TOEFL Speaking Section Overview

TOEFL Speaking Section Details

For you to earn the highest scores in the Speaking Section, your responses must fulfill the demands of the task given with only minor mistakes or lapses. The test graders are looking for a highly intelligible and sustained conversation. As of August 2019, your Speaking score is now determined by one human grader and the new SpeechRater software. This is called Enhanced Speaking Scoring by ETS. Previously, students were graded only by human raters. There are three main factors that comprise scoring for the Speaking Section.

TOEFL Speaking Purposes

  • Information Processing – You need to be able to synthesize and summarize what you have read in your textbooks and heard in and outside of the class.
  • Viewpoints Formation – You need to form your own opinion in response to the information you have processed.
  • Delivery – Your speech should be clear and have a well-paced flow with only minor lapses in pronunciation or intonation patterns.
  • Language Use – Your responses should demonstrate effective use of grammar and vocabulary.
  • Topic Development – Your responses are sustained and sufficient for the task. They are well developed and coherent. A clear progression of ideas is also necessary for a high score.

    TOEFL Speaking Section Format

    • Length of Task: 4 minutes long each
    • Number of Tasks: 4
    • Questions: 1 question per task; 4 questions in total
    • Total Time: 16 minutes
    • Avg. Time per Question: 60-90 seconds for the speaking part of each question
    • When Questions will appear: After the test taker is done with reading and listening material
    • Screen/Test Details:

      • Pictures on the screen can help test takers imagine the setting and the role of the speakers
      • Test takers will see and hear each question
      • Note-taking is allowed. After testing, notes are collected and shredded before the test taker leaves the test center.

    TOEFL Speaking Question Types by Format and Content

    1 Independent Task

    • Personal Preference

      • This question asks the test taker to express and defend a personal choice from a given category—for example, important people or places, or events or activities that the test taker enjoys.
      • Preparation time: 15 seconds
      • Response time: 45 seconds

    • Choice

      • This question asks the test taker to make and defend a personal choice between two contrasting behaviors or courses of action.
      • Preparation time: 15 seconds
      • Response time: 45 seconds

    3 Integrated Tasks (Read/Listen/Speak)

    • Campus Situation Topic: Fit and Explain (Question #2)

      • A reading passage (75–100 words) presents a campus-related issue.
      • A listening passage (60–80 seconds, 150–180 words) comments on the issue in the reading.
      • The question asks the test taker to summarize the speaker’s opinion within the context of the reading passage.
      • Preparation time: 30 seconds
      • Response time: 60 seconds

    • Academic Course Topic: General/Specific (Question #3 and #4)

      • A reading passage (75–100 words) broadly defines a term, process, or idea from an academic subject.
      • An excerpt from a lecture (60–90 seconds; 150–220 words) provides examples and specific information to illustrate the term, process, or idea from the reading passage.
      • The question asks the test taker to combine and convey important information from the reading passage and the lecture.
      • Preparation time: 30 seconds
      • Response time: 60 seconds

    TOEFL Speaking Question Breakdown

    Many people might feel apprehensive about the TOEFL speaking section because they simply don’t know what is expected of them for each question type. While the speaking section on the TOEFL requires you to speak, there are slight variations between each question. Below is a breakdown of all 4 TOEFL speaking questions in an attempt to ease apprehension for test day!

    • Questions 1: You are required to speak on a topic based on two different situations or opinions. Some independent questions will ask you your preference on a topic, such as:

      • Do you think it’s better to study alone or in groups when preparing for an exam? Use reasons and details in your explanation.
      • For independent questions on the TOEFL, you will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to give your response.

    • Question 2: It begins the integrated speaking portion of the exam and involves reading a short passage (45 seconds) and then listening to a conversation on the same topic. The conversation will always be between a man and a woman and usually related to a campus situation. The reading portion on this question will usually have to do with a university-related topic that is the basis for the conversation between the man and the woman.

      • Typically, one speaker will have a strong opinion about the given topic and you are expected to give the reasons the main speaker has and any supporting details that go along with it. You have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond.
      • Remember – your personal opinion is not needed or wanted for this type of question.

    • Question 3 & 4: They will give you a short reading passage (45 seconds) on an academic topic and then play a lecture on the same topic, as well.

      • This question always seems a bit more difficult than Question #2, because the material is much more dense, particular if the topic is science-related, and often times it’s difficult to give a full response with all relevant information under 60 seconds. (The prep time and speaking time for Question #3& 4 is the same as Question #2.) Basically, you are required to give a summary of the lecture, with a focus on a particular process or emphasis given to you in the question.

    All in all, a key to a great score on the speaking section of the TOEFL exam is to familiarize yourself with each question type and practice, practice, practice!