a scale of 0-5 based on the following criteria: 

  • Content : Accuracy, completeness, and connection between reading and listening. 
  • Organization : Logical progression, clear introduction, body, and conclusion. 
  • Language use : Grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and overall fluency.
  • Use transitional phrases : Transitional words like “however,” “in addition,” and “therefore” can help in maintaining the flow. 
  • Avoid repetition : While using keywords is vital, avoid unnecessary repetition. Make sure your content is varied and engaging. 
  • Proofread : Reserve some time at the end for revising and correcting errors.
  • Access Quality Resources : Consider TOEFL writing samples with answers PDF, TOEFL writing task PDF guides, and practice tests for well-rounded preparation.
  • Tables, quizzes, and other interactive elements: Incorporating tables and quizzes can be an excellent way to enhance the learning experience. For instance, a table comparing different TOEFL writing task topics or a quiz testing understanding of TOEFL writing format can be included in online learning platforms or books. 

TOEFL integrated writing

Examples of TOEFL integrated writing task 

The TOEFL integrated writing task presents a unique challenge to assess your ability to analyze information from both a reading passage and a lecture. In this task, you must demonstrate your comprehension of the material and your capacity to connect ideas between the text and the spoken content. To give you a clearer picture, let’s dive into a few illustrative examples of TOEFL-integrated writing tasks:

Reading passage : Description of deforestation and its impact on biodiversity.

Listening Clip : A lecture discussing various conservation methods employed globally. 

Writing task: 

  • Reading: The passage highlights the critical loss of forests, leading to a decline in biodiversity and environmental balance. 
  • Listening: The speaker introduces multiple conservation techniques such as reforestation, wildlife corridors, and legal enforcement. 
  • Essay: The essay must summarise the conservation methods mentioned in the lecture and relate them to the problems of deforestation and biodiversity loss detailed in the reading passage. 

Reading passage: An overview of the traditional medical practices and their limitations. 

Listening clip: A lecture elaborating on recent technological advancements in medical diagnostics and treatments. 

Writing task : 

  • Reading: The passage outlines traditional medical practices, emphasizing their limitations in accuracy and efficiency. 
  • Listening : The lecturer elaborates on cutting-edge technologies like AI-powered diagnostics, robotic surgeries, and personalized medicine.
  • Essay : The essay should connect the advancements discussed in the lecture with the limitations outlined in the reading passage, showcasing how technology is revolutionizing medical practice. 

In-depth Analysis of a Sample Essay | Environmental conservation 

The essay must have a good flow and cohesiveness. This makes it easier to understand and leave a good impression. Here is the in-depth analysis of an essay on environmental conservation.

“The loss of forests and biodiversity has long been a global concern. However, modern conservation methods, as described in the lecture, offer promising solutions to the challenges outlined in the reading passage.” 

  • Paragraph 1: Discuss reforestation, its importance, and how it directly addresses deforestation. 
  • Paragraph 2: Explore wildlife corridors and their role in preserving biodiversity. 
  • Paragraph 3 : Explain legal enforcement, international agreements, and their impact on conservation efforts. 
  • The TOEFL-integrated writing task involves reading, listening, and writing. Understand the flow and practice each part. 
  • Make use of TOEFL writing samples with answers PDF, TOEFL writing task PDF guides, and various other materials for practice. 
  • Your essay should logically connect the reading and listening parts, maintaining a clear and concise structure. 

The innovative conservation techniques described in the lecture provide a comprehensive approach to combating the grave issues of deforestation and biodiversity loss mentioned in the reading passage. These methods signify hope and progress in environmental preservation. 

We hope you found this article insightful. If you have any more queries please reach out to us and get them solved quickly!

Liked this blog? Read: TOEFL requirements 2023 | Documents and minimum requirements guide. 

1. How much time do I have for the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task? 

Ans. You have 3 minutes to read the passage, a listening time for the clip, and 20 minutes to write the essay. 

2. Can I take notes during the listening part of the TOEFL Writing Task? 

Ans. Yes, taking notes is allowed and advisable during the listening portion.

3. What types of topics are covered in the TOEFL Writing Task Topics? 

Ans. Topics are typically academic, ranging from history, science, art to social sciences. 

4. Where can I find TOEFL Writing Task 1 sample answers and TOEFL Writing Task 2 sample answers? 

Ans. Various online platforms, prep books, and official TOEFL guides provide these samples.

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Test Resources

TOEFL® Resources by Michael Goodine

How to write a fantastic toefl integrated essay (2023).

Here’s how the TOEFL Integrated Essay works:

  • It is the first writing task on the TOEFL test.
  • First, you will have three minutes to read an article (four paragraphs, 250 to 300 words) about an academic topic.
  • Next, you will listen to a lecture (about 2 minutes) about the same topic.
  • Finally, you will have 20 minutes to write an essay about the relationship between the two sources.  I recommend that you write about 280 words.
  • You can see the article while writing your essay, but you cannot hear the lecture again.

Essay Evaluation Service

Do you want some personal help with the essay?  You can sign up for my essay evaluation service and boost your score!

The Relationship

The relationship between the article and the lecture will be one of the following.

Argument Style (Frequent)

The reading presents an argument and the lecture presents a counter-argument.

Problems and Solutions Style (less common)

The reading presents a problem and the lecture presents solutions to the problem.

Solutions and Problems Style (less common)

The reading presents solutions to a problem and the lecture challenges the solutions.

The Article 

The article begins with an introduction which mentions the topic and the author’s main idea. Next are three body paragraphs.  Each body paragraph contains one supporting argument (opposition style), one problem (problems and solutions style), or one solution (solutions and problems style).

Here’s an example:

The idea of colonizing asteroids has long been a topic of fascination and speculation in science fiction and popular culture. In recent years, however, the idea of asteroid colonization has become more realistic and feasible, thanks to advances in technology and space exploration. There are many potential benefits to colonizing asteroids, and these benefits make the pursuit of asteroid colonization a worthwhile endeavor. One of the most obvious benefits of asteroid colonization is the scientific potential. Asteroids provide a unique environment for scientific research due to their small size, low gravity, and lack of atmosphere. Research conducted in these environments could provide valuable insights related to many different academic fields. Not only that, but asteroids could also serve as stepping stones for future missions to other destinations in the solar system, such as Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Another benefit of asteroid colonization is the potential for economic growth and development. Natural resources mined on asteroids could create new industries and job opportunities, which would generate significant revenue for both governments and private companies. Asteroid mining could also reduce the need for resource extraction on Earth, which could help to preserve our planet’s natural environment. In addition to economic benefits, asteroid colonization could also have important implications for the long-term survival of humanity. Asteroids could serve as potential refuge for humans in the event of a large-scale disaster on Earth, such as an asteroid impact or a nuclear war. Even if such a disaster doesn’t occur, asteroids could provide valuable information regarding the origins and evolution of the solar system, and how life emerged here in the first place.

You have three minutes to read it and take notes.  Then you hear the lecture. You will be able to see the article again when the lecture is finished.

The Lecture

The lecture is on the same topic, and it is about two minutes long.  You can only hear it once, so take notes.

At the beginning of the lecture, you will hear the lecturer’s main idea.   The rest of the lecture consists of three opposing arguments, three solutions, or three problems.  These directly respond to  the three arguments/problems/solutions mentioned in the reading.  Not only that, but they are  in the same order as the reading. 

Here’s a transcript of that:

While some people argue that starting colonies on asteroids could have many benefits, this claim is not necessarily supported by evidence. In fact, there are several reasons why starting colonies on asteroids may not provide the advantages that are often claimed. One reason why asteroid colonization may not provide significant scientific benefits is our lack of knowledge about asteroids. Despite decades of space exploration and study, our knowledge of asteroids is still limited. We do not know how many asteroids exist, what resources they contain, or what conditions are like on their surfaces. Until we have a better understanding of asteroids, it is difficult to predict what scientific benefits colonization might provide. Next, we can’t exactly predict the economic benefits of settling on asteroids. While asteroids are known to contain valuable resources, such as metals and minerals, it’s not clear how much of these resources exist on asteroids, or how much they would be worth when transported back to Earth. We don’t know whether mining for resources in space would be more cost-effective or efficient than simply getting them through conventional methods here on earth. Finally, asteroids are just not suitable for long-term human settlement right now. Most asteroids are small and do not have enough mass to generate significant gravitational pull. This means that any human settlements on asteroids would need to be designed to cope with the challenges of low gravity, such as serious difficulty moving around and possible damage to our bones and muscles. These challenges could make living on asteroids extremely uncomfortable and dangerous.

The Question

After the lecture finishes, the question will be shown.  It will look something like this:

  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they oppose specific points made in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they answer the specific problems presented in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific solutions presented in the reading passage.

After you see the question, you will have 20 minutes to plan, write and revise your essay.  Have fun!

Taking Notes

If you understand how the sources are structured, note-taking should be easy.  You can do something like this:

Taking Notes for the TOEFL integrated essay

Here are my notes from the above samples (colonizing asteroids):

integrated essay problem solving

Note-Taking Tips

  • Prepare your paper before the question beings by writing “reading” and “listening” and drawing arrows.
  • Even though you will see the article as you write, it is a good idea to take notes.  That will force you to pay attention during the three minutes you have to read it.
  • Use short forms like “grav” and “cond” and “effec” to save time.
  • Use “x” to refer to negatives (not, no, can’t, etc).
  • Immediately after the lecture finishes expand your notes with details still fresh in your head.  I used blue ink to show what I did.
  • You will use a pencil on test day.  Not a pen.  Practice with a pencil.

Writing Your Essay with Templates

Your TOEFL integrated essay should include an introduction  and  three body paragraphs . You don’t need to write a conclusion.

The following templates suggest a way to structure your paragraphs.  I don’t really think you should use the templates below word for word. Instead, use something similar to this and personalize it as you like.

The Introduction

No matter what question style is used, you can write an introduction that looks something like this.

  • The reading and the lecture are both about _____. 
  • While the author of the article argues that _____, the lecturer disputes the claims presented in the article.
  • His position is that _____.

The Body Paragraphs

You can use something like the following templates for the body paragraphs:

  • According to the reading  _____.
  • The article mentions that ____.
  • This argument is challenged by the lecturer.
  • He claims that ____.
  • Additionally, he points out that ______.
  • Secondly, the author suggests ______.
  • In the article notes that _____.
  • The lecturer, however, asserts that ______.
  • He goes on to say that ______.
  • Finally, the author puts forth the idea that _____.
  • The author contends that ____.
  • In contrast, the lecturer’s stance is  _____.
  • He says that _____.

You don’t need to write a conclusion.

Sample Essay 

Using the above notes and suggested templates I created this essay. Notice how I gently modified the template.  I didn’t use it word for word.  Feel free to follow it 100% or to personalize it to suit your preferences!

The reading and the lecture are about the possibility of starting colonies on asteroids. While the author feels that this is a good idea due to scientific benefits, economic benefits and the long-term survival of humans, the lecturer does not believe that the author’s claims are correct. His position is that it might not be a good idea to colonize asteroids. First of all, the author argues that asteroids are a great environment for scientific research because they are small, with low gravity and no atmosphere. Moreover, the article notes that they could be a way to start missions to more distant locations in the solar system. This argument is challenged by the lecturer. He says that we just don’t know enough about asteroids to be sure of their scientific value. We don’t know how many exist, or about conditions on their surfaces so it is difficult to really predict the scientific benefits of colonizing them. Second, according to the article, there could be great economic benefits of colonizing asteroids because they contain natural resources. Mining the resources could be very profitable, and reduce the need to mine them on Earth. In contrast, the lecturer notes that we don’t know exactly how many resources asteroids contain, nor how much they would be worth back on Earth. As a result, it isn’t clear if mining in space is more cost-effective than doing so on Earth. Finally, the author claims that colonies on asteroids could ensure the long-term survival of humanity. To be more specific, we could survive on them if a war or disaster affects the Earth. In contrast, the lecturer’s stance is that human settlements would have to be designed to deal with the unique challenges of the gravity found on asteroids. These challenges could make living on them extremely uncomfortable and dangerous in the long run.
  • The lecture summary is the most important part of the essay.  Shorten the reading summary if you need to save time.
  • I recommend between 280 and 300 words.
  • Use transitional phrases like “in contrast” and “moreover” and “finally” just like I did.
  • Always be sure to indicate where the details are from (the reading or the lecture).
  • Avoid copying from the reading word for word. Paraphrase as much as you can.
  • You don’t need fancy grammatical structures.  The accuracy of your details is more important in this task.
  • Save about one minute to proofread your work.
  • I maintain a collection of complete sample essays written using the above technique. Read them!

How about the Independent Essay?

If you haven’t seen it already, you might want to read my article about the independent writing task .

integrated essay problem solving

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TOEFL Writing Task 1: The TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice Task

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The TOEFL Integrated Writing Task requires you to read a passage that is about 250-300 words long. You then must listen to a lecture that is 2 to 2.5 minutes long. The lecture will challenge or disagree with the ideas in the reading passage for TOEFL Writing Task 1.

Because this task is so test-specific, it’s difficult to find authentic practice with TOEFL Integrated Writing topics, outside of official TOEFL prep materials that take questions from the real test. But you can find reading passages and audio for TOEFL Integrated Writing in the official TOEFL Writing practice sets . Additional free prep for this task can be found in TOEFL Quick Prep (the tasks all come with reading passages, but some of them have transcripts rather than audio).

You can also find practice for this TOEFL Writing task in the official TOEFL books from ETS . Last but not least, you can sharpen your TOEFL Writing skills by practicing a TOEFL Integrated Writing task from Magoosh, free of charge, right here in this post! Near the bottom of this page there is a TOEFL Writing Task 1 practice exercise with a sample answer.

Before we get to that mock test, though, let’s talk about a few basics of TOEFL Integrated Writing. Click the table of contents below to navigate these basics, and hop down to the practice exercise.

Table of Contents

  • TOEFL Integrated Writing Topics: What to Expect
  • Structuring Your TOEFL Integrated Writing Task
  • Difficult Integrated Writing Tasks: What to Do
  • Free TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice Task
  • Model Answer for the Free TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice Task
  • Additional Practice and Resources for TOEFL Writing Task 1

What should you expect from TOEFL Integrated Writing topics?

Since you’ll still be wearing headphones after the Speaking section, the Writing section begins with the integrated task, for which you’ll need to keep your headphones on.

So what do TOEFL Integrated Writing topics look like? Well, the materials you’ll be using to answer the question are a reading passage and a lecture excerpt. Both of these will be longer than the ones you encountered in the Integrated Speaking questions—the reading passage will give you three minutes to read, and it will go into more detail than the one in the Speaking section did.

Whereas other integrated reading samples have served mainly to define a key concept, the one in the Writing section will describe a process or defend a position. The lecture (actually, it will be a short part of a lecture) will then expand on this information by offering examples, explaining in greater detail, or, most likely, describing conflicting viewpoints on the topic introduced in the reading passage. The author will use reasons that respond directly to the ideas in the reading passage.

The question will follow one of several formulas. The question you answer will probably be almost identical to one of these:

  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they challenge specific claims/arguments made in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to specifically explain how they answer the problems raised in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to specifically explain how they support the explanations in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to specifically explain how they strengthen points made in the reading passage.
  • Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to include specific reasons that they strengthen points made in the reading passage.

The first two are by far the most common; usually, you will hear a lecture that contrasts with the reading.

Altogether you will have 20 minutes to plan and write your TOEFL Integrated Writing essay. The essay will not be long—most responses are between 150 and 225 words—but there’s still no time to waste, and you’ll want to keep your writing skills sharp. Remember that your organization and content are just as important as your language use. Your essay needs to have a clear structure with separate points and specific examples that transition smoothly. Most of all, it’s very important to draw from both the reading passage and the listening passage. If you only reference the written passage, the very best score your essay can get is a 1. In many ways, the integrated essay is a summary of the lecture that you heard, but be sure to mention both sources.

You can take notes as you read and listen. With enough practice you will be able to identify the important points in the reading passage that will most likely be discussed in the lecture, and your notes should reflect that. Then, when you listen, it will be easy to take notes that relate to the ones that are already on your paper. Make as many connections between the two as possible while listening. If you have trouble with this, it’s okay—you can take a minute to connect information before you start writing, after the lecture is finished.

Typical TOEFL Writing Task 1 topics will be scholarly, the kinds of things that you’d read about or hear lectures about in an academic setting. Typical topics include things such as the spending habits of American consumers, lectures on history or classic literature, scientific debates, and so on. Topics will seldom be contemporary. For example, you are unlikely to see TOEFL Integrated Writing topics that focus on social media, cell phone use, contemporary popular culture, etc. These more modern topics are far more common in the TOEFL Independent Writing task that follows this one.

As you can see, success in TOEFL Integrated Writing is not just a matter of writing, but also comes down to reading and listening. For additional tips on these two skills in TOEFL Writing Task 1, read the following blog posts:

  • Good Reading Practice for TOEFL Integrated Writing
  • Listening Practice for TOEFL Writing Task 1

Back to top

How should you structure your TOEFL Integrated Writing task?

Even though the 20 minutes you have to write the integrated essay will fly by, it’s still worth taking a minute or two to write an outline of your own prior to beginning your response (the test proctor will provide as much scratch paper as you need). Even jotting just a few lines that connect parts of your notes and circling the main examples you want to cover will give you the guidance you need to stay on task when writing your response.

Below I’ve written an outline that demonstrates an effective structure to use on the exam when responding to TOEFL Integrated Writing topics. I highly recommend that you practice writing with this outline as your guide, at least at first. Once you’ve gotten some feedback and have some good practice under your belt, you can deviate from it. At first, though, it’s good to know the rules before you break them, and to have a structure you can rely on when test day comes.

Note that this outline template involves a lot of paraphrasing. Before you get started on making a practice outline of your own, be sure to check out Magoosh’s tutorial on paraphrasing in TOEFL Integrated writing .

A. General statement about the relationship between the resources you heard and read.

B. Short description of the structure of the lecture

A. Paragraph on first point

1. Paraphrase the professor’s point

2. Contrast/compare with the reading

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

3. Give extra detail and additional specific examples on the professor’s point (optional)

B. Paragraph on second point

C. Paragraph on third point

III. Conclusion

Note that you don’t have a conventional essay structure here. There is no thesis statement, and the difference between a body paragraph and introductory paragraph is less pronounced. When responding to TOEFL Integrated Writing topics, you also don’t have a concluding paragraph per se. If you’re having trouble picturing exactly what this looks like, you can see an example task and model answer at the bottom of this post. You can also see some sample essays for this task in the official TOEFL Writing practice set PDF from ETS . (And this PDF contains TOEFL Writing samples for task 1 as well!)

Above all, remember that the key to a good essay here is simply to take good notes on what you read and hear, and translate those notes into a full essay. For more info on the best ways to do that, see my post on note-taking and organizing your answer in TOEFL Integrated writing . Those tips can help you even when you encounter a particularly challenging Independent Writing task. And for more advice to help you through harder prompts, see the section immediately below.

Dealing with an Extra Hard TOEFL Writing Task

In all of the years that I’ve been tutoring the TOEFL, the part of the test that seems to inspire the most extreme reactions in students is the TOEFL Integrated Writing task. Students either happily breeze right through it or get very stressed out. Why? Because the difficulty levels on this task can vary so much! This, combined with the general complexity of the task, makes TOEFL Integrated Writing challenging for the average TOEFL test taker.

Ultimately, the TOEFL Integrated Writing task may be the hardest part of the TOEFL. This task requires not only keen English language skills, but also good analytical abilities. You need to bring together different, opposing ideas from the lecture and passage. This is a complicated job. And to make things even harder, the task comes almost at the very end of the test, when most test-takers are exhausted.

Some TOEFL Integrated Writing topics are harder than others. And if you get a hard Integrated Writing Task, you could be in danger of “blowing” your whole TOEFL IBT Writing section—doing badly on both tasks! An unusually difficult Integrated Writing task can leave you so tired and frustrated that you aren’t able to focus on the easier second TOEFL Writing Task.

So if you come across a harder-than-usual Integrated Writing Task on test day, make sure you handle it carefully. With the right strategies, a really tough TOEFL Writing Task 1 doesn’t need to hurt your TOEFL score at all.

Early detection of hard TOEFL Integrated Writing Topics

The worst thing you can do is not notice how hard an Integrated Writing Task is. If you mistakenly think an Integrated Writing task is relatively easy, you won’t plan for it correctly.

So try to immediately notice how complicated a task is. You should be able to tell just by looking at the reading passage, since the passage is the basis for the lecture. If the passage seems unusually complex, make note of this and proceed carefully. Don’t miss anything important, and don’t lose track of time. It’s really easy to leave out key facts or run down the clock in TOEFL Integrated Writing.

When you come across a potentially hard Integrated Writing Passage, start trying to mentally paraphrase the passage right away. Figure out whether you are able to paraphrase the passage effectively. Paraphrases should be shorter than their source, and should change the original wording significantly. If you are having a lot of trouble doing this, the passage may be too difficult for you to paraphrase.

Strategies once you’ve found a hard TOEFL Integrated Writing Task

If the ideas in the passage are really hard to paraphrase and shorten, don’t panic. For these more difficult Integrated Writing passages, there’s a simple solution: put less of the passage information into your essay. If necessary, put nothing directly from the passage into your essay.

This advice may sound strange. After all, the official TOEFL Writing Rubrics , which are used for scoring on the real test, say it’s important to include all the big ideas from the passage and the reading. But for a harder Integrated Writing Task, it really does pay to adjust your approach in this way.

Think about it. If the passage is really complex, then the lecture that follows will also be complex. And if the passage and the lecture are both very complicated, it can become almost impossible to correctly summarize them both. You won’t have enough time, and it’ll be too hard to focus on absolutely everything in the prompt. The lecture will need to be the main focus, since the task itself asks you to focus on the way that the lecture challenges the passage.

The lecture will of course contain ideas from the passage, since the lecturer is challenging the key points from the reading. So paying attention to what the lecturer says will allow you to indirectly use parts of the passage. And with this approach, you run less of a risk writing an unfocused or incomplete essay.

How this strategy can affect your score

Also remember how the TOEFL scoring system works . If you get a task that is harder-than-average, the TOEFL will adjust your task score upwards at least a little. Relying only on lecture content might hurt your score a bit. But you have a good chance of recovering those lost points when ETS adjusts your score. On the other hand, if you try to take on all of the complicated content in the task and fail, your score could really suffer, even with ETS’s score adjustments for difficulty. Ultimately, getting a high score on TOEFL Integrated Writing is a matter of balancing your priorities and focus, regardless of the difficulty level of a given individual task.

A Free TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice Task

I have written and recorded a task for you that closely follows the real TOEFL Integrated Writing Task in length, content, and format. Read the passage, listen to my lecture and follow the instructions for an (almost) authentic TOEFL writing practice experience. To prepare, you may want to read some of Magoosh’s advice on this task. The official TOEFL Integrated Writing Rubric (page 2 of the linked document) may also be useful. And at the bottom of this post, you’ll be able to view a sample response to this task.

TOEFL Integrated Writing Task Practice

Directions: Give yourself 3 minutes to read the passage.

The “comics medium” includes newspaper comic strips such as Dennis the Menace and comic books such as Spider-Man. Scholars around the world agree that comics are a uniquely American art form.

The first commercially successful comic strip was Hogan’s Alley , a comic strip from the 1890s. Hogan’s Alley featured the Yellow Kid, the world’s first popular cartoon character. This strip and its character marked the beginning of comics and was American in every respect. Set in a low-income neighborhood in New York City, Hogan’s Alley dealt with the lives of ordinary Americans. It was written and drawn by American cartoonist R.F. Outcault. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, two famous and influential American publishers, printed the comic strip in their newspapers.

The first popular comic book in the world was also American. Action Comics , a series that is still in print today, was initially released in 1938. It featured Superman, the world’s first superhero. Like Hogan’s Alley , Superman was American-created.

Americans invented comic strips, and Americans have exported their unique art form to the rest of the world. Japanese comics, called manga , were inspired by the comics that Americans brought to Japan after World War II. Popular European comics series such as Smurfs and Asterix are influenced by Disney comic books. Today, American-created Disney comic characters are more popular in Europe than ever.

The comics medium started in America. While it has spread around the world, even comics that aren’t created by Americans have an undeniable American influence. This is why so many art and literature scholars recognize the comic strip as a truly American art form.

Directions: Summarize the main points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they challenge the specific points made in the reading passage. You have 20 minutes to plan and write your response. Your response will be judged on the basis of the quality of your writing and how well your response presents the points in the lecture and their relationship to the reading passage.

Listen to the lecture here:

  Once you’ve completed the practice task, you can assess the quality of your answer by comparing it to this sample answer . Good luck!

Ready for a Full Writing Test?

If you’re ready to try the independent and integrated tasks together under test-like conditions, check out our full-length video Writing Test!

And if you want more writing practice, download the FREE TOEFL Practice Test PDF .

Plus, Magoosh TOEFL online prep has six practice tests with sample answers, video explanations, strategies and tips for the every TOEFL speaking question!

TOEFL Integrated Writing Task: Model Answer

I have written a level 5 answer, which you can read below. This answer is followed by some commentary on why this response would earn the full five points.

Model level 5 TOEFL Integrated Writing answer

In the passage, the author argues that comics are an art form that is very unique to the United States, but has been borrowed by other countries. The speaker corrects many things the author wrote about comics being an American art form. Although the writing says all scholars agree that comics are uniquely American, the lecturer says that in modern times, very few scholars agree with that.

The speaker then points out that, contrary to the writing, the first popular comic strips were not American. According to the speaker, 100 years before the first American comic strip, there were popular comic strips in Europe. The lecture also states that Hogan’s Alley , the 1890s comic strip described as American in the article, is not completely American because the comic characters were not Americans. Moreover, the publisher and creator of the comic were immigrants from other countries.

Additionally, the speaker disagrees with the article’s claim that American comic book Superman was the first popular comic book. Instead, the lecturer says the Belgian comic book Tintin was popular before Superman. Also, the author points out that Superman’s creator is Canadian, not American as the article says.

Finally, the speaker disagrees that American cartoon art influenced international comics, as claimed in the writing. He says that popular European comics have a uniquely European style. He also argues that Japanese comics are influenced more by traditional Asian art. Finally, the speaker notes that even American Disney comics characters are drawn by European artists.

Per the official TOEFL Integrated Writing rubric , this answer would get a score of 5. It outlines all the main points from the lecture. It explains how each main point contradicts or challenges the main ideas from the reading. It is organized well, with good transition words for each paragraph. It has no major errors, using correct grammar and vocabulary . Look at this model answer and the rubric linked above as you write your own answer to the sample task . If you need some extra help, you can find a writing template for your own response here .

I also have some resources specific to this essay prompt. For a guide on how to paraphrase as you respond to this specific prompt, see my article “ How to Paraphrase in TOEFL Integrated Writing .” And for advice on how to reise your TOEFL writing, using this model Integrated task as a specific example, see “ How to Revise TOEFL Writing .” All of this advice is applicable to other TOEFL Integrated Writing essays as well! (And it can also be applied to Task 2!)

Follow-up TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice

For more TOEFL Integrated Writing tasks from Magoosh, check our the additional free TOEFL Integrated writing practice task found in Magoosh’s complete guide to TOEFL Writing samples . You may also want to consider signing up for Magoosh TOEFL (you can try a free trial of Magoosh TOEFL prep without entering any payment info, and then “go premium” if you like what you see).

You can also go to “the source”—official TOEFL Integrated Writing practice from ETS. This free TOEFL Integrated Writing task , which focuses on the ecological practices of American companies (a typical Integrated Writing topic) is a good place to start if you’re looking for some quick official practice that you don’t have to pay for. Unfortunately, this readily accessible official practice task is flawed: it has a transcript of a lecture, rather than lecture audio. The only free official TOEFL Integrated Writing task with an actual sound clip for the lecture is the one in the official online TOEFL mock test .

David Recine

David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles , his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube , Facebook , and Instagram , or connect with him via LinkedIn !

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More from Magoosh

TOEFL Writing Topics: Examples of TOEFL Independent Writing Topics

45 responses to “TOEFL Writing Task 1: The TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice Task”

rabia Avatar

u shud have atleast given a sample answer for us to compare our answers to.

Ita Avatar

Really that you are complaining? This is a great exercises. Just be grateful!

Sarah Avatar

They have given it under the audio. Can’t you see that?

David Recine Avatar

Hello Rabia,

That’s a good point and an excellent request. To meet your request, I’ll write up an example answer ASAP and make a blog post about it. My post will include an explanation of my writing approach, and reference to the TOEFL Integrated writing rubric. As soon as my example is up and posted, I’ll link it to the comments here.

Have a great day, David

무하마드 Avatar

Still waiting for the example answer.

Rachel Wisuri

You can find the sample answer here: https://magoosh.com/toefl/2015/toefl-integrated-writing-practice-task-model-answer/ 🙂

undefined doel Avatar

thanks for share.it helps me.


Thank you so much, I found a PDF file that was so useful.

Magoosh Expert

You’re welcome! 😀

K.C. Avatar

This is a very helpful integrated writing practice, especially with the sample answer. However, I can’t seem to figure out what question the essay should answer. The directions just say to write a response, but they don’t give any direction as to what is expected in this response. Is this typical of TOEFL integrated writing questions?

David Recine

Hi K.C. The essay question is in this post, but I think I know why you can’t see it— I’ve just realized it’s kind of oddly placed. Or rather, the lecture track is oddly placed in this post. The lecture audio link appears right below the directions and right above the question, so that the question itself is easy to miss. But look carefully below the audio and you’ll see:

“Summarize the main points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they challenge the specific points made in the reading passage.”

This specific task is typical of the TOEFL, but the confusing screen layout is not. The layout was likely my mistake when I wrote and uploaded this. I’ll check with my editor about fixing that. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

Zehera Avatar

Hmm…And now I do not see an audio link. Thank you for making the task more visible, though.

Hmm, indeed. I seemed to be having some issue with the external link. I just hosted the file locally, and the sound file should be playable now.

toefl test taker Avatar

hello sir/Mam I have a question regarding the integrated writing task….will the passage reappear even after the listening part?

Yes, the passage reappears on the screen after you listen to the audio track, and the passage remains available the whole time that you write your response.

Mazdak Avatar

Hello Can you please introduce a good source for practicing integrated writing task.

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of good materials out there for TOEFL Integrated Writing tasks, compared to Independent Writing. This is because it’s a lot harder to create an Integrated Writing Task— it requires writing a complete passage and recording a lecture. Still, you get one Integrated Writing Practice task in each and every exam in ETS’s official TOEFL books and materials. And Magoosh TOEFL subscribers get access to quite a few of these practice tasks too.

I’m also happy to tell you that I’ll be putting up a few more Integrated Writing Practice tasks in the next few weeks! Watch this space, Mazdak. 🙂

Pratiksha Rijal Avatar

how to download the given audio? I need to download and copy it in the pen drive so as i can practice when internet connection is not available.

There’s a version of this track on Soundcloud that’s available for download. You can find the link to the track here: https://soundcloud.com/david-recine-1/comics . You’ll need to create a SoundCloud account if you don’t already have one. ( Registering for SoundCloud is fast, easy and free.)

dhani Avatar

i m not good listening practice and also i have problem in matching and choosing the correct point to reading passage how can i improve score

OK, if I understand correctly, you’re having trouble with the questions that come at the very end of a reading passage question set? The text insertion and prose summary ones? I recommend checking out our blog’s tutorials on those two question types. Here is our guide to TOEFL Reading prose summary strategy , and here’s our tutorial on TOEFL Reading text insertion . 🙂

Sanjay Paudel Avatar

The reading and the lecture are both about comic medium, which includes newspaper comic strips. The author of the reading believes that the comics are of unique American art form and that scholars all over the globe agree on this. The lecturer casts doubts on the claim made in the article. He thinks that when more study was done, scholars realized that the comic mediums were not uniquely American.

First of all, the author of the reading claims Hogan’s Alley to be the first commercially successful comic strip having first popular cartoon character. He believes that Hogan’s alley focused mainly on the lives of ordinary Americans and that the people involved in making it were all Americans. This point is challenged by the lecturer. He says that Hogan’s Alley was not the first successful comic strip with first famous cartoon character. He adds that during 1790’s many popular comic strips and popular comic character were from Europe, especially from Britain and Switzerland. He adds that the characters and publisher were not uniquely American but were immigrants as well. The publisher of Hogan’s Alley, Joseph Pulitzer was himself an immigrant from Hungary.

Secondly, the author states that the first popular action book comic was American which involved Superman – The first Superhero. He argues that the first popular action comic was American. The lecturer rebuts this argument. He suggests that 16 years before action comic was prevalent, Adventure of Tintin comic from Belgium was popular and it predates superman. He elaborates on this by mentioning that the artist of Superman was not from America but from Canada.

Finally, the author mentions that Americans devised and transferred the art form all around the world. He is of the opinion that Japanese comic strips were influenced by comic from America and that Americans created Disney character that was popular in Europe. The lecturer, on the other hand, feels that Japan and Europe were influenced by various other art forms. He says that Japan was highly influenced by the traditional Asian art and that the Disney characters popular in Europe were drawn in European style and art. He puts forth the idea that the comic strip is from all around the world and not only America.

Normally I don’t approve comments like this, since there isn’t time to review every sample essay that students try to post here. However, in this case, I’ve decided to approve this essay and give some feedback. Sanjay, I think this essay of yours can help other students who read the comments, for two reasons: First, it’s fairly well-written overall. Second, the mistakes you make are common ones. So let’s look at your strengths and weaknesses of this essay.

This essay is incredibly well organized! Sanjay, you did a great job of moving through both the lecture and the essay point-by-point. Also, the grammar and spelling is quite good— you do have a few mistakes in these errors, but the mistakes are so minimal, they’d have little or no impact on your TOEFL score.

WEAKNESSES Your biggest weakness is paraphrasing. Sometimes your wording was way too close to the original source material, so much so that your writing might be judged as plagiarism. This is especially noticeable in the second paragraph. (For more info, see my post on avoiding plagiarism on the TOEFL .) At other times, you misinterpreted information from the sources. For example, Superman was not the first successful action comic; “Action Comics” is the name of a publication, not a description of a kind of comic book.

Your transitions are a bit weak as well. Ideally, TOEFL scorers want to see transitions that are more descriptive— not just numerical words like “first” and “second.” For examples of more varied transitions, see the Magoosh TOEFL Writing Templates ebook, and check out Kate’s tutorial on TOEFL Writing transitions , and mine .

All in all, I’d put this essay in the 3.5-4 point range, per the official TOEFL Writing rubrics . Address those weak points, and you could get your score all the way up to a 5.

6666 Avatar

how many words should this part have?

The TOEFL doesn’t set any strict, official rules for word count in the TOEFL Integrated Writing Essay. However, ETS reports that most top-scoring Integrated Writing responses are between 150 and 225 words long.

Yash Avatar

Hey there David or Rachel….I don’t know with who am I talking with …:-) 🙂 But I wanted to ask you about the listening and reading sections. Do paragraphs appear while attending the question ?

Yes, you should be able to see the text (or a relevant portion of the text) when answering questions. 🙂

Aakash Avatar

The passage claims the idea that the comic medium is popularly American, However professor refutes each of the claims by saying that comic medium is not popularly American it is influenced by the whole world.

The passage claims that Hogan Alley the most popular comic of 1890’s was the first successful comic and was developed by Americans, However professor refutes this claim by saying that Hogan Alley was not the first successful comic , In 1970 many comic strips were originated in Europe which were popular and successful.

The passage states that Action comic series which introduced superman as a character was the first popular comic series developed by Americans in 1938, However professor refutes the claim by saying that in 1922 Tin-Tin published in Belgium was the most popular comic ever.

The passage posits that The Japanese comics which are popular throughout Europe are influenced by American art and literature, however professor refutes the claim of the passage by stating that Asterics the most popular Japanese comic was influenced by Canada not from US.

Thus the professor refutes the reading by illustrating some facts and states that the Comic medium is influenced by al over the world it is not popularly American.

Can you please rate this answer

Hi Aakash! Unfortunately, at the moment, we don’t offer a TOEFL essay review service. However, to help you evaluate your response, I recommend the following. First, check out David’s sample essay here . You can compare your structure and the points you make with what David wrote in his essay 🙂 Also, I highly recommend that you check out this page , where we provide some guidelines on how to evaluate your own essays. I hope this helps, at least a little!

Sebastian Avatar

One question regarding scoring: although the TOEFL OG recommends essays of 150-225 words for the Integrated Essay, do you think that length correlates with score?

My point is all things being equal (coherency, grammar, vocabulary), would a longer essay tend to score higher than an average one?

In other words, do you think it is worth it to push it to the 250+ words in order to try to get a higher score?

Thank you so much!

Hi Sebastian,

Once again, my statements regarding your identical question for the independent essay apply. In addition, on the integrated essay, including too much (say writing 350 words and covering 6 main points) can demonstrate a lack of concision and an inability to distill the most important points from many. As this test is aimed at demonstrating your ability to handle academic-style writing, you want to showcase this in addition to grammar, argumentation and organization.

I hope that helps! 🙂

Great! I will follow your piece of advice! Apologies for repeating the question. I jut thought that since they were two different tasks, they could yield two different tactics and maybe scoring system. I just wanted to post each question in the appropriate post.

Have a great week and thank you as usual!

No worries, Sebastian! I’m sure these comments will be useful for future students 🙂

Best of luck as you continue studying!

Jeffrey R Goddard Avatar

Call me petty, but I would just appreciate Americans like you being totally accurate with facts that you feel you can confidently, expertly provide as subject matter for something that should feel as authoritative as a “lecture”. Joe Shuster was Canadian half by birth and grew up in Canada right into his teens. This time also included his first exploits as a writer for a publication. So it would be nice not to see folks like you casually whitewashing Superman as a wholly American creation. If I tried to claim conversely that Superman was actually just a Canadian creation in basically the exact same way, I’m sure there’d be no end to the uproar. We also helped to give the world the phone and basketball, just in case you planned on overAmericanizing those facts in other tasks too…

Jeffrey, I definitely hear you on that, and I tried to touch on that in the lecture. FYI, although I wrote both the passage and the lecture script, the lecture– which refutes the idea that comics are a purely American art form– reflects my own personal opinions a bit more. On an additional personal note, many of my favorite comic books– and many comics I feel have had some of the greatest influence on the medium worldwide– are made by creators from Canada and other places not in the USA. 🙂

Denis Avatar

This example has made my day, I’ve spent all evening trying to understand the difference between the lecture and the reading and it has made it more clear than all materials i consulted . Thank you so much, Very helpful.

So glad this tutorial and sample lecture helped, Denis. I had fun putting it all together too. 🙂

Jimmy Avatar

Thank you so much Mr. Recine! This example was spot-on! 🙂

Paris Avatar

Thanks for this sample test. Where can i get more task 1 practice test for my students?

TOEFL Writing Task 1 practice can be a little hard to come by, since it takes a lot of time to put together a proper Writing Task 1 (a passage and a recorded audio lecture). For fast, free TOEFL Writing Task 1 prompts, I recommend TOEFL Quick Prep . The first volume of TOEFL Quick Prep has a Writing Task 1s that come with transcript only, and no actual audio. Fortunately, Magoosh has made unofficial audio for all of the transcript-only lectures in both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Quick Prep. (See our unofficial audio for TOEFL Quick Prep Vol. 1 and TOEFL Quick Prep Vol. 2 .) You can also get access to some additional free Task 1s if you enroll in ETS’s free official online TOEFL course .

Beyond those resources, there are some good paid resources out there, such as ETS’s official TOEFL books: Official TOEFL iBT Tests Vol. 1 , Official TOEFL iBT Tests Vol. 2 , and The Official Guide to the TOEFL . TOEFL Preparation Online (TPO) is another potential source of high quality official ETS Writing Task 1 practice, although it’s a bit expensive.

Last but certainly not least, consider a subscription to Magoosh TOEFL , if you haven’t already. 🙂 We offer six practice TOEFL Writing Task 1s to our Premium students, as well as many other practice questions and video lessons for the test as a whole.

Shruti Avatar

The lecture challenges the points made in reading passage that comics strips and comics books are original art form from America, they started in America and comics created around the world are influenced by American comics.The lecture disputes the following claims made in the passage. First claim made in the passage is that the first famous comics strip was Hogan Alley and was published in 1890, however the lecture claims that it was not the first and further gives example for a comics published in 1790 in Europe. The characters in the Hogan Alley were immigrants and cartoonist RF Outcalt himself was an immigrant which means that the origin of the comics comes from another country. Second claim in the passage is that the first adventure comics published was in 1938 and was about Superman, lecture refutes the argument by giving example of comic book “Adventures of Tin Tin” which as Belgium origin and it predates Superman. Third claim made in the reading passage is that Japanese comics manga was influence by American, but the lecture contradicts it by claiming that it was influenced traditional Asian comics The last claim made in the passage is that European comics is also influenced by American comics, the lecture clarifies that by the example that even though the disney characters are famous in Europe but these characters are written as European disney characters by the Europeans. In conclusion, the lecture says that comics art were not first originated in America but they did exist in the world much before the comics became famous in America and that the comics around the globe is not influenced by American comics.

kumar Avatar

The passage and the lecture are both about the originality of comics. The author of the text states that all comics have been influenced by early American art forms. The lecturer, however, strongly disagrees with this idea. To begin, the text points out that the Japanese version of comics, called ‘manga’ were derived from the American comics. They had been taken to Japan after World War two. The lecturer contradicts this claim. He says that the manga relates more to Asian arts than American . Secondly, the author details how Disney inspired the many famous European comic series. He gives examples of Smurfs and Asterix, and how they are very popular. To this, the lecturer differs explaining how the writings, like hash-tag are European styled. Finally, detailing the studies made by scholars on America’s role in early comic industry, the author stamps comics as America’s undeniable creations. Despite this, the professor shuts down these data as rubbish. He explores the history of comics, and how there were many European comics before the start of American ones. In addition, he says that many original American comics were created by immigrants.

Maxime Avatar

Both the reading and the lecture discuss the real origin of comic books and their history. The auther of the reading suggests that comics originally are an amercican art. However the proffesor explains that comics medea is an art actually shared by the whole world. First of all, according to the reading hongn’s aley is the fist popular strip figure disigned by an american. But the lecture opposes to this statement and explains that in fact alley was not the firt influencial strip caracter know world wild but actually lots of caracters made by imigrants from switserland had been there befoor him Secondly, the reading states that popular action comics books were invented by americans. Though the lecture points out that exion comics such as tintin, written in 1922 predated befoor the outcomming of for example spiderman. Finally, the author suggests that american comic strips as for example disney inspiered the creation of mangas on the other side of the world. Oposing to this, the speaker explains that disney had american caracters but the comics are actually made by europeens and traditional asian art developd on its own

Rk Avatar

Hi, would like to have some feedback. Here’s my response: The reading and the lecture are about comics. The reading as well as the lecture have specific mentions and opposing views about the origin and spread in popularity of comics The writer of the passage puts forth the point that comics are a purely American art form. In contrast, the lecture provides proofs against this idea. Firstly, the passage mentions the first commercially successful comic strip Hogan’s Alley. According to the passage, it dealt with ordinary Americans, was set in New York and published by American publishers. However, the lecture mentions that it was not the first commercially popular comic strip and that its publisher was an immigrant from Hungary. Second, the passage refers to “Action comics”, which featured Superman, as the first popular comic book in the world. The lecture refutes this point by saying that “Action comics” was not the first popular comic book. Tintin was published in Belgium 16 years before it and it is still popular. Also, even the artist of Superman was from Canada. Lastly, the passage mentions that comics were invented in America and then exported to the rest of the world. But the lecture opposes this idea by saying that traditional Asian art has more influence on comics than any other art has. Moreover, though the Disney characters were written in America, they were written and drawn by European creators. Thus, they were not truly American. This is how the lecture refutes the key points in the passage.

Hi Rk! Unfortunately, at the moment, we don’t offer a TOEFL essay review service. However, to help you evaluate your response, I recommend the following. First, check out David’s sample essay here . You can compare your structure and the points you make with what David wrote in his essay 🙂 Also, I highly recommend that you check out this page , where we provide some guidelines on how to evaluate your own essays. I hope this helps, at least a little!

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integrated essay problem solving

TOEFL Prep Online Guides and Tips

Ultimate guide to toefl integrated writing: tips and practice.

integrated essay problem solving

Writing English essays can be difficult for non-native speakers—especially on TOEFL Integrated Writing. For this task, you must compose a short essay comparing a lecture with a reading passage. And to get a high Integrated Writing score, you’ll need to know which resources to use as well as how to prepare effectively for the task.

In this guide, we’ll explain what TOEFL Integrated Writing entails and go over the best resources you can use for quality TOEFL Integrated Writing topics and practice. In addition, we give you six key tips to help you get the Integrated Writing score you deserve.

What Is TOEFL Integrated Writing?

There are two Writing tasks on the TOEFL: an Integrated Writing task and an Independent Writing task. The Integrated Writing task, which comes first, requires you to combine multiple skills. You must not only be able to write in English but also be able to read and listen to it. By contrast, the Independent Writing task only requires you to read a brief prompt and then write an essay explaining your opinion on the topic.

So what exactly does the Integrated Writing task entail? You’ll start by reading an academic passage. This passage is about 300 words long, and you’ll have  three minutes to read it.

Next, you’ll listen to an audio clip of a professor giving a lecture on the same topic as that of the passage. This lecture will usually be about two minutes long and will either agree or disagree with points made in the passage.

Finally, you’ll have 20 minutes to plan and compose a short essay of about 150-225 words. This essay must summarize the points made in the lecture and explain how they support or challenge what’s written in the passage. You will not write about your own opinion for this task (though you will for the Independent Writing task).

As you write, you’ll be able to look at the reading passage again if you need to. (You can also finish reading it during this time if you didn’t get to do so before.) However, you may not listen to the audio clip again. This is why it’s best to take notes while you listen to the audio clip (we’ll talk more about how to do this later).

By the way: we have built the world's best online TOEFL course . Get online practice (TPO-sytle!) and individual grading and feedback on Speaking and Writing.

Learn how you can improve your TOEFL score by 15 points today .

Now, let’s turn our attention to scoring. The Integrated Writing task—like the Independent Writing task—is scored on a scale of 0-5. According to the official rubric , a 5 response “successfully selects the important information from the lecture and coherently and accurately presents this information in relation to the relevant information presented in the reading.”

On the other hand, a 1 response “provides little or no meaningful or relevant coherent content from the lecture.” (Note that a score of 0 means you did not fulfill the prompt correctly—for example, you copied sentences from the passage, wrote in a foreign language, or didn’t write anything at all.)

After, your Integrated and Independent scores are combined and converted to a scaled Writing score on a scale of 0-30 (i.e., the same scale used for all sections of the TOEFL).

Here is an example of a complete TOEFL Integrated Writing task :

Read the following passage and the lecture which follows. In an actual test, you would have 3 minutes to read the passage. Then, answer the question. In the test, you would have 20 minutes to plan and write your response. Typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words. Test takers with disabilities may request additional time to read the passage and write the response.




(Narrator) Now listen to part of a lecture on the topic you just read about.

(Female professor) While traditional voting systems have some problems, it’s doubtful that computerized voting will make the situation any better. Computerized voting may seem easy for people who are used to computers. But what about people who aren’t? People who can’t afford computers, people who don’t use them on a regular basis—these people will have trouble using computerized voting machines. These voters can easily cast the wrong vote or be discouraged from voting altogether 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 the errors caused by these defective programs may be far more serious. The worst a human official can do is miss a few ballots. But an error in a computer program can result in thousands of votes being miscounted or even permanently removed from the record. 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. They didn’t work flawlessly when they were first introduced. They had to be improved on and improved on until they got as reliable as they are today. 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.

Question: Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they oppose specific points made in the reading passage.


14 Resources for TOEFL Integrated Writing Practice

Now that you understand what a TOEFL Integrated essay entails, let’s take a look at some of the best resources you can use for TOEFL Integrated Writing topics and practice.

Note that most of these resources are geared toward the entire TOEFL test and therefore will contain practice questions and tips for other TOEFL sections as well.

Official Prep Materials

Official resources (i.e., those created by ETS) are far and away the best resources to start with when you want to find quality TOEFL Integrated Writing practice questions. All official TOEFL resources offer authentic test questions and prompts similar to those you’ll see on test day. And the best part is that many of these resources are entirely free!

TOEFL Online Practice (TPO) Tests

By far the most authentic TOEFL Integrated Writing practice you can get is through official TPO tests. These full-length TOEFL practice tests are real, retired exams and thus offer a highly realistic TOEFL Integrated Writing test-taking experience.

Once you finish a test, your Integrated essay is immediately graded by a computer. However, I’m not a huge fan of this scoring system since it isn’t clear why the computer grader assigns certain scores.  By contrast, on the actual TOEFL, your Integrated Writing task will be graded by a combination of human raters and a computer .

Unfortunately, each TPO test is quite costly:  45.95 USD.  So don’t buy one of these tests unless you’re 100 percent sure it’ll help you on the Integrated Writing task and other sections of the exam as well.

TOEFL iBT Interactive Sampler

One of the best TOEFL practice resources you can use is the TOEFL Interactive Sampler. This free, downloadable software contains an abbreviated TOEFL test, complete with a full Writing section.

What’s especially great is that the Integrated Task comes with  three sample responses: a high-level response, a mid-level response, and a low-level response. These are helpful in that they show you what kinds of details, structures, grammar, and vocabulary you’ll be expected to use in your own essay.

There are a couple of downsides to this resource, though. For one, the sampler doesn’t work with Macs. Another issue is that you can’t write your essay directly in the program. Rather, once the prompt is shown, all you’re given are the three sample responses. But you can still complete the task by opening Microsoft Word or another writing program and typing your essay there.

Once you’ve finished writing your essay, I suggest either using the TOEFL Integrated Writing rubric to score your response or asking a native English speaker to grade your essay for you.

TOEFL iBT Quick Prep

This free set of four PDFs offers a ton of high-quality sample TOEFL questions, including two Integrated Writing tasks (in Volume 1 and Volume 3 ).

Volume 1 provides you with a transcript of the lecture instead of an audio clip, so it’s not the most realistic test-taking experience you can get. But Volume 3’s TOEFL Integrated Writing task uses an MP3 for the lecture, making it far more similar to what you’ll get on the actual test.

Since these volumes are both PDFs and not software programs, you’ll once again need to use a separate computer program to type out your responses.


TOEFL iBT Writing Sample Responses

Another free resource by ETS, this PDF presents  a number of TOEFL Integrated Writing sample responses, from low- to high-scoring ones.

With this resource, you’ll get one TOEFL Integrated Writing task  with a passage and lecture transcript. And as for sample essays, you’ll get:

  • Two level-5 essays
  • Three level-4 essays
  • Three level-3 essays
  • Three level-2 essays
  • Two level-1 essays

What I particularly love about this PDF is that it includes  detailed feedback on why certain essays received the scores they got.  Therefore, I strongly suggest reading these explanations to learn more about how ETS expects you to write and organize your Integrated essay on test day.

Official TOEFL Prep Books

Another solid option is to buy an official TOEFL prep book. Official books are excellent, comprehensive resources for TOEFL Integrated Writing practice, as well as Reading, Listening, and Speaking practice.

The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test  is perhaps your best bet. This resource offers a CD-ROM with three full-length practice tests in addition to 600 practice questions.

However, its Integrated Writing information isn’t all new. For example, many of its sample scored responses are the same as those in the TOEFL iBT Writing Sample Responses PDF above. Moreover, its first practice test uses the same Integrated Writing prompt contained in the free TOEFL Interactive Sampler.

Other official prep books include Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volumes 1 and 2 . Each volume contains five unique full-length practice tests, giving you a grand total of 10 Integrated Writing tasks  to practice with. Unlike The Official Guide, though,   which offers several sample responses for each scoring level,   each Writing task here comes with just one high-scoring sample response.

Official TOEFL prep books are usually reasonably priced at around 25 USD a piece.

TOEFL iBT Sample Questions

This free, handy PDF is similar to Quick Prep but contains far fewer practice questions. With this resource, you get one Integrated Writing task  (which we used above as an example).

Unfortunately, this PDF doesn’t contain any audio files, so you’ll need to read a transcript for the lecture. This, along with the lack of additional TOEFL Integrated Writing practice questions, ultimately makes this resource less realistic and less useful than some of the other ones on this list.


Unofficial Prep Materials

While official materials are hands down your best bet for quality TOEFL Integrated Writing practice, some unofficial resources offer a solid array of TOEFL Integrated Writing practice questions as well.

The problem, however, is that most unofficial TOEFL resources are low quality, so you’ll need to learn how to distinguish the ones that are worth using from the ones that aren’t. Generally speaking, a solid TOEFL resource is one that offers realistic practice questions, comprehensive answer explanations, and useful test-taking strategies.

Below are our top picks for the best unofficial resources for TOEFL Integrated Writing topics. Like our list above, the majority of resources here are completely free to use!

Unofficial TOEFL Prep Books

There are many high-quality unofficial TOEFL prep books available on the market. The key is to know which ones are worth buying—that is, which ones will offer you the most authentic TOEFL Integrated Writing tasks you can practice with. Our guide to the best TOEFL prep books  includes three unofficial TOEFL prep books to consider incorporating into your prep.

As with any dense resource, unofficial TOEFL prep books come at a price. However, they’re not normally that expensive, with prices typically hovering around  10-30 USD.  (That’s cheaper than one TPO test!)

Strictly English

This website offers one free Integrated Writing task as well as several additional tasks you can only access if you are a paid member. Both the passage and audio clip for the free task are extremely high quality, making it an ideal resource to include in your prep.

Strangely,  the free Integrated task doesn’t include a prompt.  That said, you don’t actually need a prompt to write an Integrated essay anyway, as the prompt is always the same: compare a lecture with a passage.

Another convenient feature of this website is a box that you can type your essay in. Once you finish typing, though, ignore the “Submit My Essay” button below. This feature only works for paid members, so nothing will happen if you click it.

Like Strictly English, BestMyTest offers one free Integrated Writing task, though you can access many more Integrated Writing tasks with paid membership. The free task is high quality and consists of a decent reading passage and a clear, easy-to-follow audio clip.

One especially helpful feature is the timer,  which makes it easier to keep track of how much time you have left for each part of the task.

A solid choice, Magoosh offers one TOEFL Integrated Writing task that’s fairly high quality. The reading passage is very similar to those on the TOEFL, especially in length, and the audio clip is crisp and easy to understand.

While you won’t get a lecture transcript, you will get  a sample level-5 essay  with an in-depth analysis of what makes this essay strong.


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English Club

This free website offers one TOEFL Integrated Writing task with a passage, audio clip, and sample response. You’ll also get a transcript of the lecture, which is helpful if you’re struggling to understand any parts of it (though you won’t get a transcript on test day).

There are two drawbacks to this website, however. First, the reading passage, though good quality, is quite short.  Integrated Writing passages are generally around 300 words, but the passage here is only about half that length, making it not as realistic as it could be.

In addition, the audio clip quality isn’t particularly good. The voice often sounds muffled, making it difficult to understand at times.


At PrepScholar, we offer   an original TOEFL Integrated Writing task,  complete with a reading passage, lecture transcript, and prompt similar to what you’ll get on test day.

As with any TOEFL task, make sure to abide by the official time limits so that you’re getting as realistic practice as possible. For Integrated Writing, this means you’ll have:

  • Three minutes to read the passage
  • About two minutes to read the lecture transcript
  • 20 minutes to plan and write a response

After you finish typing your essay on a computer, use our analysis of two high-scoring essays to grade your response and give yourself a rough idea as to how you can improve your spelling, grammar, organization, time management, and overall writing skills for the test.

Study.com offers one TOEFL Integrated Writing task, which you can access (mostly) via a free lesson preview. Included is an entire reading passage and lecture transcript—but no prompt, as that’s where the preview gets cut off.

In reality, though,  you don’t actually need a prompt  since all Integrated tasks require you to do the same thing: compare a lecture with a passage. Nonetheless, if you’d like to see the full TOEFL Integrated Writing lesson, you can make an account by signing up for a free five-day trial.

TOEFL Resources

Though TOEFL Resources doesn’t offer any original Integrated Writing tasks for you to practice with, it does contain a large assortment of sample Integrated Writing essays,  which you can compare with your own responses to get a better understanding of what a high-scoring TOEFL essay looks like.

Many of this website’s sample essays are based on Integrated tasks from popular TOEFL prep books, including The Official Guide and Official TOEFL iBT Tests, so if you’ve got any of these and want to see more high-scoring sample responses, this resource is definitely helpful!

What’s more, all sample essays were written by native English speakers, so you can be sure they’re grammatical and structurally solid.


How to Prepare for TOEFL Integrated Writing: 6 Tips

So far, we’ve gone over all of the major resources you can use to strengthen your TOEFL Integrated Writing practice. Now, let’s take a look at our top six tips to help you get the Integrated Writing score you want.

#1: Strengthen Your Reading & Listening Skills

Since you must read a passage and listen to an audio clip for the TOEFL Integrated Writing task, it’s important to hone your reading and listening skills in addition to your writing skills.

To get better at reading, make sure you have a broad knowledge of  English vocabulary , particularly academic vocabulary.  I recommend reading real-life newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times  and  The Atlantic .  Additionally, try reading introductory notes and paragraphs in university-level textbooks. For more tips on what to read, take a look at  our guide to TOEFL Reading resources .

As for listening practice , take time to listen to spoken English by watching  YouTube videos and English news channels or listening to English podcasts. Some free, helpful resources for English-listening practice include VOA Learning English and EnglishClass101 .

#2: Keep a Journal

To do well on TOEFL Integrated Writing, you need to be a good writer. And to be a good writer, you need to write!

One great way to practice writing in English is to write in a journal (almost) every day. This allows you to consistently practice your writing skills and learn how to write more quickly and with better grammar.

Because you’ll be typing your Integrated essay on a computer, I recommend keeping a digital journal. You can do this online through a free website called Lang-8 . On this website, users write diary entries and other notes in their target languages. These entries are then posted and corrected by native speakers of the target language.

I myself have used Lang-8 many times while studying Japanese. All in all, it’s an incredibly fun and supportive resource that also offers a convenient way to connect with others studying English like you.

#3: Memorize Useful Transitions

The best writers are those who can effectively connect their thoughts to make their writing compelling. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to use transitions.

Transitions are words and short phrases that connect ideas in writing (as well as in speech). They often come at the beginning of paragraphs and sentences and can be used to:

  • Link similar ideas
  • Contrast different ideas
  • Emphasize ideas

We’ve compiled an extensive list of 54 transitions  to use in your Integrated and Independent Writing essays. Briefly, though, here are some of the most common transitions you should know:

  • In addition
  • Additionally
  • For example
  • For instance
  • In conclusion


#4: Do Timed Writing Exercises

You can’t expect to do well on TOEFL Integrated Writing unless you actually sit down and practice. This is why you should use the resources above (particularly the official ones) to  carve out time to practice answering TOEFL Integrated Writing questions.

Each time you practice,  time yourself using the official time limits for Integrated Writing. In other words, give yourself:

  • About two minutes to read the lecture transcript (if not available as an audio clip)
  • 20 minutes to plan and type your response

Once you’ve finished reading the passage and listening to the audio clip, begin to type your response on a computer. Although you may write out your response on paper, a computer is preferable, as it more accurately recreates the TOEFL test-taking experience. After you’ve completed a task, use the official Integrated Writing rubric to score yourself and determine what you did well—and what you could improve.

If your Integrated task comes with any sample essays, use these to help score your response. High-scoring essays can help you understand what specific details to include in your essay and what stylistic or structural features ultimately make an essay more compelling.

If possible, ask a native English speaker to offer feedback on your practice essays as well. This will give you a more objective view of the overall strength and quality of your writing.

#5: Use Scratch Paper Wisely

You’ll have scratch paper to use throughout the exam, so make sure to use it wisely on the Integrated Writing task, too.

Since you’ll only get to hear the audio clip once, use your scratch paper to  take notes as you listen. (You can reread the passage, so you don’t need to take notes on it.)   As you listen,   write down the main point of the lecture and any important terms, concepts, steps, or examples the professor mentions.

Then, once your writing time begins,  spend the first three minutes or so outlining your essay on your scratch paper. Try to jot down the three main points you want to discuss as well as any key details or examples you can use to illustrate them. Don’t get too elaborate with your outline—just get the main points down and let the rest of the details come naturally as you write.

We cover more TOEFL note-taking tips in our in-depth guide (coming soon).

#6: Follow a TOEFL Writing Template

Finally, if you’re worried about your ability to coherently structure an essay, consider practicing with a TOEFL Writing template . A template offers you a basic framework to start with, which you can then modify to suit any Integrated Writing prompt.

The benefits of a template are numerous. For one, you’ll always have a sentence opener or transition to fall back on in case you’re unsure what to write next, giving you more confidence on test day. You’ll also have a clearer idea as to how to structure your thoughts and will therefore spend less time worrying about your essay’s organization and flow.

Recap: What Is TOEFL Integrated Writing?

The TOEFL Integrated Writing task is the first of two Writing tasks. For this task, you must combine your reading, listening, and writing skills to produce a compelling essay that compares a passage with a lecture on the same topic.

In order to get a high score on TOEFL Integrated Writing, try to practice with high-quality resources. Several official resources are free and offer a broad assortment of Integrated Writing prompts. Unofficial TOEFL resources, too, can be helpful, though you’ll need to be careful with what you choose since most unofficial materials are not as reliable as official ones.

As you prepare for TOEFL Integrated Writing, be sure to do many timed writing exercises and  get feedback on your practice essays. You should also:

  • Strengthen your reading and listening skills
  • Keep an English journal to further hone your writing skills
  • Memorize transitional words you can use in your essays
  • Use scratch paper to take notes on the audio clip and to outline your essay
  • Consider practicing with an Integrated Writing template to help you feel more prepared for test day

What’s Next?

Want more TOEFL Writing practice? Then check out our original list of 13 TOEFL Writing topics  as well as  our picks for the best TOEFL Writing resources .

Aiming for a high TOEFL Writing score?  Read our guide to learn what a good TOEFL Writing score is (coming soon), and then get a rundown of everything you need to know in order to ace the TOEFL Writing section .

Looking for more general TOEFL tips?  Learn how to prepare for the TOEFL with our eight expert tips.

Ready to improve your TOEFL score by 15 points?

integrated essay problem solving

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz


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  • The Ultimate Guide to Write Effective Problem Solution Essay
  • Mastering The Art of Academic Essay Writing With Examples

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Problem-solution essay is a common type of expository essay in academic writing. These essays are usually assigned to students in higher levels of education because they require effective research on the topic before providing foolproof solutions to the problems.

Table of Contents

  • What is a problem-solution essay
  • Structure of a problem-solving essay
  • Introduction element:hook
  • Introduction element:background brief
  • Introduction element: thesis statement
  • Introduction element: outline
  • Body paragraph of a problem-solution essay
  • Conclusion of a problem-solution essay

If you are also a student, there are possibilities that you will also get the task of writing an essay for a college/school assessment. Most probably you have gotten one and that’s why you are here we guess.

Besides, we know that researching and writing a problem and solution essay can be a head-scratcher sometimes. Moreover, students often get confused with the structure, thesis statement, and what to write in the body paragraphs of a problem solution essay. Lack of proper knowledge in writing a good problem and solution essay could result in lower credits.

However, before writing a problem solution essay, it is essential to identify the right problem that needs to be discussed in the essay. For this, you need to effectively brainstorm some of the ideas and then choose the right problems to address unless the topic is already assigned by your professors.

Now that you have effectively chosen a good topic for writing, you must go through a stepwise approach for writing an impressive problem solution essay. So, before starting to write an essay, it is essential to know what exactly is a problem-solution essay.

What is a problem-solution essay?

As the name suggests, a problem solution essay offers the solutions to a specific problem discussed in the essay. The problem solution essay intends to present either multiple solutions to a single problem or one ideal solution to the problem discussed in the essay.

In the book, Fusion: Integrated Reading and Writing (2016), the author Dave Kemper defined a problem-solving essay, “This sort of essay involves argumentation in that the writer seeks to convince the reader to take a particular course of action. In explaining the problem, it may also need to persuade the reader concerning specific causes”. To understand the problem-solving essay more comprehensively, let’s have a look at some of the example topics of problem-solving essays.

  • Elaborate on some of the effective solutions to reduce poverty.
  • Describe solutions to the problem of rising drug abuse in adolescents.
  • Elucidate the measure that can be taken to prevent human trafficking.

To continue, as seen in the above examples, some critical social problems are addressed and effective solutions need to be presented. Problems can be complex social issues like drug abuse or environmental problems like climate change that concern the entire planet. In most problem-solution essays, the problems are peculiar and have large scale implications.

But in order to effectively present a problem and its foolproof solutions, it is necessary to follow the right structure of writing a good problem solution essay. So, let’s get started with the structure.

How to structure the problem-solving essay?

Giving the right structure to an essay is an important aspect of writing a good essay because the better the structure, the more easily your reader or audience can navigate through your essay. In the case of a problem or solution essay, the structure is even more important because through the right structure only, your audience would be able to understand the given problem and your provided solutions more effectively.

In the problem solution essays, the structure is quite similar to the other essays that start with an essay introduction and is followed by body paragraphs and conclusions. To simplify, the standard structure of a problem solution consists of four paragraphs in which the introduction usually starts with asking a question that reflects the main problem. Along with this, the introduction also consists of the outline and the thesis statement of the essay.

Various ways of structuring of problem solution essay

Following the introduction, as per standard structuring, there will be two body paragraphs in which one will talk about the problem while the paragraph will present the solutions. The number of paragraphs containing the problem and solution can be extended as per the desired length of the essay. In the end, the conclusion of the essay will be provided that will sum up the key arguments. Let us delve into the introduction of a problem- solution essay.

How to write the introduction of a problem-solving essay?

An introduction is an important aspect of an essay because through an impressive introduction only, you will be able to convince your readers to read your essay till the end. In the case of a problem-solving essay, your introduction should be engaging enough to give a clear idea to the readers about the given problem/situation and whom the problem majorly impacts.

However, while writing an introduction there are a few other important aspects that need to be taken into consideration.

The crucial aspect is that your introduction should always contain

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

That being said, the further sections will deliberately explain all the elements one by one to give you a clear picture of writing essays. Besides, every section will contain a sample element of the essay topic: Elaborate on some of the effective solutions to reduce poverty.

Explanation through an example will assist you in better understanding how to write each element meticulously. So, let’s move ahead without further ado.

Introduction element: Hook of a problem-solving essay

A hook is a very first and crucial element of writing an engaging essay introduction. Its presence in the introduction of the essay will assist you in intriguing the curiosity of the reader that will encourage them to read till the end.

Besides, the hook in the introduction of a problem-solving essay could be of various types. It can be a fun fact/claim or an astonishing statistic that directly points toward the problem which will assist in grabbing the attention of the reader from the very beginning.

Besides, in the case of a problem solution essay, you can also create a hook by asking valid questions related to the problem discussed in the essay to involve your reader in your essay as well. As per our example, the sample hook is given below.

Sample hook

Approximately 85% of the world is currently living on less than $30 per day. More than two-thirds of the same lives on less than $10 per day. Moreover, every 10th person survives on less than $1.90 per day (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2022).

After hooking the readers on interesting information, it is time to give background information about the problem.

Introduction element: Background brief of a problem-solving essay

The background information will be provided to make your readers understand the context of the essay. In the case of a problem solution essay, you will provide background information about the problem that will clearly answer a few of the given questions below.

  • What is the problem?
  • How big is the problem?
  • Whom does the problem majorly affect?

Background information will assist the readers in understanding the urgency of the problem and will also highlight the major reason behind the need for highlighting the problem. In accordance with our example, the sample background information is given below.

Sample background brief

Poverty is becoming a global issue and every coming day; the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. Hence making progress against poverty is becoming one of the most urgent goals of the globe today. People lying in the poor category often face challenges like hunger, less access to education, sanitation issues, and much poorer health.

After giving the readers the background information, it is now time to give the thesis statement of the problem solution essay.

Introduction element: The thesis statement of a problem-solving essay

The thesis statement refers to the brief summary of the central idea of the essay that is usually included at the end of the introduction before the outline of an essay. A thesis statement in a problem solution essay can be of two to three lines but irrespective of the length of the thesis statement, your thesis statement needs to clearly include,

  • Why is it a problem?
  • How does this problem impact the readers?
  • Why does this problem need to be solved?

Moreover, the thesis statement should naturally highlight a brief summary of the solutions that would be highlighted later in the discussion. However, the thesis statement does not need to present detailed solutions. In the case of our example of the sample essay, the thesis statement in the problem solution essay is given below.

Sample thesis statement

Poverty is still a problem because it brings other problems such as malnutrition, and sanitation issues along. It also hinders the growth of developed and developing nations which directly impacts the lives of other people as well. Alleviation of poverty will ensure enhanced living standards for the people and will provide them with better growth opportunities.

Following the thesis statement, the last paragraph highlights the outline of the essay.

Introduction element: Outline of a problem-solving essay

The outline of the essay is the last paragraph of the introduction that will deliberately guide your readers toward the main body paragraphs of the essay. In the case of a problem solution essay, it is a kind of roadmap that will further guide your readers on the given problem and solutions they will encounter in the body paragraphs of the essay respectively.

However, it is essential to note that the outline should always summarize the solutions rather than discuss them in detail.

Sample outline

In this essay, firstly different problems that occur from poverty will be discussed in the essay, along with some of the statistics validating the issue. Secondly, the essay will possess some of the main causes of the problem. Lastly, different solutions will be discussed in the essay that can assist in reducing global poverty.

After the meticulous explanation, comes the body paragraphs of the essay.

How to write the body paragraph of a problem solution essay?

Body paragraphs are the cornerstone of the essay that requires the utmost research and attention to detail. There can be multiple paragraphs or even more depending upon the overall length requirement of the essay. You can choose to present the body paragraphs in two ways, block or point-by-point.

The block method in a problem solution essay refers to describing the problem first and then presenting all the required solutions. Whereas the point-by-point method in a problem-solution essay refers to presenting all the problems and solutions simultaneously rather than going through all problems and all solutions separately. In writing the body paragraph of the problem solution essay, you need to keep the 3 Es in mind which stands for explain, expand, and example.

To elaborate, in each paragraph you will start by explaining the topic sentence. This topic sentence will underline the problem or the solution that will be discussed in the paragraph. After explaining the topic sentence, you will elaborate your point by validly expanding the topic sentence and supporting the topic sentence by giving evidence (if possible).

For example, if you are describing the problem, you will use some statistics or research to validate the problem. Other than that, if you are providing a solution, you will use stats or research to validate how your given solution is the most effective remedy. Lastly, you can provide examples in the cases to explain the topic sentence more effectively.

Besides, the last line of the paragraph will be the transition sentence forming cohesion between the current paragraph and the next paragraph describing whether your next paragraph will present another aspect of the problem or will discuss the solution.

Following the example of our topic, below given is the example of a body paragraph using the chain method explaining poverty as a problem, first.Following the example of our topic, below given is the example of a body paragraph using the chain method explaining poverty as a problem, first.

Sample body paragraph

Poverty is a concept that is more than about lack of income and productive resources to ensure that are required to ensure good and sustainable livelihoods. Poverty also brings along poor mental and physical effects like hunger, malnutrition, and limited access to education. Along with this, poverty also brings ensures humans depriving of basic services access which has also resulted in social, political, and economic discrimination. This burden of poverty has excluded many people and deprived them of participating in various decision-making processes. Hence, it is essential to discuss the various possible solutions and act upon them to eradicate poverty effectively.

How to write the conclusion of a problem solution essay?

Lastly, the conclusion is the last paragraph that will wind up your whole essay in the end. While writing the conclusion, firstly, you will restate the thesis statement. Further than that, in a problem solution essay, it is always better to conclude with an intriguing statement that leaves your reader thinking more about the problem further and makes an impactful ending.

Sample conclusion

To conclude, sometimes all it takes is a small effort from external factors to kickstart the alleviation of poverty by giving some cashflow maintenance to the people living under the poverty line. Hence, the need is to effectively understand the problem and make small changes to implement the solutions and make the world free of poverty.

To encapsulate, if you keep all the above-given tips and tricks given in the guide in mind before writing the problem-solving essay, we are sure that you will be able to write a problem-solving essay like a pro.

Recommended readings

How to write cause and effect essay

A complete guide to writing a narrative essay


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Problem Solving Essays: Overview

Questions to consider:

  • How can determining the best approach to solve a problem help you generate solutions?
  • Why do thinkers create multiple solutions to problems?
  • How do writers translate these approaches and solutions into writing?

When we’re solving a problem, whether at work, school, or home, we are being asked to perform multiple, often complex, tasks. The most effective problem-solving approach includes some variation of the following steps:

  • Determine the issue(s)
  • Recognize other perspectives
  • Think of multiple possible results
  • Research and evaluate the possibilities
  • Select the best result(s)
  • Communicate your findings
  • Establish logical action items based on your analysis

Determining the best approach to any given problem and generating more than one possible solution to the problem constitutes the complicated process of problem-solving. People who are good at these skills are highly marketable because many jobs consist of a series of problems that need to be solved for production, services, goods, and sales to continue smoothly.

Think about what happens when a worker at your favorite coffee shop slips on a wet spot behind the counter, dropping several drinks she just prepared. One problem is the employee may be hurt, in need of attention, and probably embarrassed; another problem is that several customers do not have the drinks they were waiting for; and another problem is that stopping production of drinks (to care for the hurt worker, to clean up her spilled drinks, to make new drinks) causes the line at the cash register to back up. A good manager has to juggle all of these elements to resolve the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. That resolution and return to standard operations doesn’t happen without a great deal of thinking: prioritizing needs, shifting other workers off one station onto another temporarily, and dealing with all the people involved, from the injured worker to the impatient patrons.


Faced with a problem-solving opportunity, you must assess the skills you will need to create solutions. Problem-solving can involve many different types of thinking.

  • You may have to call on your creative, analytical, or critical thinking skills—or more frequently, a combination of several different types of thinking—to solve a problem satisfactorily.
  • When you approach a situation, how can you decide what is the best type of thinking to employ? Sometimes the answer is obvious; if you are working a scientific challenge, you likely will use analytical thinking; if you are a design student considering the atmosphere of a home, you may need to tap into creative thinking skills; and if you are an early childhood education major outlining the logistics involved in establishing a summer day camp for children, you may need a combination of critical, analytical, and creative thinking to solve this challenge.

What sort of thinking do you imagine initially helped in the following scenarios? How would the other types of thinking come into resolving these problems? Write a one- to two-sentence rationale on scrap paper or notepad that explains why you chose the answers to the questions below.

  • Analytical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical thinking


Why do you think it is important to provide multiple solutions when you’re going through the steps to solve problems? Typically, you’ll end up only using one solution at a time, so why expend the extra energy to create alternatives? If you planned a wonderful trip to Europe and had all the sites you want to see planned out and reservations made, you would think that your problem-solving and organizational skills had quite a workout. But what if when you arrived, the country you’re visiting is enmeshed in a public transportation strike experts predict will last several weeks if not longer? A back-up plan would have helped you contemplate alternatives you could substitute for the original plans. You certainly cannot predict every possible contingency—sick children, weather delays, economic downfalls—but you can be prepared for unexpected issues to come up and adapt more easily if you plan for multiple solutions.Write out at least two possible solutions to these dilemmas:

  • Your significant other wants a birthday present—you have no cash.
  • You have three exams scheduled on a day when you also need to work.
  • Your car breaks down and requires an expensive repair and you need bus fare home—your cell phone is dead and you only have an ATM card with a max withdrawal limit of $200.
  • You have to pass a running test for your physical education class, but you’re out of shape.

Providing more than one solution to a problem gives people options. You may not need several options, but having more than one solution will allow you to feel more in control and part of the problem-solving process.

Writing Effective Problem Solving Essays

When someone’s purpose is to describe a problem and evaluate possible solutions, they will write a problem solving essay.  In academic writing, the problem solving essay is very common and useful. For example, students would use it in a ecological class if they were asked to discuss solutions to the problem of endangered species. Students also can write this type of essay in an computer science class if they needed to suggest some ways to solve the inefficient performance of a system.

Once someone has decided to write a problem solving essay, there are several techniques should be pay attention. First, he/she should carefully investigate if a problem exists and describe the problem clearly. While describing a statement of problem, he/she should mentions  why it is serious . Second, the solutions recommended for the problem should be convincing and effective. They must prove his viewpoint by  supporting it with persuasive facts and evidences . Finally, the essay must be able to influence the readers that the proposed solutions are practical and valuable.


  • Describe the problem and state why it is serious.
  • Write a thesis statement that identifies possible solutions.

Supporting Paragraphs

  • Discuss one solution in each supporting paragraph.
  • Provide details to support each solution.
  • Organize the paragraphs according to order of importance.
  • Summarize the solutions.
  • Draw a conclusion or make a prediction based on your suggestions.

Sources Used to Create this Chapter

The majority of the content for this section has been adapted from the following OER Material:

  • Strategic Information Literacy: Targeted Knowledge with Broad Application by Kristin Conlin and Allison Jennings-Roche, which was published under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

A Guide to Problem Solving Essays by Ken Lang, which was published under the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Starting the Journey: An Intro to College Writing Copyright © by Leonard Owens III; Tim Bishop; and Scott Ortolano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The Role of Insight and Creativity in Problem-Solving Essay

The role of insight and creativity in problem-solving, the functions of reasoning, judgment, and decision-making in problem-solving.

A problem is the gap between what is expected and what is already happening. Thus, in bridging this gap, a person can generate solutions through insight in that this person strives to understand the principles, which might feed into the solutions. Here, the person begins solving the problem by considering the requirements and interrelated elements regarding the problem before seeking a common plan that might lead to the desired goal.

Therefore, direction and flexibility are important aspects in the process of insightful problem-solving because the person involved directs the steps to finding a solution through a pre-determined plan while adjusting and modifying the plan along the way (Rickards, 1997, pp. 2-6).

On the other hand, creativity in problem-solving follows a classical model, which holds that the problem-solving process entails four distinct phases including preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. In the preparation step, the person involved in problem-solving begins by identifying the problem before gathering information regarding the possible solutions to the problem through conscious thinking.

However, solutions may not be reached during the preparation phase and therefore the person goes into the incubation phase whereby the person may give up or continue considering different aspects of the problem, and in the process, restructuring the possible solutions subconsciously. This process produces tentative solutions, which can be synthesized further in the illumination (insight) phase.

Finally, the solutions identified undergo checks, further development, and refinement during the validation phase before they are implemented (Rickards, 1997, p. 10). The whole process is cyclic in nature because if the solutions fail the verification step, one needs to start all over again. Overall, the four-step creative process is a widely accepted model in solving various problems.

Problem-solving is the process of developing the options, which guide the process of decision-making. Therefore, the first step toward solving a problem entails decision-making in which the best solution to a problem is selected from a variety of options (Lee & Arthur, 1975, p. 3). Accordingly, sound judgment and logical reasoning inform the process of decision-making and therefore, problem-solving in different aspects.

Here, judgment is defined as the ability to solve various problems when there is no right or wrong answer during the period of making decisions. Therefore, judgment is an imperative in unique situations, which require one to weigh all the factors affecting the situation before incorporating personal experience, intuitions, and various initiatives in making workable decisions.

Moreover, judgment is unique to specific situations, and thus, it is bound to change from one situation to another. As a result, it is imperative that people are trained on various ways of choosing the ingredients and other interrelated elements of problem-solving so that they are prepared to face unique situations when they arise (Lee & Arthur, 1975, pp. 5-10).

On the other hand, creative problem-solving involves the interplay of three major activities in which the interaction between visual-spatial and analytical reasoning is one of them.

Here, the two aspects of reasoning play a major role in problem-solving because creative thinking arises from visual thinking in that the visual images obtained from the surroundings through sense perception are incorporated into the process of finding solutions to problems, which are not observable in nature.

Consequently, analytical reasoning aided by visual thinking contributes to the genesis of new ideas that feed into the process of creative problem-solving (Lee & Arthur, 1975, pp. 10-23).

Lee, S.S., & Arthur, S.E. (1975). Studies of problem solving, judgment, and decision making: Implications for educational research. Review of Research Education, 3, 3-42.

Rickards, T. (1997). Creativity and problem-solving at work. Brookfield, USA: Gower Publishing Company.

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Problem Solving Essay

integrated essay problem solving

Facing problems and obstacles on a smaller or larger scale happen to most people. It could be a day-to-day problem affecting only an individual. On the other hand, it could also be a problem that affects numerous people. That said, people must hone their ability to provide solutions to problems. One way to do this is to incorporate it in your essay writing by composing a detailed problem solving essay.

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What Is a Problem Solving Essay?

A problem solving essay is a piece of writing where you provide detailed information about a problem and include paragraphs proposing solutions to the topic. The subjects in this type of academic essay  include personal issues and organizational difficulties. Also, those that are contributing to global warming. Universities and business corporations require you to write this paper.

How to Compose a Thorough Problem Solving Essay

An essay providing solutions to a problem is a necessary document. That is why various schools let you practice it as early as middle school. They also further enhance your skill during college by letting you compose numerous college essays . That said, it is not something you can do in a rush. For this kind of paper to be effective and serve its purpose, you need to undergo a lengthy and meticulous crafting process. 

1. Study Your Problem

Your professor or superior may provide you with a problem statement . If not, you have the freedom to choose from existing problems in our community. Before brainstorming about the possible responses to your problem topic, you should ensure that you know enough about it. That said, you must first conduct intensive educational research . Consider all factors to avoid having loopholes in the solutions that you will propose. 

2. Construct a Checklist of Possible Solutions

After knowing enough about your topic, now is the time to create a checklist of the solutions you generated. Your topic checklist will act as a form of a draft. Detail your ideas on your list and omit the ones that show a sense of ambiguity. After this, write down your thoughts on a topic outline to decide your problem solution essay flow.

3. Compose a Powerful Introduction

When reading a piece of writing, people often doubt whether or not the composition is worth their time. To persuade them, you should begin your paper with a captivating introduction. Secure their attention by incorporating a hook. Also, do not forget to state your thesis statement in your introductory paragraph. This sentence should give an overview of the content of your whole document.

4. Structure Your Essay

Most literature essays follow proper formatting and structure. Aside from your introduction, you should also organize a body and your conclusion. If your assignment did not require a fixed number of paragraphs, you should go for at least three essay paragraphs for the content of the body. Detail your solutions in each of them and support them with reliable evidence. In your conclusion statement, you should opt for a sentence that would make the readers want to take action and take part in solving the problem. 

What are examples of topics for a problem-solving essay?

Choosing your topic depends on what issues you want to tackle the most. If you select to resolve political troubles or social problems, you can choose from a numerous list of subjects. Some topics that will be compelling include bullying issues, water pollution, and ways to make classrooms more conducive for learning. The key to choosing the perfect topic sentences is to talk about subjects that make you passionate.

What are the elements of an impressive problem topic?

Even when given the freedom to select a topic, you can’t just choose anything that comes to mind. You should consider several elements beforehand. First, you should ask yourself it’s timely and relevant. In addition, you should also narrow it down and ensure it addresses a specific issue. Also, don’t forget to clarify the cope of the problem you’re proposing to resolve. Take note of these elements on your evaluation checklist. This list will be helpful in the process of analyzing your topic.

What are the steps to problem-solving?

The first step in the process is to identify and analyze your problem. You should highlight necessary information and facts about that particular issue. The next step involves researching the root of these problems and developing an action plan for your response. It is also helpful to include a budget plan if it is possible.

The readers of your paper will read your essay with a critical eye, especially if it is a teacher or a superior evaluating the quality of your writing. That said, you should secure that your problem solving essay does not have a weak spot. When crafted well, you can expect to receive an award certificate recognizing your efforts and skills in solving problems. 


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  • Published: 11 January 2023

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature

  • Enwei Xu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6424-8169 1 ,
  • Wei Wang 1 &
  • Qingxia Wang 1  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  10 , Article number:  16 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Collaborative problem-solving has been widely embraced in the classroom instruction of critical thinking, which is regarded as the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education as well as a key competence for learners in the 21st century. However, the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking remains uncertain. This current research presents the major findings of a meta-analysis of 36 pieces of the literature revealed in worldwide educational periodicals during the 21st century to identify the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and to determine, based on evidence, whether and to what extent collaborative problem solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. The findings show that (1) collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster students’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]); (2) in respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem solving can significantly and successfully enhance students’ attitudinal tendencies (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.58, 0.82]); and (3) the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have an impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. On the basis of these results, recommendations are made for further study and instruction to better support students’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

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Although critical thinking has a long history in research, the concept of critical thinking, which is regarded as an essential competence for learners in the 21st century, has recently attracted more attention from researchers and teaching practitioners (National Research Council, 2012 ). Critical thinking should be the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education (Peng and Deng, 2017 ) because students with critical thinking can not only understand the meaning of knowledge but also effectively solve practical problems in real life even after knowledge is forgotten (Kek and Huijser, 2011 ). The definition of critical thinking is not universal (Ennis, 1989 ; Castle, 2009 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). In general, the definition of critical thinking is a self-aware and self-regulated thought process (Facione, 1990 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). It refers to the cognitive skills needed to interpret, analyze, synthesize, reason, and evaluate information as well as the attitudinal tendency to apply these abilities (Halpern, 2001 ). The view that critical thinking can be taught and learned through curriculum teaching has been widely supported by many researchers (e.g., Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), leading to educators’ efforts to foster it among students. In the field of teaching practice, there are three types of courses for teaching critical thinking (Ennis, 1989 ). The first is an independent curriculum in which critical thinking is taught and cultivated without involving the knowledge of specific disciplines; the second is an integrated curriculum in which critical thinking is integrated into the teaching of other disciplines as a clear teaching goal; and the third is a mixed curriculum in which critical thinking is taught in parallel to the teaching of other disciplines for mixed teaching training. Furthermore, numerous measuring tools have been developed by researchers and educators to measure critical thinking in the context of teaching practice. These include standardized measurement tools, such as WGCTA, CCTST, CCTT, and CCTDI, which have been verified by repeated experiments and are considered effective and reliable by international scholars (Facione and Facione, 1992 ). In short, descriptions of critical thinking, including its two dimensions of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, different types of teaching courses, and standardized measurement tools provide a complex normative framework for understanding, teaching, and evaluating critical thinking.

Cultivating critical thinking in curriculum teaching can start with a problem, and one of the most popular critical thinking instructional approaches is problem-based learning (Liu et al., 2020 ). Duch et al. ( 2001 ) noted that problem-based learning in group collaboration is progressive active learning, which can improve students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Collaborative problem-solving is the organic integration of collaborative learning and problem-based learning, which takes learners as the center of the learning process and uses problems with poor structure in real-world situations as the starting point for the learning process (Liang et al., 2017 ). Students learn the knowledge needed to solve problems in a collaborative group, reach a consensus on problems in the field, and form solutions through social cooperation methods, such as dialogue, interpretation, questioning, debate, negotiation, and reflection, thus promoting the development of learners’ domain knowledge and critical thinking (Cindy, 2004 ; Liang et al., 2017 ).

Collaborative problem-solving has been widely used in the teaching practice of critical thinking, and several studies have attempted to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical literature on critical thinking from various perspectives. However, little attention has been paid to the impact of collaborative problem-solving on critical thinking. Therefore, the best approach for developing and enhancing critical thinking throughout collaborative problem-solving is to examine how to implement critical thinking instruction; however, this issue is still unexplored, which means that many teachers are incapable of better instructing critical thinking (Leng and Lu, 2020 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). For example, Huber ( 2016 ) provided the meta-analysis findings of 71 publications on gaining critical thinking over various time frames in college with the aim of determining whether critical thinking was truly teachable. These authors found that learners significantly improve their critical thinking while in college and that critical thinking differs with factors such as teaching strategies, intervention duration, subject area, and teaching type. The usefulness of collaborative problem-solving in fostering students’ critical thinking, however, was not determined by this study, nor did it reveal whether there existed significant variations among the different elements. A meta-analysis of 31 pieces of educational literature was conducted by Liu et al. ( 2020 ) to assess the impact of problem-solving on college students’ critical thinking. These authors found that problem-solving could promote the development of critical thinking among college students and proposed establishing a reasonable group structure for problem-solving in a follow-up study to improve students’ critical thinking. Additionally, previous empirical studies have reached inconclusive and even contradictory conclusions about whether and to what extent collaborative problem-solving increases or decreases critical thinking levels. As an illustration, Yang et al. ( 2008 ) carried out an experiment on the integrated curriculum teaching of college students based on a web bulletin board with the goal of fostering participants’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These authors’ research revealed that through sharing, debating, examining, and reflecting on various experiences and ideas, collaborative problem-solving can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking in real-life problem situations. In contrast, collaborative problem-solving had a positive impact on learners’ interaction and could improve learning interest and motivation but could not significantly improve students’ critical thinking when compared to traditional classroom teaching, according to research by Naber and Wyatt ( 2014 ) and Sendag and Odabasi ( 2009 ) on undergraduate and high school students, respectively.

The above studies show that there is inconsistency regarding the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a thorough and trustworthy review to detect and decide whether and to what degree collaborative problem-solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. Meta-analysis is a quantitative analysis approach that is utilized to examine quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. This approach characterizes the effectiveness of its impact by averaging the effect sizes of numerous qualitative studies in an effort to reduce the uncertainty brought on by independent research and produce more conclusive findings (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ).

This paper used a meta-analytic approach and carried out a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking in order to make a contribution to both research and practice. The following research questions were addressed by this meta-analysis:

What is the overall effect size of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills)?

How are the disparities between the study conclusions impacted by various moderating variables if the impacts of various experimental designs in the included studies are heterogeneous?

This research followed the strict procedures (e.g., database searching, identification, screening, eligibility, merging, duplicate removal, and analysis of included studies) of Cooper’s ( 2010 ) proposed meta-analysis approach for examining quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. The relevant empirical research that appeared in worldwide educational periodicals within the 21st century was subjected to this meta-analysis using Rev-Man 5.4. The consistency of the data extracted separately by two researchers was tested using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, and a publication bias test and a heterogeneity test were run on the sample data to ascertain the quality of this meta-analysis.

Data sources and search strategies

There were three stages to the data collection process for this meta-analysis, as shown in Fig. 1 , which shows the number of articles included and eliminated during the selection process based on the statement and study eligibility criteria.

figure 1

This flowchart shows the number of records identified, included and excluded in the article.

First, the databases used to systematically search for relevant articles were the journal papers of the Web of Science Core Collection and the Chinese Core source journal, as well as the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI) source journal papers included in CNKI. These databases were selected because they are credible platforms that are sources of scholarly and peer-reviewed information with advanced search tools and contain literature relevant to the subject of our topic from reliable researchers and experts. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the Web of Science was “TS = (((“critical thinking” or “ct” and “pretest” or “posttest”) or (“critical thinking” or “ct” and “control group” or “quasi experiment” or “experiment”)) and (“collaboration” or “collaborative learning” or “CSCL”) and (“problem solving” or “problem-based learning” or “PBL”))”. The research area was “Education Educational Research”, and the search period was “January 1, 2000, to December 30, 2021”. A total of 412 papers were obtained. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the CNKI was “SU = (‘critical thinking’*‘collaboration’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘collaborative learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘CSCL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem solving’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem-based learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘PBL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem oriented’) AND FT = (‘experiment’ + ‘quasi experiment’ + ‘pretest’ + ‘posttest’ + ‘empirical study’)” (translated into Chinese when searching). A total of 56 studies were found throughout the search period of “January 2000 to December 2021”. From the databases, all duplicates and retractions were eliminated before exporting the references into Endnote, a program for managing bibliographic references. In all, 466 studies were found.

Second, the studies that matched the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the meta-analysis were chosen by two researchers after they had reviewed the abstracts and titles of the gathered articles, yielding a total of 126 studies.

Third, two researchers thoroughly reviewed each included article’s whole text in accordance with the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Meanwhile, a snowball search was performed using the references and citations of the included articles to ensure complete coverage of the articles. Ultimately, 36 articles were kept.

Two researchers worked together to carry out this entire process, and a consensus rate of almost 94.7% was reached after discussion and negotiation to clarify any emerging differences.

Eligibility criteria

Since not all the retrieved studies matched the criteria for this meta-analysis, eligibility criteria for both inclusion and exclusion were developed as follows:

The publication language of the included studies was limited to English and Chinese, and the full text could be obtained. Articles that did not meet the publication language and articles not published between 2000 and 2021 were excluded.

The research design of the included studies must be empirical and quantitative studies that can assess the effect of collaborative problem-solving on the development of critical thinking. Articles that could not identify the causal mechanisms by which collaborative problem-solving affects critical thinking, such as review articles and theoretical articles, were excluded.

The research method of the included studies must feature a randomized control experiment or a quasi-experiment, or a natural experiment, which have a higher degree of internal validity with strong experimental designs and can all plausibly provide evidence that critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving are causally related. Articles with non-experimental research methods, such as purely correlational or observational studies, were excluded.

The participants of the included studies were only students in school, including K-12 students and college students. Articles in which the participants were non-school students, such as social workers or adult learners, were excluded.

The research results of the included studies must mention definite signs that may be utilized to gauge critical thinking’s impact (e.g., sample size, mean value, or standard deviation). Articles that lacked specific measurement indicators for critical thinking and could not calculate the effect size were excluded.

Data coding design

In order to perform a meta-analysis, it is necessary to collect the most important information from the articles, codify that information’s properties, and convert descriptive data into quantitative data. Therefore, this study designed a data coding template (see Table 1 ). Ultimately, 16 coding fields were retained.

The designed data-coding template consisted of three pieces of information. Basic information about the papers was included in the descriptive information: the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper.

The variable information for the experimental design had three variables: the independent variable (instruction method), the dependent variable (critical thinking), and the moderating variable (learning stage, teaching type, intervention duration, learning scaffold, group size, measuring tool, and subject area). Depending on the topic of this study, the intervention strategy, as the independent variable, was coded into collaborative and non-collaborative problem-solving. The dependent variable, critical thinking, was coded as a cognitive skill and an attitudinal tendency. And seven moderating variables were created by grouping and combining the experimental design variables discovered within the 36 studies (see Table 1 ), where learning stages were encoded as higher education, high school, middle school, and primary school or lower; teaching types were encoded as mixed courses, integrated courses, and independent courses; intervention durations were encoded as 0–1 weeks, 1–4 weeks, 4–12 weeks, and more than 12 weeks; group sizes were encoded as 2–3 persons, 4–6 persons, 7–10 persons, and more than 10 persons; learning scaffolds were encoded as teacher-supported learning scaffold, technique-supported learning scaffold, and resource-supported learning scaffold; measuring tools were encoded as standardized measurement tools (e.g., WGCTA, CCTT, CCTST, and CCTDI) and self-adapting measurement tools (e.g., modified or made by researchers); and subject areas were encoded according to the specific subjects used in the 36 included studies.

The data information contained three metrics for measuring critical thinking: sample size, average value, and standard deviation. It is vital to remember that studies with various experimental designs frequently adopt various formulas to determine the effect size. And this paper used Morris’ proposed standardized mean difference (SMD) calculation formula ( 2008 , p. 369; see Supplementary Table S3 ).

Procedure for extracting and coding data

According to the data coding template (see Table 1 ), the 36 papers’ information was retrieved by two researchers, who then entered them into Excel (see Supplementary Table S1 ). The results of each study were extracted separately in the data extraction procedure if an article contained numerous studies on critical thinking, or if a study assessed different critical thinking dimensions. For instance, Tiwari et al. ( 2010 ) used four time points, which were viewed as numerous different studies, to examine the outcomes of critical thinking, and Chen ( 2013 ) included the two outcome variables of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, which were regarded as two studies. After discussion and negotiation during data extraction, the two researchers’ consistency test coefficients were roughly 93.27%. Supplementary Table S2 details the key characteristics of the 36 included articles with 79 effect quantities, including descriptive information (e.g., the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper), variable information (e.g., independent variables, dependent variables, and moderating variables), and data information (e.g., mean values, standard deviations, and sample size). Following that, testing for publication bias and heterogeneity was done on the sample data using the Rev-Man 5.4 software, and then the test results were used to conduct a meta-analysis.

Publication bias test

When the sample of studies included in a meta-analysis does not accurately reflect the general status of research on the relevant subject, publication bias is said to be exhibited in this research. The reliability and accuracy of the meta-analysis may be impacted by publication bias. Due to this, the meta-analysis needs to check the sample data for publication bias (Stewart et al., 2006 ). A popular method to check for publication bias is the funnel plot; and it is unlikely that there will be publishing bias when the data are equally dispersed on either side of the average effect size and targeted within the higher region. The data are equally dispersed within the higher portion of the efficient zone, consistent with the funnel plot connected with this analysis (see Fig. 2 ), indicating that publication bias is unlikely in this situation.

figure 2

This funnel plot shows the result of publication bias of 79 effect quantities across 36 studies.

Heterogeneity test

To select the appropriate effect models for the meta-analysis, one might use the results of a heterogeneity test on the data effect sizes. In a meta-analysis, it is common practice to gauge the degree of data heterogeneity using the I 2 value, and I 2  ≥ 50% is typically understood to denote medium-high heterogeneity, which calls for the adoption of a random effect model; if not, a fixed effect model ought to be applied (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ). The findings of the heterogeneity test in this paper (see Table 2 ) revealed that I 2 was 86% and displayed significant heterogeneity ( P  < 0.01). To ensure accuracy and reliability, the overall effect size ought to be calculated utilizing the random effect model.

The analysis of the overall effect size

This meta-analysis utilized a random effect model to examine 79 effect quantities from 36 studies after eliminating heterogeneity. In accordance with Cohen’s criterion (Cohen, 1992 ), it is abundantly clear from the analysis results, which are shown in the forest plot of the overall effect (see Fig. 3 ), that the cumulative impact size of cooperative problem-solving is 0.82, which is statistically significant ( z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]), and can encourage learners to practice critical thinking.

figure 3

This forest plot shows the analysis result of the overall effect size across 36 studies.

In addition, this study examined two distinct dimensions of critical thinking to better understand the precise contributions that collaborative problem-solving makes to the growth of critical thinking. The findings (see Table 3 ) indicate that collaborative problem-solving improves cognitive skills (ES = 0.70) and attitudinal tendency (ES = 1.17), with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.95, P  < 0.01). Although collaborative problem-solving improves both dimensions of critical thinking, it is essential to point out that the improvements in students’ attitudinal tendency are much more pronounced and have a significant comprehensive effect (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]), whereas gains in learners’ cognitive skill are slightly improved and are just above average. (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

The analysis of moderator effect size

The whole forest plot’s 79 effect quantities underwent a two-tailed test, which revealed significant heterogeneity ( I 2  = 86%, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01), indicating differences between various effect sizes that may have been influenced by moderating factors other than sampling error. Therefore, exploring possible moderating factors that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis, such as the learning stage, learning scaffold, teaching type, group size, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, in order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking. The findings (see Table 4 ) indicate that various moderating factors have advantageous effects on critical thinking. In this situation, the subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01), and teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05) are all significant moderators that can be applied to support the cultivation of critical thinking. However, since the learning stage and the measuring tools did not significantly differ among intergroup (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05, and chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05), we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These are the precise outcomes, as follows:

Various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively, without significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05). High school was first on the list of effect sizes (ES = 1.36, P  < 0.01), then higher education (ES = 0.78, P  < 0.01), and middle school (ES = 0.73, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the learning stage’s beneficial influence on cultivating learners’ critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is essential for cultivating critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Different teaching types had varying degrees of positive impact on critical thinking, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05). The effect size was ranked as follows: mixed courses (ES = 1.34, P  < 0.01), integrated courses (ES = 0.81, P  < 0.01), and independent courses (ES = 0.27, P  < 0.01). These results indicate that the most effective approach to cultivate critical thinking utilizing collaborative problem solving is through the teaching type of mixed courses.

Various intervention durations significantly improved critical thinking, and there were significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01). The effect sizes related to this variable showed a tendency to increase with longer intervention durations. The improvement in critical thinking reached a significant level (ES = 0.85, P  < 0.01) after more than 12 weeks of training. These findings indicate that the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated, with a longer intervention duration having a greater effect.

Different learning scaffolds influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01). The resource-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.69, P  < 0.01) acquired a medium-to-higher level of impact, the technique-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.63, P  < 0.01) also attained a medium-to-higher level of impact, and the teacher-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.92, P  < 0.01) displayed a high level of significant impact. These results show that the learning scaffold with teacher support has the greatest impact on cultivating critical thinking.

Various group sizes influenced critical thinking positively, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05). Critical thinking showed a general declining trend with increasing group size. The overall effect size of 2–3 people in this situation was the biggest (ES = 0.99, P  < 0.01), and when the group size was greater than 7 people, the improvement in critical thinking was at the lower-middle level (ES < 0.5, P  < 0.01). These results show that the impact on critical thinking is positively connected with group size, and as group size grows, so does the overall impact.

Various measuring tools influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05). In this situation, the self-adapting measurement tools obtained an upper-medium level of effect (ES = 0.78), whereas the complete effect size of the standardized measurement tools was the largest, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 0.84, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the beneficial influence of the measuring tool on cultivating critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Different subject areas had a greater impact on critical thinking, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05). Mathematics had the greatest overall impact, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 1.68, P  < 0.01), followed by science (ES = 1.25, P  < 0.01) and medical science (ES = 0.87, P  < 0.01), both of which also achieved a significant level of effect. Programming technology was the least effective (ES = 0.39, P  < 0.01), only having a medium-low degree of effect compared to education (ES = 0.72, P  < 0.01) and other fields (such as language, art, and social sciences) (ES = 0.58, P  < 0.01). These results suggest that scientific fields (e.g., mathematics, science) may be the most effective subject areas for cultivating critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

According to this meta-analysis, using collaborative problem-solving as an intervention strategy in critical thinking teaching has a considerable amount of impact on cultivating learners’ critical thinking as a whole and has a favorable promotional effect on the two dimensions of critical thinking. According to certain studies, collaborative problem solving, the most frequently used critical thinking teaching strategy in curriculum instruction can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking (e.g., Liang et al., 2017 ; Liu et al., 2020 ; Cindy, 2004 ). This meta-analysis provides convergent data support for the above research views. Thus, the findings of this meta-analysis not only effectively address the first research query regarding the overall effect of cultivating critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills) utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving, but also enhance our confidence in cultivating critical thinking by using collaborative problem-solving intervention approach in the context of classroom teaching.

Furthermore, the associated improvements in attitudinal tendency are much stronger, but the corresponding improvements in cognitive skill are only marginally better. According to certain studies, cognitive skill differs from the attitudinal tendency in classroom instruction; the cultivation and development of the former as a key ability is a process of gradual accumulation, while the latter as an attitude is affected by the context of the teaching situation (e.g., a novel and exciting teaching approach, challenging and rewarding tasks) (Halpern, 2001 ; Wei and Hong, 2022 ). Collaborative problem-solving as a teaching approach is exciting and interesting, as well as rewarding and challenging; because it takes the learners as the focus and examines problems with poor structure in real situations, and it can inspire students to fully realize their potential for problem-solving, which will significantly improve their attitudinal tendency toward solving problems (Liu et al., 2020 ). Similar to how collaborative problem-solving influences attitudinal tendency, attitudinal tendency impacts cognitive skill when attempting to solve a problem (Liu et al., 2020 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ), and stronger attitudinal tendencies are associated with improved learning achievement and cognitive ability in students (Sison, 2008 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ). It can be seen that the two specific dimensions of critical thinking as well as critical thinking as a whole are affected by collaborative problem-solving, and this study illuminates the nuanced links between cognitive skills and attitudinal tendencies with regard to these two dimensions of critical thinking. To fully develop students’ capacity for critical thinking, future empirical research should pay closer attention to cognitive skills.

The moderating effects of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

In order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking, exploring possible moderating effects that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis. The findings show that the moderating factors, such as the teaching type, learning stage, group size, learning scaffold, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, could all support the cultivation of collaborative problem-solving in critical thinking. Among them, the effect size differences between the learning stage and measuring tool are not significant, which does not explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

In terms of the learning stage, various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively without significant intergroup differences, indicating that we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking.

Although high education accounts for 70.89% of all empirical studies performed by researchers, high school may be the appropriate learning stage to foster students’ critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving since it has the largest overall effect size. This phenomenon may be related to student’s cognitive development, which needs to be further studied in follow-up research.

With regard to teaching type, mixed course teaching may be the best teaching method to cultivate students’ critical thinking. Relevant studies have shown that in the actual teaching process if students are trained in thinking methods alone, the methods they learn are isolated and divorced from subject knowledge, which is not conducive to their transfer of thinking methods; therefore, if students’ thinking is trained only in subject teaching without systematic method training, it is challenging to apply to real-world circumstances (Ruggiero, 2012 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Teaching critical thinking as mixed course teaching in parallel to other subject teachings can achieve the best effect on learners’ critical thinking, and explicit critical thinking instruction is more effective than less explicit critical thinking instruction (Bensley and Spero, 2014 ).

In terms of the intervention duration, with longer intervention times, the overall effect size shows an upward tendency. Thus, the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated. Critical thinking, as a key competency for students in the 21st century, is difficult to get a meaningful improvement in a brief intervention duration. Instead, it could be developed over a lengthy period of time through consistent teaching and the progressive accumulation of knowledge (Halpern, 2001 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Therefore, future empirical studies ought to take these restrictions into account throughout a longer period of critical thinking instruction.

With regard to group size, a group size of 2–3 persons has the highest effect size, and the comprehensive effect size decreases with increasing group size in general. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a group composed of two to four members is most appropriate for collaborative learning (Schellens and Valcke, 2006 ). However, the meta-analysis results also indicate that once the group size exceeds 7 people, small groups cannot produce better interaction and performance than large groups. This may be because the learning scaffolds of technique support, resource support, and teacher support improve the frequency and effectiveness of interaction among group members, and a collaborative group with more members may increase the diversity of views, which is helpful to cultivate critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

With regard to the learning scaffold, the three different kinds of learning scaffolds can all enhance critical thinking. Among them, the teacher-supported learning scaffold has the largest overall effect size, demonstrating the interdependence of effective learning scaffolds and collaborative problem-solving. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a successful strategy is to encourage learners to collaborate, come up with solutions, and develop critical thinking skills by using learning scaffolds (Reiser, 2004 ; Xu et al., 2022 ); learning scaffolds can lower task complexity and unpleasant feelings while also enticing students to engage in learning activities (Wood et al., 2006 ); learning scaffolds are designed to assist students in using learning approaches more successfully to adapt the collaborative problem-solving process, and the teacher-supported learning scaffolds have the greatest influence on critical thinking in this process because they are more targeted, informative, and timely (Xu et al., 2022 ).

With respect to the measuring tool, despite the fact that standardized measurement tools (such as the WGCTA, CCTT, and CCTST) have been acknowledged as trustworthy and effective by worldwide experts, only 54.43% of the research included in this meta-analysis adopted them for assessment, and the results indicated no intergroup differences. These results suggest that not all teaching circumstances are appropriate for measuring critical thinking using standardized measurement tools. “The measuring tools for measuring thinking ability have limits in assessing learners in educational situations and should be adapted appropriately to accurately assess the changes in learners’ critical thinking.”, according to Simpson and Courtney ( 2002 , p. 91). As a result, in order to more fully and precisely gauge how learners’ critical thinking has evolved, we must properly modify standardized measuring tools based on collaborative problem-solving learning contexts.

With regard to the subject area, the comprehensive effect size of science departments (e.g., mathematics, science, medical science) is larger than that of language arts and social sciences. Some recent international education reforms have noted that critical thinking is a basic part of scientific literacy. Students with scientific literacy can prove the rationality of their judgment according to accurate evidence and reasonable standards when they face challenges or poorly structured problems (Kyndt et al., 2013 ), which makes critical thinking crucial for developing scientific understanding and applying this understanding to practical problem solving for problems related to science, technology, and society (Yore et al., 2007 ).

Suggestions for critical thinking teaching

Other than those stated in the discussion above, the following suggestions are offered for critical thinking instruction utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

First, teachers should put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, to design real problems based on collaborative situations. This meta-analysis provides evidence to support the view that collaborative problem-solving has a strong synergistic effect on promoting students’ critical thinking. Asking questions about real situations and allowing learners to take part in critical discussions on real problems during class instruction are key ways to teach critical thinking rather than simply reading speculative articles without practice (Mulnix, 2012 ). Furthermore, the improvement of students’ critical thinking is realized through cognitive conflict with other learners in the problem situation (Yang et al., 2008 ). Consequently, it is essential for teachers to put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, and design real problems and encourage students to discuss, negotiate, and argue based on collaborative problem-solving situations.

Second, teachers should design and implement mixed courses to cultivate learners’ critical thinking, utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving. Critical thinking can be taught through curriculum instruction (Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), with the goal of cultivating learners’ critical thinking for flexible transfer and application in real problem-solving situations. This meta-analysis shows that mixed course teaching has a highly substantial impact on the cultivation and promotion of learners’ critical thinking. Therefore, teachers should design and implement mixed course teaching with real collaborative problem-solving situations in combination with the knowledge content of specific disciplines in conventional teaching, teach methods and strategies of critical thinking based on poorly structured problems to help students master critical thinking, and provide practical activities in which students can interact with each other to develop knowledge construction and critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Third, teachers should be more trained in critical thinking, particularly preservice teachers, and they also should be conscious of the ways in which teachers’ support for learning scaffolds can promote critical thinking. The learning scaffold supported by teachers had the greatest impact on learners’ critical thinking, in addition to being more directive, targeted, and timely (Wood et al., 2006 ). Critical thinking can only be effectively taught when teachers recognize the significance of critical thinking for students’ growth and use the proper approaches while designing instructional activities (Forawi, 2016 ). Therefore, with the intention of enabling teachers to create learning scaffolds to cultivate learners’ critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem solving, it is essential to concentrate on the teacher-supported learning scaffolds and enhance the instruction for teaching critical thinking to teachers, especially preservice teachers.

Implications and limitations

There are certain limitations in this meta-analysis, but future research can correct them. First, the search languages were restricted to English and Chinese, so it is possible that pertinent studies that were written in other languages were overlooked, resulting in an inadequate number of articles for review. Second, these data provided by the included studies are partially missing, such as whether teachers were trained in the theory and practice of critical thinking, the average age and gender of learners, and the differences in critical thinking among learners of various ages and genders. Third, as is typical for review articles, more studies were released while this meta-analysis was being done; therefore, it had a time limit. With the development of relevant research, future studies focusing on these issues are highly relevant and needed.


The subject of the magnitude of collaborative problem-solving’s impact on fostering students’ critical thinking, which received scant attention from other studies, was successfully addressed by this study. The question of the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking was addressed in this study, which addressed a topic that had gotten little attention in earlier research. The following conclusions can be made:

Regarding the results obtained, collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster learners’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]). With respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving can significantly and effectively improve students’ attitudinal tendency, and the comprehensive effect is significant (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

As demonstrated by both the results and the discussion, there are varying degrees of beneficial effects on students’ critical thinking from all seven moderating factors, which were found across 36 studies. In this context, the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have a positive impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. Since the learning stage (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05) and measuring tools (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05) did not demonstrate any significant intergroup differences, we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included within the article and its supplementary information files, and the supplementary information files are available in the Dataverse repository: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/IPFJO6 .

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This research was supported by the graduate scientific research and innovation project of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region named “Research on in-depth learning of high school information technology courses for the cultivation of computing thinking” (No. XJ2022G190) and the independent innovation fund project for doctoral students of the College of Educational Science of Xinjiang Normal University named “Research on project-based teaching of high school information technology courses from the perspective of discipline core literacy” (No. XJNUJKYA2003).

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Xu, E., Wang, W. & Wang, Q. The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 10 , 16 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-023-01508-1

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integrated essay problem solving

In this chapter you will write a problem/solution essay. To write a problem/solution essay, think about a problem that you have experienced and how it could be fixed.

A problem/solution essay is written to explain the solution(s) for a problem. This essay can describe multiple solutions or one “ideal” solution to the problem you describe.

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Problem solving through values: A challenge for thinking and capability development

  • • This paper introduces the 4W framework of consistent problem solving through values.
  • • The 4W suggests when, how and why the explication of values helps to solve a problem.
  • • The 4W is significant to teach students to cope with problems having crucial consequences.
  • • The paper considers challenges using such framework of thinking in different fields of education.

The paper aims to introduce the conceptual framework of problem solving through values. The framework consists of problem analysis, selection of value(s) as a background for the solution, the search for alternative ways of the solution, and the rationale for the solution. This framework reveals when, how, and why is important to think about values when solving problems. A consistent process fosters cohesive and creative value-based thinking during problem solving rather than teaching specific values. Therefore, the framework discloses the possibility for enabling the development of value-grounded problem solving capability.The application of this framework highlights the importance of responsibility for the chosen values that are the basis for the alternatives which determine actions. The 4W framework is meaningful for the people’s lives and their professional work. It is particularly important in the process of future professionals’ education. Critical issues concerning the development of problem solving through values are discussed when considering and examining options for the implementation of the 4W framework in educational institutions.

1. Introduction

The core competencies necessary for future professionals include problem solving based on complexity and collaborative approaches ( OECD, 2018 ). Currently, the emphasis is put on the development of technical, technological skills as well as system thinking and other cognitive abilities (e.g., Barber, 2018 ; Blanco, Schirmbeck, & Costa, 2018 ). Hence, education prepares learners with high qualifications yet lacking in moral values ( Nadda, 2017 ). Educational researchers (e.g., Barnett, 2007 ; Harland & Pickering, 2010 ) stress that such skills and abilities ( the how? ), as well as knowledge ( the what? ), are insufficient to educate a person for society and the world. The philosophy of education underlines both the epistemological and ontological dimensions of learning. Barnett (2007) points out that the ontological dimension has to be above the epistemological one. The ontological dimension encompasses the issues related to values that education should foster ( Harland & Pickering, 2010 ). In addition, values are closely related to the enablement of learners in educational environments ( Jucevičienė et al., 2010 ). For these reasons, ‘ the why ?’ based on values is required in the learning process. The question arises as to what values and how it makes sense to educate them. Value-based education seeks to address these issues and concentrates on values transfer due to their integration into the curriculum. Yazdani and Akbarilakeh (2017) discussed that value-based education could only convey factual knowledge of values and ethics. However, such education does not guarantee the internalization of values. Nevertheless, value-based education indicates problem solving as one of the possibilities to develop values.

Values guide and affect personal behavior encompassing the ethical aspects of solutions ( Roccas, Sagiv, & Navon, 2017 ; Schwartz, 1992 , 2012 ; Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ). Therefore, they represent the essential foundation for solving a problem. Growing evidence indicates the creative potential of values ( Dollinger, Burke, & Gump, 2007 ; Kasof, Chen, Himsel, & Greenberger, 2007 ; Lebedeva et al., 2019) and emphasizes their significance for problem solving. Meanwhile, research in problem solving pays little attention to values. Most of the problem solving models (e.g., Newell & Simon, 1972 ; Jonassen, 1997 ) utilize a rational economic approach. Principally, the research on the mechanisms of problem solving have been conducted under laboratory conditions performing simple tasks ( Csapó & Funke, 2017 ). Moreover, some of the decision-making models share the same steps as problem solving (c.f., Donovan, Guss, & Naslund, 2015 ). This explains why these terms are sometimes used interchangeably ( Huitt, 1992 ). Indeed, decision-making is a part of problem solving, which emerges while choosing between alternatives. Yet, values, moral, and ethical issues are more common in decision-making research (e.g., Keeney, 1994 ; Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ; Hall & Davis, 2007 ; Sheehan & Schmidt, 2015 ). Though, research by Shepherd, Patzelt, and Baron (2013) , Baron, Zhao, and Miao (2015) has affirmed that contemporary business decision makers rather often leave aside ethical issues and moral values. Thus, ‘ethical disengagement fallacy’ ( Sternberg, 2017, p.7 ) occurs as people think that ethics is more relevant to others. In the face of such disengagement, ethical issues lose their prominence.

The analysis of the literature revealed a wide field of problem solving research presenting a range of more theoretical insights rather empirical evidence. Despite this, to date, a comprehensive model that reveals how to solve problems emphasizing thinking about values is lacking. This underlines the relevance of the chosen topic, i.e. a challenge for thinking and for the development of capabilities addressing problems through values. To address this gap, the following issues need to be investigated: When, how, and why a problem solver should take into account values during problem solving? What challenges may occur for using such framework of thinking in different fields of education? Aiming this, the authors of the paper substantiated the conceptual framework of problem solving grounded in consistent thinking about values. The substantiation consists of several parts. First, different approaches to solving problems were examined. Second, searching to reveal the possibilities of values integration into problem solving, value-based approaches significant for problem solving were critically analyzed. Third, drawing on the effect of values when solving a problem and their creative potential, the authors of this paper claim that the identification of values and their choice for a solution need to be specified in the process of problem solving. As a synthesis of conclusions coming from the literature review and conceptual extensions regarding values, the authors of the paper created the coherent framework of problem solving through values (so called 4W).

The novelty of the 4W framework is exposed by several contributions. First, the clear design of overall problem solving process with attention on integrated thinking about values is used. Unlike in most models of problem solving, the first stage encompass the identification of a problem, an analysis of a context and the perspectives that influence the whole process, i.e. ‘What?’. The stage ‘What is the basis for a solution?’ focus on values identification and their choice. The stage ‘Ways how?’ encourages to create alternatives considering values. The stage ‘Why?’ represent justification of a chosen alternative according particular issues. Above-mentioned stages including specific steps are not found in any other model of problem solving. Second, even two key stages nurture thinking about values. The specificity of the 4W framework allows expecting its successful practical application. It may help to solve a problem more informed revealing when and how the explication of values helps to reach the desired value-based solution. The particular significance is that the 4W framework can be used to develop capabilities to solve problems through values. The challenges to use the 4W framework in education are discussed.

2. Methodology

To create the 4W framework, the integrative literature review was chosen. According to Snyder (2019) , this review is ‘useful when the purpose of the review is not to cover all articles ever published on the topic but rather to combine perspectives to create new theoretical models’ (p.334). The scope of this review focused on research disclosing problem solving process that paid attention on values. The following databases were used for relevant information search: EBSCO/Hostdatabases (ERIC, Education Source), Emerald, Google Scholar. The first step of this search was conducted using integrated keywords problem solving model , problem solving process, problem solving steps . These keywords were combined with the Boolean operator AND with the second keywords values approach, value-based . The inclusion criteria were used to identify research that: presents theoretical backgrounds and/or empirical evidences; performed within the last 5 years; within an educational context; availability of full text. The sources appropriate for this review was very limited in scope (N = 2).

We implemented the second search only with the same set of the integrated keywords. The inclusion criteria were the same except the date; this criterion was extended up to 10 years. This search presented 85 different sources. After reading the summaries, introductions and conclusions of the sources found, the sources that do not explicitly provide the process/models/steps of problem solving for teaching/learning purposes and eliminates values were excluded. Aiming to see a more accurate picture of the chosen topic, we selected secondary sources from these initial sources.

Several important issues were determined as well. First, most researchers ground their studies on existing problem solving models, however, not based on values. Second, some of them conducted empirical research in order to identify the process of studies participants’ problem solving. Therefore, we included sources without date restrictions trying to identify the principal sources that reveal the process/models/steps of problem solving. Third, decision-making is a part of problem solving process. Accordingly, we performed a search with the additional keywords decision-making AND values approach, value-based decision-making . We used such inclusion criteria: presents theoretical background and/or empirical evidence; no date restriction; within an educational context; availability of full text. These all searches resulted in a total of 16 (9 theoretical and 7 empirical) sources for inclusion. They were the main sources that contributed most fruitfully for the background. We used other sources for the justification the wholeness of the 4W framework. We present the principal results of the conducted literature review in the part ‘The background of the conceptual framework’.

3. The background of the conceptual framework

3.1. different approaches of how to solve a problem.

Researchers from different fields focus on problem solving. As a result, there still seems to be a lack of a conventional definition of problem solving. Regardless of some differences, there is an agreement that problem solving is a cognitive process and one of the meaningful and significant ways of learning ( Funke, 2014 ; Jonassen, 1997 ; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006 ). Differing in approaches to solving a problem, researchers ( Collins, Sibthorp, & Gookin, 2016 ; Jonassen, 1997 ; Litzinger et al., 2010 ; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006 ; O’Loughlin & McFadzean, 1999 ; ect.) present a variety of models that differ in the number of distinct steps. What is similar in these models is that they stress the procedural process of problem solving with the focus on the development of specific skills and competences.

For the sake of this paper, we have focused on those models of problem solving that clarify the process and draw attention to values, specifically, on Huitt (1992) , Basadur, Ellspermann, and Evans (1994) , and Morton (1997) . Integrating the creative approach to problem solving, Newell and Simon (1972) presents six phases: phase 1 - identifying the problem, phase 2 - understanding the problem, phase 3 - posing solutions, phase 4 - choosing solutions, phase 5 - implementing solutions, and phase 6 - final analysis. The weakness of this model is that these phases do not necessarily follow one another, and several can coincide. However, coping with simultaneously occurring phases could be a challenge, especially if these are, for instance, phases five and six. Certainly, it may be necessary to return to the previous phases for further analysis. According to Basadur et al. (1994) , problem solving consists of problem generation, problem formulation, problem solving, and solution implementation stages. Huitt (1992) distinguishes four stages in problem solving: input, processing, output, and review. Both Huitt (1992) and Basadur et al. (1994) four-stage models emphasize a sequential process of problem solving. Thus, problem solving includes four stages that are used in education. For example, problem-based learning employs such stages as introduction of the problem, problem analysis and learning issues, discovery and reporting, solution presentation and evaluation ( Chua, Tan, & Liu, 2016 ). Even PISA 2012 framework for problem solving composes four stages: exploring and understanding, representing and formulating, planning and executing, monitoring and reflecting ( OECD, 2013 ).

Drawing on various approaches to problem solving, it is possible to notice that although each stage is named differently, it is possible to reveal some general steps. These steps reflect the essential idea of problem solving: a search for the solution from the initial state to the desirable state. The identification of a problem and its contextual elements, the generation of alternatives to a problem solution, the evaluation of these alternatives according to specific criteria, the choice of an alternative for a solution, the implementation, and monitoring of the solution are the main proceeding steps in problem solving.

3.2. Value-based approaches relevant for problem solving

Huitt (1992) suggests that important values are among the criteria for the evaluation of alternatives and the effectiveness of a chosen solution. Basadur et al. (1994) point out to visible values in the problem formulation. Morton (1997) underlines that interests, investigation, prevention, and values of all types, which may influence the process, inspire every phase of problem solving. However, the aforementioned authors do not go deeper and do not seek to disclose the significance of values for problem solving.

Decision-making research shows more possibilities for problem solving and values integration. Sheehan and Schmidt (2015) model of ethical decision-making includes moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral action where values are presented in the component of moral motivation. Another useful approach concerned with values comes from decision-making in management. It is the concept of Value-Focused Thinking (VFT) proposed by Keeney (1994) . The author argues that the goals often are merely means of achieving results in traditional models of problem solving. Such models frequently do not help to identify logical links between the problem solving goals, values, and alternatives. Thus, according to Keeney (1994) , the decision-making starts with values as they are stated in the goals and objectives of decision-makers. VFT emphasizes the core values of decision-makers that are in a specific context as well as how to find a way to achieve them by using means-ends analysis. The weakness of VFT is its restriction to this means-ends analysis. According to Shin, Jonassen, and McGee (2003) , in searching for a solution, such analysis is weak as the problem solver focuses simply on removing inadequacies between the current state and the goal state. The strengths of this approach underline that values are included in the decision before alternatives are created. Besides, values help to find creative and meaningful alternatives and to assess them. Further, they include the forthcoming consequences of the decision. As VFT emphasizes the significant function of values and clarifies the possibilities of their integration into problem solving, we adapt this approach in the current paper.

3.3. The effect of values when solving a problem

In a broader sense, values provide a direction to a person’s life. Whereas the importance of values is relatively stable over time and across situations, Roccas et al. (2017) argue that values differ in their importance to a person. Verplanken and Holland (2002) investigated the relationship between values and choices or behavior. The research revealed that the activation of a value and the centrality of a value to the self, are the essential elements for value-guided behavior. The activation of values could happen in such cases: when values are the primary focus of attention; if the situation or the information a person is confronted with implies values; when the self is activated. The centrality of a particular value is ‘the degree to which an individual has incorporated this value as part of the self’ ( Verplanken & Holland, 2002, p.436 ). Thus, the perceived importance of values and attention to them determine value-guided behavior.

According to Argandoña (2003) , values can change due to external (changing values in the people around, in society, changes in situations, etc.) and internal (internalization by learning) factors affecting the person. The research by Hall and Davis (2007) indicates that the decision-makers’ applied value profile temporarily changed as they analyzed the issue from multiple perspectives and revealed the existence of a broader set of values. The study by Kirkman (2017) reveal that participants noticed the relevance of moral values to situations they encountered in various contexts.

Values are tightly related to personal integrity and identity and guide an individual’s perception, judgment, and behavior ( Halstead, 1996 ; Schwartz, 1992 ). Sheehan and Schmidt (2015) found that values influenced ethical decision-making of accounting study programme students when they uncovered their own values and grounded in them their individual codes of conduct for future jobs. Hence, the effect of values discloses by observing the problem solver’s decision-making. The latter observations could explain the abundance of ethics-laden research in decision-making rather than in problem solving.

Contemporary researchers emphasize the creative potential of values. Dollinger et al. (2007) , Kasof et al. (2007) , Lebedeva, Schwartz, Plucker, & Van De Vijver, 2019 present to some extent similar findings as they all used Schwartz Value Survey (respectively: Schwartz, 1992 ; ( Schwartz, 1994 ), Schwartz, 2012 ). These studies disclosed that such values as self-direction, stimulation and universalism foster creativity. Kasof et al. (2007) focused their research on identified motivation. Stressing that identified motivation is the only fully autonomous type of external motivation, authors define it as ‘the desire to commence an activity as a means to some end that one greatly values’ (p.106). While identified motivation toward specific values (italic in original) fosters the search for outcomes that express those specific values, this research demonstrated that it could also inhibit creative behavior. Thus, inhibition is necessary, especially in the case where reckless creativity could have painful consequences, for example, when an architect creates a beautiful staircase without a handrail. Consequently, creativity needs to be balanced.

Ultimately, values affect human beings’ lives as they express the motivational goals ( Schwartz, 1992 ). These motivational goals are the comprehensive criteria for a person’s choices when solving problems. Whereas some problem solving models only mention values as possible evaluation criteria, but they do not give any significant suggestions when and how the problem solver could think about the values coming to the understanding that his/her values direct the decision how to solve the problem. The authors of this paper claim that the identification of personal values and their choice for a solution need to be specified in the process of problem solving. This position is clearly reflected in humanistic philosophy and psychology ( Maslow, 2011 ; Rogers, 1995 ) that emphasize personal responsibility for discovering personal values through critical questioning, honest self-esteem, self-discovery, and open-mindedness in the constant pursuit of the truth in the path of individual life. However, fundamental (of humankind) and societal values should be taken into account. McLaughlin (1997) argues that a clear boundary between societal and personal values is difficult to set as they are intertwined due to their existence in complex cultural, social, and political contexts at a particular time. A person is related to time and context when choosing values. As a result, a person assumes existing values as implicit knowledge without as much as a consideration. This is particularly evident in the current consumer society.

Moreover, McLaughlin (1997) stresses that if a particular action should be tolerated and legitimated by society, it does not mean that this action is ultimately morally acceptable in all respects. Education has possibilities to reveal this. One such possibility is to turn to the capability approach ( Sen, 1990 ), which emphasizes what people are effectively able to do and to be. Capability, according to Sen (1990) , reflects a person’s freedom to choose between various ways of living, i.e., the focus is on the development of a person’s capability to choose the life he/she has a reason to value. According to Webster (2017) , ‘in order for people to value certain aspects of life, they need to appreciate the reasons and purposes – the whys – for certain valuing’ (italic in original; p.75). As values reflect and foster these whys, education should supplement the development of capability with attention to values ( Saito, 2003 ). In order to attain this possibility, a person has to be aware of and be able to understand two facets of values. Argandoña (2003) defines them as rationality and virtuality . Rationality refers to values as the ideal of conduct and involves the development of a person’s understanding of what values and why he/she should choose them when solving a problem. Virtuality approaches values as virtues and includes learning to enable a person to live according to his/her values. However, according to McLaughlin (1997) , some people may have specific values that are deep or self-evidently essential. These values are based on fundamental beliefs about the nature and purpose of the human being. Other values can be more or less superficial as they are based on giving priority to one or the other. Thus, virtuality highlights the depth of life harmonized to fundamentally rather than superficially laden values. These approaches inform the rationale for the framework of problem solving through values.

4. The 4W framework of problem solving through values

Similar to the above-presented stages of the problem solving processes, the introduced framework by the authors of this paper revisits them (see Fig. 1 ). The framework is titled 4W as its four stages respond to such questions: Analyzing the Problem: W hat ? → Choice of the value(s): W hat is the background for the solution? → Search for the alternative w ays of the solution: How ? → The rationale for problem solution: W hy is this alternative significant ? The stages of this framework cover seven steps that reveal the logical sequence of problem solving through values.

Fig. 1

The 4 W framework: problem solving through values.

Though systematic problem solving models are criticized for being linear and inflexible (e.g., Treffinger & Isaksen, 2005 ), the authors of this paper assume a structural view of the problem solving process due to several reasons. First, the framework enables problem solvers to understand the thorough process of problem solving through values. Second, this framework reveals the depth of each stage and step. Third, problem solving through values encourages tackling problems that have crucial consequences. Only by understanding and mastering the coherence of how problems those require a value-based approach need to be addressed, a problem solver will be able to cope with them in the future. Finally, this framework aims at helping to recognize, to underline personal values, to solve problems through thinking about values, and to take responsibility for choices, even value-based. The feedback supports a direct interrelation between stages. It shapes a dynamic process of problem solving through values.

The first stage of problem solving through values - ‘ The analysis of the problem: What? ’- consists of three steps (see Fig. 1 ). The first step is ‘ Recognizing the problematic situation and naming the problem ’. This step is performed in the following sequence. First, the problem solver should perceive the problematic situation he/she faces in order to understand it. Dostál (2015) argues that the problematic situation has the potential to become the problem necessary to be addressed. Although each problem is limited by its context, not every problematic situation turns into a problem. This is related to the problem solver’s capability and the perception of reality: a person may not ‘see’ the problem if his/her capability to perceive it is not developed ( Dorst, 2006 ; Dostál, 2015 ). Second, after the problem solver recognizes the existence of the problematic situation, the problem solver has to identify the presence or absence of the problem itself, i.e. to name the problem. This is especially important in the case of the ill-structured problems since they cannot be directly visible to the problem solver ( Jonassen, 1997 ). Consequently, this step allows to determine whether the problem solver developed or has acquired the capability to perceive the problematic situation and the problem (naming the problem).

The second step is ‘ Analysing the context of the problem as a reason for its rise ’. At this step, the problem solver aims to analyse the context of the problem. The latter is one of the external issues, and it determines the solution ( Jonassen, 2011 ). However, if more attention is paid to the solution of the problem, it diverts attention from the context ( Fields, 2006 ). The problem solver has to take into account both the conveyed and implied contextual elements in the problematic situation ( Dostál, 2015 ). In other words, the problem solver has to examine it through his/her ‘contextual lenses’ ( Hester & MacG, 2017 , p.208). Thus, during this step the problem solver needs to identify the elements that shape the problem - reasons and circumstances that cause the problem, the factors that can be changed, and stakeholders that are involved in the problematic situation. Whereas the elements of the context mentioned above are within the problematic situation, the problem solver can control many of them. Such control can provide unique ways for a solution.

Although the problem solver tries to predict the undesirable results, some criteria remain underestimated. For that reason, it is necessary to highlight values underlying the various possible goals during the analysis ( Fields, 2006 ). According to Hester and MacG (2017) , values express one of the main features of the context and direct the attention of the problem solver to a given problematic situation. Hence, the problem solver should explore the value-based positions that emerge in the context of the problem.

The analysis of these contextual elements focus not only on a specific problematic situation but also on the problem that has emerged. This requires setting boundaries of attention for an in-depth understanding ( Fields, 2006 ; Hester & MacG, 2017 ). Such understanding influences several actions: (a) the recognition of inappropriate aspects of the problematic situation; (b) the emergence of paths in which identified aspects are expected to change. These actions ensure consistency and safeguard against distractions. Thus, the problem solver can now recognize and identify the factors that influence the problem although they are outside of the problematic situation. However, the problem solver possesses no control over them. With the help of such context analysis, the problem solver constructs a thorough understanding of the problem. Moreover, the problem solver becomes ready to look at the problem from different perspectives.

The third step is ‘ Perspectives emerging in the problem ’. Ims and Zsolnai (2009) argue that problem solving usually contains a ‘problematic search’. Such a search is a pragmatic activity as the problem itself induces it. Thus, the problem solver searches for a superficial solution. As a result, the focus is on control over the problem rather than a deeper understanding of the problem itself. The analysis of the problem, especially including value-based approaches, reveals the necessity to consider the problem from a variety of perspectives. Mitroff (2000) builds on Linstone (1989) ideas and claims that a sound foundation of both naming and solving any problem lays in such perspectives: the technical/scientific, the interpersonal/social, the existential, and the systemic (see Table 1 ).

The main characteristics of four perspectives for problem solving

Whereas all problems have significant aspects of each perspective, disregarding one or another may lead to the wrong way of solving the problem. While analysing all four perspectives is essential, this does not mean that they all are equally important. Therefore, it is necessary to justify why one or another perspective is more relevant and significant in a particular case. Such analysis, according to Linstone (1989) , ‘forces us to distinguish how we are looking from what we are looking at’ (p.312; italic in original). Hence, the problem solver broadens the understanding of various perspectives and develops the capability to see the bigger picture ( Hall & Davis, 2007 ).

The problem solver aims to identify and describe four perspectives that have emerged in the problem during this step. In order to identify perspectives, the problem solver search answers to the following questions. First, regarding the technical/scientific perspective: What technical/scientific reasons are brought out in the problem? How and to what extent do they influence a problem and its context? Second, regarding the interpersonal/social perspective: What is the impact of the problem on stakeholders? How does it influence their attitudes, living conditions, interests, needs? Third, regarding the existential perspective: How does the problem affect human feelings, experiences, perception, and/or discovery of meaning? Fourth, regarding the systemic perspective: What is the effect of the problem on the person → community → society → the world? Based on the analysis of this step, the problem solver obtains a comprehensive picture of the problem. The next stage is to choose the value(s) that will address the problem.

The second stage - ‘ The choice of value(s): What is the background for the solution?’ - includes the fourth and the fifth steps. The fourth step is ‘ The identification of value(s) as a base for the solution ’. During this step, the problem solver should activate his/her value(s) making it (them) explicit. In order to do this, the problem solver proceeds several sub-steps. First, the problem solver reflects taking into account the analysis done in previous steps. He/she raises up questions revealing values that lay in the background of this analysis: What values does this analyzed context allow me to notice? What values do different perspectives of the problem ‘offer’? Such questioning is important as values are deeply hidden ( Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ) and they form a bias, which restricts the development of the capability to see from various points of view ( Hall & Paradice, 2007 ). In the 4W framework, this bias is relatively eliminated due to the analysis of the context and exploration of the perspectives of a problem. As a result, the problem solver discovers distinct value-based positions and gets an opportunity to identify the ‘value uncaptured’ ( Yang, Evans, Vladimirova, & Rana, 2017, p.1796 ) within the problem analyzed. The problem solver observes that some values exist in the context (the second step) and the disclosed perspectives (the third step). Some of the identified values do not affect the current situation as they are not required, or their potential is not exploited. Thus, looking through various value-based lenses, the problem solver can identify and discover a congruence between the opportunities offered by the values in the problem’s context, disclosed perspectives and his/her value(s). Consequently, the problem solver decides what values he/she chooses as a basis for the desired solution. Since problems usually call for a list of values, it is important to find out their order of priority. Thus, the last sub-step requires the problem solver to choose between fundamentally and superficially laden values.

In some cases, the problem solver identifies that a set of values (more than one value) can lead to the desired solution. If a person chooses this multiple value-based position, two options emerge. The first option is concerned with the analysis of each value-based position separately (from the fifth to the seventh step). In the second option, a person has to uncover which of his/her chosen values are fundamentally laden and which are superficially chosen, considering the desired outcome in the current situation. Such clarification could act as a strategy where the path for the desired solution is possible going from superficially chosen value(s) to fundamentally laden one. When a basis for the solution is established, the problem solver formulates the goal for the desired solution.

The fifth step is ‘ The formulation of the goal for the solution ’. Problem solving highlights essential points that reveal the structure of a person’s goals; thus, a goal is the core element of problem solving ( Funke, 2014 ). Meantime, values reflect the motivational content of the goals ( Schwartz, 1992 ). The attention on the chosen value not only activates it, but also motivates the problem solver. The motivation directs the formulation of the goal. In such a way, values explicitly become a basis of the goal for the solution. Thus, this step involves the problem solver in formulating the goal for the solution as the desired outcome.

The way how to take into account value(s) when formulating the goal is the integration of value(s) chosen by the problem solver in the formulation of the goal ( Keeney, 1994 ). For this purpose the conjunction of a context for a solution (it is analyzed during the second step) and a direction of preference (the chosen value reveals it) serves for the formulation of the goal (that represents the desired solution). In other words, a value should be directly included into the formulation of the goal. The goal could lose value, if value is not included into the goal formulation and remains only in the context of the goal. Let’s take the actual example concerning COVID-19 situation. Naturally, many countries governments’ preference represents such value as human life (‘it is important of every individual’s life’). Thus, most likely the particular country government’s goal of solving the COVID situation could be to save the lifes of the country people. The named problem is a complex where the goal of its solution is also complex, although it sounds simple. However, if the goal as desired outcome is formulated without the chosen value, this value remains in the context and its meaning becomes tacit. In the case of above presented example - the goal could be formulated ‘to provide hospitals with the necessary equipment and facilities’. Such goal has the value ‘human’s life’ in the context, but eliminates the complexity of the problem that leads to a partial solution of the problem. Thus, this step from the problem solver requires caution when formulating the goal as the desired outcome. For this reason, maintaining value is very important when formulating the goal’s text. To avoid the loss of values and maintain their proposed direction, is necessary to take into account values again when creating alternatives.

The third stage - ‘ Search for the alternative ways for a solution: How? ’ - encompasses the sixth step, which is called ‘ Creation of value-based alternatives ’. Frequently problem solver invokes a traditional view of problem identification, generation of alternatives, and selection of criteria for evaluating findings. Keeney (1994) ; Ims and Zsolnai (2009) criticize this rational approach as it supports a search for a partial solution where an active search for alternatives is neglected. Moreover, a problematic situation, according to Perkins (2009) , can create the illusion of a fully framed problem with some apparent weighting and some variations of choices. In this case, essential and distinct alternatives to the solution frequently become unnoticeable. Therefore, Perkins (2009) suggest to replace the focus on the attempts to comprehend the problem itself. Thinking through the ‘value lenses’ offers such opportunities. The deep understanding of the problem leads to the search for the alternative ways of a solution.

Thus, the aim of this step is for the problem solver to reveal the possible alternative ways for searching a desired solution. Most people think they know how to create alternatives, but often without delving into the situation. First of all, the problem solver based on the reflection of (but not limited to) the analysis of the context and the perspectives of the problem generates a range of alternatives. Some of these alternatives represent anchored thinking as he/she accepts the assumptions implicit in generated alternatives and with too little focus on values.

The chosen value with the formulated goal indicates direction and encourages a broader and more creative search for a solution. Hence, the problem solver should consider some of the initial alternatives that could best support the achievement of the desired solution. Values are the principles for evaluating the desirability of any alternative or outcome ( Keeney, 1994 ). Thus, planned actions should reveal the desirable mode of conduct. After such consideration, he/she should draw up a plan setting out the actions required to implement each of considered alternatives.

Lastly, after a thorough examination of each considered alternative and a plan of its implementation, the problem solver chooses one of them. If the problem solver does not see an appropriate alternative, he/she develops new alternatives. However, the problem solver may notice (and usually does) that more than one alternative can help him/her to achieve the desired solution. In this case, he/she indicates which alternative is the main one and has to be implemented in the first place, and what other alternatives and in what sequence will contribute in searching for the desired solution.

The fourth stage - ‘ The rationale for the solution: Why ’ - leads to the seventh step: ‘ The justification of the chosen alternative ’. Keeney (1994) emphasizes the compatibility of alternatives in question with the values that guide the action. This underlines the importance of justifying the choices a person makes where the focus is on taking responsibility. According to Zsolnai (2008) , responsibility means a choice, i.e., the perceived responsibility essentially determines its choice. Responsible justification allows for discovering optimal balance when choosing between distinct value-based alternatives. It also refers to the alternative solution that best reflects responsibility in a particular value context, choice, and implementation.

At this stage, the problem solver revisits the chosen solution and revises it. The problem solver justifies his/her choice based on the following questions: Why did you choose this? Why is this alternative significant looking from the technical/scientific, the interpersonal/social, the existential, and the systemic perspectives? Could you take full responsibility for the implementation of this alternative? Why? How clearly do envisaged actions reflect the goal of the desired solution? Whatever interests and for what reasons do this alternative satisfies in principle? What else do you see in the chosen alternative?

As mentioned above, each person gives priority to one aspect or another. The problem solver has to provide solid arguments for the justification of the chosen alternative. The quality of arguments, according to Jonassen (2011) , should be judged based on the quality of the evidence supporting the chosen alternative and opposing arguments that can reject solutions. Besides, the pursuit of value-based goals reflects the interests of the individual or collective interests. Therefore, it becomes critical for the problem solver to justify the level of responsibility he/she takes in assessing the chosen alternative. Such a complex evaluation of the chosen alternative ensures the acceptance of an integral rather than unilateral solution, as ‘recognizing that, in the end, people benefit most when they act for the common good’ ( Sternberg, 2012, p.46 ).

5. Discussion

The constant emphasis on thinking about values as explicit reasoning in the 4W framework (especially from the choice of the value(s) to the rationale for problem solution) reflects the pursuit of virtues. Virtues form the features of the character that are related to the choice ( Argandoña, 2003 ; McLaughlin, 2005 ). Hence, the problem solver develops value-grounded problem solving capability as the virtuality instead of employing rationality for problem solving.

Argandoña (2003) suggests that, in order to make a sound valuation process of any action, extrinsic, transcendent, and intrinsic types of motives need to be considered. They cover the respective types of values. The 4W framework meets these requirements. An extrinsic motive as ‘attaining the anticipated or expected satisfaction’ ( Argandoña, 2003, p.17 ) is reflected in the formulation of the goal of the solution, the creation of alternatives and especially in the justification of the chosen alternative way when the problem solver revisits the external effect of his/her possible action. Transcendent motive as ‘generating certain effects in others’ ( Argandoña, 2003, p.17 ) is revealed within the analysis of the context, perspectives, and creating alternatives. When the learner considers the creation of alternatives and revisits the chosen alternative, he/she pays more attention to these motives. Two types of motives mentioned so far are closely related to an intrinsic motive that emphasizes learning development within the problem solver. These motives confirm that problem solving is, in fact, lifelong learning. In light of these findings, the 4W framework is concerned with some features of value internalization as it is ‘a psychological outcome of conscious mind reasoning about values’ ( Yazdani & Akbarilakeh, 2017, p.1 ).

The 4W framework is complicated enough in terms of learning. One issue is concerned with the educational environments ( Jucevičienė, 2008 ) required to enable the 4W framework. First, the learning paradigm, rather than direct instruction, lies at the foundation of such environments. Second, such educational environments include the following dimensions: (1) educational goal; (2) learning capacity of the learners; (3) educational content relevant to the educational goal: ways and means of communicating educational content as information presented in advance (they may be real, people among them, as well as virtual); (5) methods and means of developing educational content in the process of learners’ performance; (6) physical environment relevant to the educational goal and conditions of its implementation as well as different items in the environment; (7) individuals involved in the implementation of the educational goal.

Another issue is related to exercising this framework in practice. Despite being aware of the 4W framework, a person may still not want to practice problem solving through values, since most of the solutions are going to be complicated, or may even be painful. One idea worth looking into is to reveal the extent to which problem solving through values can become a habit of mind. Profound focus on personal values, context analysis, and highlighting various perspectives can involve changes in the problem solver’s habit of mind. The constant practice of problem solving through values could first become ‘the epistemic habit of mind’ ( Mezirow, 2009, p.93 ), which means a personal way of knowing things and how to use that knowledge. This echoes Kirkman (2017) findings. The developed capability to notice moral values in situations that students encountered changed some students’ habit of mind as ‘for having “ruined” things by making it impossible not to attend to values in such situations!’ (the feedback from one student; Kirkman, 2017, p.12 ). However, this is not enough, as only those problems that require a value-based approach are addressed. Inevitably, the problem solver eventually encounters the challenges of nurturing ‘the moral-ethical habit of mind’ ( Mezirow, 2009, p.93 ). In pursuance to develop such habits of mind, the curriculum should include the necessity of the practising of the 4W framework.

Thinking based on values when solving problems enables the problem solver to engage in thoughtful reflection in contrast to pragmatic and superficial thinking supported by the consumer society. Reflection begins from the first stage of the 4W framework. As personal values are the basis for the desired solution, the problem solver is also involved in self-reflection. The conscious and continuous reflection on himself/herself and the problematic situation reinforce each step of the 4W framework. Moreover, the fourth stage (‘The rationale for the solution: Why’) involves the problem solver in critical reflection as it concerned with justification of ‘the why , the reasons for and the consequences of what we do’ (italic, bold in original; Mezirow, 1990, p.8 ). Exercising the 4W framework in practice could foster reflective practice. Empirical evidence shows that reflective practice directly impacts knowledge, skills and may lead to changes in personal belief systems and world views ( Slade, Burnham, Catalana, & Waters, 2019 ). Thus, with the help of reflective practice it is possible to identify in more detail how and to what extent the 4W framework has been mastered, what knowledge gained, capabilities developed, how point of views changed, and what influence the change process.

Critical issues related to the development of problem solving through values need to be distinguished when considering and examining options for the implementation of the 4W framework at educational institutions. First, the question to what extent can the 4W framework be incorporated into various subjects needs to be answered. Researchers could focus on applying the 4W framework to specific subjects in the humanities and social sciences. The case is with STEM subjects. Though value issues of sustainable development and ecology are of great importance, in reality STEM teaching is often restricted to the development of knowledge and skills, leaving aside the thinking about values. The special task of the researchers is to help practitioners to apply the 4W framework in STEM subjects. Considering this, researchers could employ the concept of ‘dialogic space’ ( Wegerif, 2011, p.3 ) which places particular importance of dialogue in the process of education emphasizing both the voices of teachers and students, and materials. In addition, the dimensions of educational environments could be useful aligning the 4W framework with STEM subjects. As STEM teaching is more based on solving various special tasks and/or integrating problem-based learning, the 4W framework could be a meaningful tool through which content is mastered, skills are developed, knowledge is acquired by solving pre-prepared specific tasks. In this case, the 4W framework could act as a mean addressing values in STEM teaching.

Second is the question of how to enable the process of problem solving through values. In the current paper, the concept of enabling is understood as an integral component of the empowerment. Juceviciene et al. (2010) specify that at least two perspectives can be employed to explain empowerment : a) through the power of legitimacy (according to Freire, 1996 ); and b) through the perspective of conditions for the acquisition of the required knowledge, capabilities, and competence, i.e., enabling. In this paper the 4W framework does not entail the issue of legitimacy. This issue may occur, for example, when a teacher in economics is expected to provide students with subject knowledge only, rather than adding tasks that involve problem solving through values. Yet, the issue of legitimacy is often implicit. A widespread phenomenon exists that teaching is limited to certain periods that do not have enough time for problem solving through values. The issue of legitimacy as an organizational task that supports/or not the implementation of the 4W framework in any curriculum is a question that calls for further discussion.

Third (if not the first), the issue of an educator’s competence to apply such a framework needs to be addressed. In order for a teacher to be a successful enabler, he/she should have the necessary competence. This is related to the specific pedagogical knowledge and skills, which are highly dependent on the peculiarities of the subject being taught. Nowadays actualities are encouraging to pay attention to STEM subjects and their teacher training. For researchers and teacher training institutions, who will be interested in implementing the 4W framework in STEM subjects, it would be useful to draw attention to ‘a material-dialogic approach to pedagogy’ ( Hetherington & Wegerif, 2018, p.27 ). This approach creates the conditions for a deep learning of STEM subjects revealing additional opportunities for problem solving through values in teaching. Highlighting these opportunities is a task for further research.

In contrast to traditional problem solving models, the 4W framework is more concerned with educational purposes. The prescriptive approach to teaching ( Thorne, 1994 ) is applied to the 4W framework. This approach focuses on providing guidelines that enable students to make sound decisions by making explicit value judgements. The limitation is that the 4W framework is focused on thinking but not executing. It does not include the fifth stage, which would focus on the execution of the decision how to solve the problem. This stage may contain some deviation from the predefined process of the solution of the problem.

6. Conclusions

The current paper focuses on revealing the essence of the 4W framework, which is based on enabling the problem solver to draw attention to when, how, and why it is essential to think about values during the problem solving process from the perspective of it’s design. Accordingly, the 4W framework advocates the coherent approach when solving a problem by using a creative potential of values.

The 4W framework allows the problem solver to look through the lens of his/her values twice. The first time, while formulating the problem solving goal as the desired outcome. The second time is when the problem solver looks deeper into his/her values while exploring alternative ways to solve problems. The problem solver is encouraged to reason about, find, accept, reject, compare values, and become responsible for the consequences of the choices grounded on his/her values. Thus, the problem solver could benefit from the 4W framework especially when dealing with issues having crucial consequences.

An educational approach reveals that the 4W framework could enable the development of value-grounded problem solving capability. As problem solving encourages the development of higher-order thinking skills, the consistent inclusion of values enriches them.

The 4W framework requires the educational environments for its enablement. The enablement process of problem solving through values could be based on the perspective of conditions for the acquisition of the required knowledge and capability. Continuous practice of this framework not only encourages reflection, but can also contribute to the creation of the epistemic habit of mind. Applying the 4W framework to specific subjects in the humanities and social sciences might face less challenge than STEM ones. The issue of an educator’s competence to apply such a framework is highly important. The discussed issues present significant challenges for researchers and educators. Caring that the curriculum of different courses should foresee problem solving through values, both practicing and empirical research are necessary.

Declaration of interests

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Both authors have approved the final article.

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The TQM Magazine

ISSN : 0954-478X

Article publication date: 1 August 2000

Successful total quality management (TQM) is dependent on first class problem solving. Numerous techniques have been created to help the TQM practitioner along the problem solving journey. However, it can be very difficult to decide which of these techniques should or could be used at any point in the journey and in particular to see how the different approaches are related to each other. As a result, most people use only a small number of these techniques and tend to cling to their own limited toolbox. Three of the strongest groups of tools are “the seven simple tools of TQM”, “the four thinking models of Kepner‐Tregoe” and “root cause analysis”. This article argues that all three are complementary to each other and provides a flow chart to help navigate between them. This is particularly relevant for programmes aimed at implementing total productive manufacturing/maintenance (TPM).

  • Problem solving
  • Total productive maintenance

Finlow‐Bates, T. , Visser, B. and Finlow‐Bates, C. (2000), "An integrated approach to problem solving: linking K‐T, TQM and RCA to TPM", The TQM Magazine , Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 284-289. https://doi.org/10.1108/09544780010325912

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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Education of Integrated Science: Discussions on Importance and Teaching Approaches

  • First Online: 02 January 2023

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  • Kaan Bati 3  

Part of the book series: Integrated Science ((IS,volume 13))

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The economic and technological development of societies depends on the training of students who can make connections between daily life and science issues and have problem-solving skills. Integrated science education supports the holistic development of the student’s personality by establishing a relationship between school and real life. Although there are different approaches, it is understood that all approaches to integrated science are more effective than the traditional single discipline-based approach for the student to learn. This chapter discusses the importance of integrated science education, teaching approaches at the K-12 level, and the skills that need to be emphasized to answer this question. An integrated science teaching program based on the transdisciplinary approach is exemplified as well.

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Transdisciplinary teaching process.

Science is the only true guide in life . Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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Bati, K. (2022). Education of Integrated Science: Discussions on Importance and Teaching Approaches. In: Rezaei, N. (eds) Integrated Education and Learning. Integrated Science, vol 13. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-15963-3_19

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AI Prompt Engineering Isn’t the Future

  • Oguz A. Acar

integrated essay problem solving

Asking the perfect question is less important than really understanding the problem you’re trying to solve.

Despite the buzz surrounding it, the prominence of prompt engineering may be fleeting. A more enduring and adaptable skill will keep enabling us to harness the potential of generative AI? It is called problem formulation — the ability to identify, analyze, and delineate problems.

Prompt engineering has taken the generative AI world by storm. The job, which entails optimizing textual input to effectively communicate with large language models, has been hailed by World Economic Forum as the number one “job of the future” while Open AI CEO Sam Altman characterized it as an “amazingly high-leveraged skill.” Social media brims with a new wave of influencers showcasing “magic prompts” and pledging amazing outcomes.

integrated essay problem solving

  • Oguz A. Acar is a Chair in Marketing at King’s Business School, King’s College London.

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    An integrated approach to problem solving: linking K‐T, TQM and RCA to TPM - Author: Terry Finlow‐Bates, Bert Visser, Christine Finlow‐Bates. Successful total quality management (TQM) is dependent on first class problem solving. Numerous techniques have been created to help the TQM practitioner along the problem solving journey.

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