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How to get a great TOEFL Speaking score

The TOEFL iBT (Internet based TOEFL) has a speaking section. The speaking section accounts for ¼ of your total TOEFL score. The section will take you 20 minutes to complete.

There are six tasks that you will record speaking responses for. The first two are Independent tasks. For these you will be asked to speak about a familiar topic. You have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. An example question is “Would you rather watch a movie or read a book in your free time? Include details to support your opinion”.

The other four are Integrated tasks. You will listen to two recordings (a lecture and a conversation) for two questions. For the other two you will read a passage and then listen to a recording. Then, for each, you will be prompted to answer a question about what you listened to and read. You will have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak.

So how do you prepare for the TOEFL Speaking section?

First, here is how NOT to prepare. Don’t just read and listen to a lot of sample responses. To get a good grade on this section you have to practice speaking!

The Speaking section is the most challenging part of the TOEFL test for many students. The speaking tasks can feel very unnatural and can be difficult even for native speakers. After all, how often do you have to sit down and talk for a minute straight about a certain subject?

However, do not let the Speaking section intimidate you. The most important thing to remember is that while your pronunciation and your fluency are important, the organization of your response matters most.

Learn the structure for each task and use it in your response

Organize your speech into a Main Idea, Examples, and a Conclusion. Use your preparation time to write a very quick, very basic outline. Write down your Main Idea and 2 Examples. For example, for the question

“Would you rather watch a movie or read a book in your free time? Include details to support your opinion.”

Preparation Notes:

  • movie
  • more relaxing
  • less time because i am busy

When you hear the beep and need to begin speaking, make sure you very clearly state your opinion first. “I would rather watch a movie than read a book for two reasons.”

Right from the beginning the grader knows that you have a clear opinion. He or she also knows that you have reasons to support your opinion.

You can structure your Speaking as: Main Idea > Reason > Details > Transition word > Reason > Details > Transition word > Conclusion

When you do listen to sample speaking responses, pay attention to their structure. For each sentence note the transition words, the main idea, the reasons and details.

Learn the vocabulary

Connect your ideas using common transition words like “First”, “Second”, “Finally”, “Because”, “Therefore”, “But”, “Despite”.

Improve your fluency

You do not have to sound like an English native speaker to do very well on the TOEFL Speaking section. Fluency refers to how you sound. The more natural and confident your speech sounds the better you will score.

Avoid speaking in a rehearsed “computer” voice. And avoid frequent pauses or using filler words like um and uh. By following a set structure like the one above, you can avoid these pauses.

Practice speaking in the mirror for 1 minute about topics that are familiar to you (like your best friend, favorite movie, favorite class etc.)

Be confident

Speaking in a foreign language requires confidence.  On test day you need to trust your knowledge of English and be confident that you are capable of getting a good score.

Written by Natalie Gordon for EnglishClub | November 2010
Natalie Gordon is co-founder of TOEFL Now - a TOEFL iBT preparation website.

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