If you’re just learning about the TOEFL, you’re probably curious about the speaking section. If you’re planning to take the test, maybe you’re nervous about your accent or your ability to stay coherent while you babble for seconds on end. Maybe you’re concerned that your answers will be too vague, too long-winded, or too boring to impress the grading committee. We get it: the TOEFL Speaking section is a challenge. But here’s the good news: you can increase your scores dramatically by knowing what you’re getting into. Keep reading to learn how.
The TOEFL Speaking Section
Are you preparing to take the TOEFL exam? If so, it’s important to understand the format of the Speaking section. This section is designed to assess your ability to communicate effectively in English, so it’s essential to know what to expect before test day.
The Speaking section consists of 4 tasks. Each task is designed to evaluate your ability to speak English in a different way. For example, you might be asked to read a short prompt or listen to a conversation, and then respond to a question or prompt related to that reading or listening topic. Alternatively, you might be asked to speak about a personal experience, express an opinion, or summarize a lecture.
It’s important to note that the Speaking section is timed. You’ll have a limited amount of time to read or listen to the prompt, prepare your response, and speak. This means that you’ll need to be able to think quickly and organize your thoughts effectively.
Overview of the TOEFL Speaking Tasks
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of tasks you might encounter on the TOEFL Speaking section.
The first task is called the “Independent Speaking” task. In this task, you’ll be asked to express your opinion on a topic. You’ll have 15 seconds to prepare your response, and then 45 seconds to speak.
The remaining tasks are “Integrated Speaking” tasks. These tasks require you to read a short text or listen to a conversation, and then respond to a question related to the text or conversation. You’ll have 20-30 seconds to prepare your response, and then 60 seconds to speak.
For example, you might be asked to summarize a lecture you just heard, explain how two concepts are related.
It’s important to note that the topics covered in the Speaking section are varied and can range from everyday scenarios (e.g. in the Independent task) to domains like biology and business.
Scoring Criteria for the TOEFL Speaking Section
Now that you know what to expect on the Speaking section, let’s talk about how your responses will be evaluated.
Your responses will be graded by trained evaluators (aka Human Raters) on a scale of 0-4 (see rubrics). Your responses will also be evaluated by SpeechRater, ETS’s automated scoring engine. The scores will then be combined and scaled to determine your total Speaking section score, which ranges from 0-30. Human Raters will be listening for the following:
- Delivery: How well you articulate and enunciate your ideas, and whether you sound natural and fluent. This means that you’ll need to speak clearly and confidently, without stumbling over your words or pausing too frequently.
- Language Use: Your mastery of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. This means that you’ll need to use correct grammar and appropriate vocabulary, and speak with a clear and natural accent.
- Topic Development: The quality of your ideas and opinions, and how well you support them with evidence. This means that you’ll need to think critically about the prompt and provide relevant and well-supported responses.
Keep in mind that the Speaking section is just one part of the TOEFL exam. To do well on the exam as a whole, you’ll also need to prepare for the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections. However, by understanding the format and scoring criteria of the Speaking section, you’ll be well on your way to success on test day.
Practice Techniques for TOEFL Speaking Success
When you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, it’s time to start practicing! Here are a few techniques to help you prepare:
Analyzing Sample Responses
Check out sample responses (e.g. on My Speaking Score) or in study guides/groups to get a sense of what a high-scoring TOEFL Speaking response looks like. Pay attention to how the speakers incorporate evidence and present their ideas, and try to emulate their techniques in your own practice sessions. Pay particular attention to how high-scoring responses are structured. There are several great templates out there and free courses, including this 9-day course by John Healy.
Participating in Speaking Exercises
If possible, find a study partner or tutor who can simulate the speaking section with you. Practice delivering responses using the techniques we’ve outlined here, and ask your partner for feedback on your delivery, language use, and topic development.
Recording and Reviewing Your Own Responses
Record yourself delivering speaking responses (e.g. on My Speaking Score), and then review the recordings to look for areas of improvement. Pay attention to your pace, clarity, and the specificity of your language, and take notes on areas you want to focus on in future practice sessions.
Additional Resources for TOEFL Speaking Preparation
Finally, here are some additional resources you might find helpful in your TOEFL Speaking preparation:
There are a ton of great resources out there to help you prepare for the TOEFL, but here are a few that focus specifically on the Speaking section:
- TST Prep
- Test Resources
- My Speaking Score
Tips from Successful TOEFL Test Takers
Finally, don’t forget to consult with others who have successfully navigated the TOEFL Speaking section. Check out online forums or speak to friends who have taken the test, and ask them for tips and advice on how to score well. Remember: the more information you have, the more prepared you’ll be!
With these strategies in your back pocket, you’re well on your way to acing the TOEFL Speaking section. Just remember to practice, stay focused, and incorporate plenty of facts, data, and quantitative analysis into your responses. Good luck!