TOEFL Speaking Section Tips

  • Speak into your microphone as clearly as possible, making the scorer replay your response will only hurt your score
  • Keep your responses within the allotted time
  • Take organized notes to help guide your response
  • Remember that you're not only graded on vocabulary, grammar, and coherency, but pronunciation as well.

Speak With Confidence on the TOEFL Speaking Section

Fretting over the TOEFL speaking section? No need to worry – here are five practical tips to help keep you grounded:

1. Remember – it doesn’t have to be immaculately perfect. Each speaking question is graded on a scale of 0 – 4, with a 4 being the highest possible score. Even with the highest possible score, it is still acceptable to have minor pronunciation errors. In other words, the TOEFL graders are well aware you are speaking into a microphone in a room full of others, who are also doing the same and they take into account both your situation during the test and the stressful impact of the time. Aim for the best you can possibly do but remember – a few minor mistakes won’t rule out a score of a 4.

2. Don’t take risks. The TOEFL speaking section is not the time or the place to experiment with new vocabulary words and/or complex pronunciations that might confuse the grader. Try to expand your horizons with moderate-level adjectives but, as a whole, play it safe with your choice of vocabulary and particularly your choice of topics on independent questions.

3. Don’t go over the time allotted. Keep in mind that for all independent speaking questions you have 45 seconds to respond, and for all integrated speaking questions you have 60 seconds to respond. It’s important to give concise responses that do not exceed the allotted speaking time. If you get 7 or 10 seconds until the end of your response time and you aren’t finished, it’s best to complete the thought and/or sentence you’re currently responding to or go to a conclusion right away.

4. Take notes. Some students do not take notes on the speaking section of the TOEFL and this is a major mistake. Taking notes is crucial not only for the factual information you need for the integrated speaking but also to serve as a “guide” for your response. With the stress of having to speak into a microphone with a room full of other people doing the same, it’s easy to get lost in your response or stop speaking altogether. Take notes not only to help you deliver a complete response, but also provide you with keywords from the lecture and conversation to impress the graders.

5. Make the grader’s life easier. Last but not least, you should always keep in mind your job is to make the grader’s life easier. Graders have to listen to many responses within the time span of one hour and if they have to replay part or all of your response because they happen to question what you were saying, it can only count against you. Speak clearly, concisely and comfortably in order to make their job of giving you a high score easier than they anticipated.

All in all, the best way to improve your speaking is to practice, practice, practice! Hopefully these hints will help you as you tackle what some students say is the most challenging part of the TOEFL examination.

How to Master TOEFL Speaking Question #5

While the speaking section appears to cause a lot of worry in many students looking to take the TOEFL, it’s best understood when able to tackle the section on a question-by-question basis. This article is going to explore TOEFL Speaking Question #5. Here’s what we know about this question:

  • it involves a conversation between a male and female
  • it does not have a reading component
  • you have 20 seconds to prepare; 60 seconds to respond
  • your opinion is required at the end of the response

Here are some tips to help you get the high score of a 4 on Question #5, in particular.

  • As in the listening section, divide your notes in two sections: MALE and FEMALE. In one column, write down whatever you are able to in regards to what the male speaker is saying. In the second column; write whatever you are able to that the female speaker is saying. This way, by dividing the speaker’s contributions you are clear what each is saying and are able to connect the thoughts right in front of you during the speaking section. Also, keep in mind you must take notes in the order the information is presented to you – disorganized notes can and will create chaos on the TOEFL!
  • Question #5 is an integrated speaking task; however, unlike Question #3 & #4, there is no 45-second reading passage that appears before the conversation. This means you do not need to acknowledge the reading in any sense because there isn’t any information to incorporate!
  • Your preparation time is 20 seconds and your speaking time is 60 seconds. You are given 10 seconds less to prepare than on Question #3 & #4 because of the absence of a reading component, so you will need to prepare a bit faster than the previous two questions. During this 20-second preparation time, you should organize your notes in the manner you plan on presenting them. Sometimes numbering notes in the order you intend on delivering them is useful for students, while others prefer to spend time scanning over all the information as it’s written.
  • The opinion portion of Question #5 often throws students off, as they assume all giving of opinions is over after Question #1 & #2, the independent prompts. Most of the time, the opinion part of Question #5 will read: What do you think the male (or female) student should do, and why? This will involve you choosing an option offered in the conversation from one student to the other and stating your reasoning for choosing that option.

An example of a high-scoring response to Question #5 reads, as follows:
“The conversation is in regards to the changing of the library hours at a university campus. The female student is distressed about the change in library hours because she often likes to study at night. She goes on to say some days during the week, the only time she actually has to go to the library is late due to her part-time job. The male student offers several suggestions to her in regards to her problem. He recommends she speak with the library staff about the reasoning behind the change in hours, and if that doesn’t work, he thinks she should talk to the college dean about this change. I think the woman should go directly to the college dean because the dean will be able to attend to the issue in a direct way, which will ultimately and hopefully get the results the woman needs.

In the above response, we have italicized the opinion portion, making it clear that the opinion can also serve as your conclusion.

Remember: Question #5 will always be a conversation about a university-related problem, so keep in mind university lingo (library, dean, dorm room, etc.) will be inevitable.

TOEFL Speaking Scoring Levels

Many of you who are studying for the TOEFL might wonder what raters are looking for, especially out of your independent speaking responses. The raters, in fact, grade you based on levels broken into the following 4 categories.

  • 4 If you get a score of a 4, that means you’ve have achieved the highest score possible on the TOEFL independent speaking question. A 4 means you have effectively addressed the task and generally speaking, your response is organized well and coherent.

    • With a 4 you have also used both grammar and vocabulary in an effective way, although you might have a few minor errors. (Remember – to even get a score of a 4, you are allowed minor language errors, so long as they do not interfere with the overall meaning of what you are trying to say.) Finally, with a 4 you have demonstrated clear speech but also might have minor problems with pronunciation or intonation. Keep in mind, which you are allowed several minor errors, this is not encouraged when you make your response.

  • 3 When you have a score of a 3, you have still done a good job, but perhaps your response doesn’t have quite the organization that it would if you had gotten a 4.

    • In other words, your development in terms of specific examples and details might be limited and perhaps several of your ideas aren’t as clear as they could be. While a score of a 3 demonstrates effective use of grammar and vocabulary, it’s still not quite what a 4 would be in terms of your mastery of the English language and specific uses of words.
    • A score of a 3 still means you have done well, it just might mean it takes some extra effort on the part of the rater to understand what you are saying and to make sense of your ideas.

  • 2 A score of a 2 is a response that is on topic, but where the development is so limited that is becomes unclear what points you are trying to make.

    • A score of a 2 would be given if you demonstrate an extremely limited use of vocabulary and overall, requires much more effort on the part of the listener to understand what you are saying. (This type of a response might cause the rater to listen to your response several times in order to make sense of it, which is never a good sign. Remember – your job is to make the life of a TOEFL independent speaking rater easy!)

  • 1 A score of a 1 is more than likely not really on topic and filled with very vague ideas with little or no relevant details to support them. Perhaps, even, the ideas expressed in a response with a scoring of a 1 are inaccurate.

    • The expression of ideas in this type of response would be very limited, almost to the point of not being able to make sense of anything, and there might even be many pauses where it feels the speaker has no idea what to say next. Overall, a response of a 1 is not what we are out to obtain for out TOEFL responses, so practice – practice – practice, so you will get a higher score!

It should be noted, that there is a score of 0, if you would believe it. However, the only way you would get a 0 is if you said nothing or if you talked about your plans for the weekend instead of addressing the task. Also, raters are known to give half scores – i.e. 2.5, 3.5, etc…