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TOEFL iBT Speaking Skills

The third section of the TOEFL iBT is the Speaking section. This part is made up of six tasks: two independent and four integrated. You do not meet a live examiner, but speak directly into a microphone. Your responses are recorded on the computer and then graded by two qualified evaluators.

You are given from 45–60 seconds to record your response. Because this time is relatively short, it is essential to practice extensively before appearing for the TOEFL. Recording and then listening to yourself can be helpful. However, this is one part of the test where you can benefit the most by working with an ESL teacher or joining a TOEFL exam preparation class because you need the objective feedback and advice.

In general, speaking clearly, logically and simply are what matter most in the speaking section. Many students think they must use complex sentence structures and high-level vocabulary to impress the examiner and then end up getting nervous and making mistakes. Communicating simply and correctly in an organized way will get you a higher score every time.

Remember, in this section of the test, more than any other, you can do very well if you learn how to implement the right strategies and conversely, you can lose points easily by not understanding all that is asked of you.

The two independent tasks measure your ability to speak about a familiar topic. In other words, your own experience and ideas are the basis for your answer. You hear and see a question, you have 15 seconds to prepare your answer and you speak for 45 seconds.

The first independent task usually requires you to do two things:

1. Describe a person, place, object or event that you know.

2. Give reasons why you chose this example.

An example of the first independent question is:

"Choose a teacher you admire and explain why you admire him or her. Please include specific examples and details in your explanation." (ETS)

The second independent task presents you with two actions, options, situations or opinions and asks you to choose. You must:

  • state which one you prefer
  • explain why

It doesn't matter which position you choose to support, but how clearly and how well you do so.

An example of the second independent question type is:

"Do you prefer to take essay exams or multiple choice exams? Use reasons to support your response."(Longman)

These tasks test your ability to integrate information from different sources.

Two of the integrated tasks require you to read, listen, and speak. The other two integrated tasks ask you to only listen and speak.

In the third TOEFL speaking task, you are first given 40–45 seconds to read a short passage – an announcement, a bulletin, a letter, etc. – describing a campus-related issue. You then hear one or two students expressing their opinion about the issue. The question then asks you to integrate what you have read and heard by synthesizing or summarizing what the speaker said. It does not ask you for your opinion.

In the fourth speaking task, you are given 40-45 seconds to read a short passage about an academic subject. You then listen to a professor lecturing briefly about the same subject. Next, you are asked a question based on what you read and heard.

In the fifth speaking task, you are not given a reading selection. You listen to a short conversation about a campus-related situation and then answer a question about what you heard. Specifically, you are asked to:

  • describe the problem being discussed
  • state which of the two solutions or options you prefer
  • explain why you chose that option.

You can justify your choice based on what the speakers said or on your own experience.

The sixth speaking task is based on academic content. You listen to a brief excerpt from a professor’s lecture and are then asked to explain a point, giving examples from the lecture. It will be important for you to take notes here so that you can speak easily, confidently and comprehensively.

It is best to prepare for each of the TOEFL iBT speaking tasks separately by doing as many practice sessions as possible, ideally with an experienced teacher at hand to give you valuable feedback.