Page 2 Speaking Study Guide for the TOEFL®

Topic Development

Topic development is an important criterion in this section. The scorer wants to hear a logical response to the task, how you organize your response, and how you organize your reasons and use of details. There are three important areas that you need to think about and improve upon before the test.

Progression of Ideas

When responding to the task, follow a note-taking system or a system of organizing your speech. Flipping back and forth between ideas will interfere with your flow of ideas and the natural progression of your response. You should have an established outline of how you will present your ideas:

  1. Topic statement (answer the question)
  2. Support - (this can be reasons, details, whatever the task requires)

Remember to use transition words, such as first, second, however, therefore, for example, and in other words. This will help the scorer understand your progression of ideas. You can find many lists of effective transition words online. Practice using them.

Appropriate to Task

One of the first things scorers ask themselves is, ”Did the test taker understand the task and respond appropriately?” You will be evaluated on how the speech reflects the task required. Make sure that you understand the question/task before you speak. If the task is to give advice, then give advice. If the task requires you to summarize the points or link ideas, then your response should reflect that. Again, taking notes is crucial for an effective, fluid response.

Appropriate Use of Detail

In both the independent and integrated parts of the speaking section, the task will require you to give your response with supporting reasons and/or details. In tasks 1 and 2, your opinion will be required, therefore you will need supporting reasons and details. Here, give examples and use transition words that denote reasons and details. Here are a few that will give a good impression to the scorer:

  • Phrases for giving details: as a matter of fact…, not only…, but also…, for example…
  • Phrases for giving reasons: one reason for that is…, since…, because of…

Speaking Practice

The only way to succeed in the Speaking section of the TOEFL test is to practice, practice, practice. Even CEOs of large companies, heads of governments, and public speakers practice in order to be more comprehensible, confident, engaging, and concise, so you should do the same. Here are some tips for ways to practice before the test.

Teachers or Tutors

The best way to ensure you are comprehensible is to have someone listen to you speak. If they can understand you, you’re on the right track. How do you find this kind of help? You can find preparation centers, teachers, and tutors to help you prepare. Some tutors will even come to your home for this purpose. Additionally, there are many websites that have native speakers online to help you by listening.

Make sure, when you are practicing with a real person, to have the structure of the TOEFL® Speaking test in mind, so you can simulate exam conditions. Get a list of topics to give to your “in person” or online tutor. Repeat until you feel confident. The more practice you get, the more you can draw on your practice responses to help you formulate test responses.

Individual Practice

If nobody is available to listen to you or you feel nervous about it, record yourself and listen to your own speech. This will let you pick up on mistakes you may not have known you were making. Plus, you can check your answers against sample TOEFL answers more easily. It will also get you used to the stress of being recorded so it will feel more familiar speaking to a computer screen on test day. There are also mini-tests on the Internet that you can record and practice. Listen to yourself, take notes, and repeat until you feel confident and free from errors. Don’t forget to practice increasing your vocabulary complexity.

Practice with Friends

Grab some friends that speak English well and practice with them. Look for group activities in your community where you can practice your English. Conversation clubs in language centers, community centers, universities, and colleges also provide a good way to practice your English. They provide a good audience to practice speaking tasks outside of a formal environment. Many people advertise for language partners. You can exchange practicing your English with them and they can practice your native language with you. Social media is also a good place to find others like you who want to practice the Speaking section.

Responding to Text

During the integrated tasks, you will be asked to read a short passage, usually between 300 and 500 words, then listen to an audio passage. One of the tasks you will be required to do is to summarize the points, link ideas, and/or compare and contrast the reading to the listening and respond. In this case, you will need to know how to respond to the text you read. One way you can practice this is to find passages that are short, so that you can practice reading quickly for meaning. You can find many websites that provide TOEFL Speaking section test prompts to help you practice. There are also suitable passages in textbooks, periodicals, and reference sources. Read the passage, then respond by summarizing, paraphrasing, and linking two different opinions in a text. Record your answers and compare them with sample responses. This is a good source for improving vocabulary as well.

Responding to Speech

There are many different resources for practice in listening for meaning, responding, and improving vocabulary and language use. Online TOEFL test prompts are a great way of practicing, as are podcasts. Find talk shows where opposing views are presented, including roundtable discussions. These are a little more difficult because the language speed is usually very fast and there are a lot of interruptions, but they still provide a great source of listening material. Use these discussions to practice responding by linking ideas, summarizing, explaining the main points, and comparing and contrasting ideas. Record your answers, then evaluate them. Make sure that you used the full 30 or 45 seconds to respond. Look for ways to improve your response and practice until you become more confident and able to speak comprehensibly and sustain your speech for the full time. Compare them with sample TOEFL responses and use the examples to improve your responses.

Responding to Text and Speech

In two of the tasks in the TOEFL Speaking section, you will be asked to read a passage, listen to audio, and then respond. You should look for passages and audios that are on the same topic. You will be asked to link ideas, compare and contrast, and/or summarize. The Speaking section is the most important section for taking notes, especially during the listening portion as you won’t be able to re-listen to the audio. Find a note-taking system that works best for you. Use your notes/outline to formulate your response.

When looking for practice questions, your best resources are online TOEFL test prompts. Record your answers and evaluate them. Compare your way of answering with sample answers online and make the necessary corrections to improve your response. Language centers, preparation courses, and mock TOEFL tests are also an excellent way to practice and prepare.