The speaking section is the third part of the TOEFL® test. The TOEFL iBT Speaking section measures your ability to speak English effectively in academic settings.
You’ll have about 17 minutes to answer four questions. The four questions/tasks resemble real-life situations you might encounter both in and outside of a classroom.
The first question on the test is an independent speaking question. It is purely speaking, and requires you to give your personal opinion on a given topic drawing entirely on your own ideas, opinions and experiences when you respond. We review these question types in the following sections.
The final three questions are called “integrated” questions and require you to combine your English-language skills — listening and speaking, or listening, reading and speaking — just as you would in a classroom. We review these in detail in the following sections.
You'll get 15–30 seconds of preparation time before each response, and your response will be 45 or 60 seconds long. To respond, you'll speak into the microphone and your responses will be recorded and then scored. Speaking tasks are scored based on the Speaking Scoring Guides by a combination of AI scoring and certified human raters. Raw scores are converted to a scaled section score of 0–30.
Remember that this section doesn’t involve just speaking! Throughout the TOEFL speaking section you’ll need to read, listen and speak. This can be very challenging, but if you become familiar with the various question types before heading to the test center you will feel a lot more comfortable – and earn a higher score.
TOEFL Speaking Question One
TOEFL Speaking Question One is the independent TOEFL speaking question and is also called the “personal choice” question. For this task, you'll be given a topic to speak about with no additional reading or listening passages. You'll have 15 seconds to prepare your response and 45 seconds to speak your answer.
Now, let's look more closely at what the Independent Speaking question will be asking you to do. Currently, this question has three main styles:
- Agree/Disagree (about 50% of the time)
- Paired Choice (about 30% of the time)
- Good Idea (about 20% of the time)
Style One: Agree/Disagree
This is the most common style. You are given a statement (usually a single sentence) and asked whether you agree or disagree with it. It looks like this:
“State whether you agree or disagree with the following statement. Then explain your reasons using specific details in your argument. Teachers should assign daily homework to students.”
Style Two: Paired Choice
In this style you must pick between two contrasting choices. It looks like this:
“There are many different approaches to academic studies, and all of them have specific benefits. Do you prefer to study for tests in a group, or to study alone? Include details and examples to support your explanation.”
Style Three: Good Idea
In this style a choice or situation is described. You should state if you think it is a good idea. It looks like this:
“Some companies have rules that forbid employees from using personal cell phones during working hours. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
Make sure you understand what the raters are looking for and how the questions are scored. In the speaking section, all responses are scored on a scale from zero to four, and they're scored holistically, which means the raters listen for various features in your response and then give it an overall score.
Although there are some variations depending on the questions, raters will be looking for three main things.
- First, delivery: Your speech needs to be clear and fluid with good pronunciation. The pace or speed of your speech should be natural, and you should have good sounding intonation patterns.
- Second, language use: This is mainly how you use grammar and vocabulary to express your ideas.
- And third, topic development: This is how fully you answer the question, how clearly you express your ideas, and how you can connect one idea to the next in a way that is easy to follow.
Don't memorize responses before the test, especially ones that you get from the Internet or from test prep instructors who say that's a good idea. It's not, and it will lower your score. It's very easy for ETS raters to identify memorized responses because they sound different and the content is different from responses that are more natural and spontaneous.
TOEFL Speaking Question Two
The second question is referred to as the “campus announcement” type. This is the first of the integrated tasks. It involves reading, listening and speaking.
First, you will read a short article. The article is about 100 words long, and you are given 45 seconds to read it and take notes. It will describe some change that is happening on a university campus or it will propose a change that the author thinks should happen.
Changes usually relate to things like classes or university facilities. For instance, the announcement might be that a new art gallery will be built on campus. There will be two reasons given for the change. You will have 45 seconds to read the article. After that the article will disappear and you won’t see it again.
Next, you will hear two students talk about the reading. The conversation is usually about 1.5 minutes long. It is always between a man and a woman. One of the students will agree or disagree with the change. He/she will give two reasons for their opinion. Note that the reasons given in the conversation will respond to the reasons given in the reading. This means that if the article mentions that the old art gallery is too small, the speaker will mention that the old gallery is a perfect size.
After hearing the conversation, you will be asked to summarize what you have read and listened to. The question will look something like this:
“The woman expresses her opinion of the university’s plan. State her opinion and the reasons she gives for holding that opinion.”
You will have 30 seconds to prepare your answer, and 60 seconds to speak. The questions are designed so that if you speak at a normal pace, you will have enough time to give a complete response.
Listen carefully to the speaker’s reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with points made in the reading. Raters will be looking for three main things — delivery, language use and topic development.
TOEFL Speaking Question Three
The third TOEFL speaking question is referred to as the “General to Specific” question. It involves reading, listening and speaking.
First, you will read a short article about an academic term or concept. It will be about 100 words and you will have 45 seconds to read it. When your time is up the article will disappear and you won’t see it again.
The short article is usually about a specific term or concept including:
- Biology/Animals – 60%
- Business/Marketing – 20%
- Psychology/Learning – 10%
- Art/History/Literature – 10%
Next, you will listen to a short lecture about the same topic. The lecture is usually about 1.5 minutes long. It is about the same term or idea from the reading. It includes one or two examples that demonstrate the term or idea.
The question prompt will look something like one of these:
- Describe what _____ is, and how the professor’s example illustrates this idea.
- Describe how the example of the ____ illustrates the concept of ____.
- Explain the concept of _____ using the examples of ____ and ____ given in the lecture.
- Using the examples from the lecture, explain the concept of ______.
You’ll have 30 seconds to prepare your response, and 60 seconds to speak your answer.
TOEFL Speaking Question Four – Academic Lecture
The fourth TOEFL speaking question is called the “academic lecture” question. It includes both listening and speaking.
First, you will listen to a lecture that is 1.5 to 2 minutes long. It is usually about how something is done or how some natural process is carried out. For instance, it might describe a certain technique birds use to hunt for food. Or it might talk about how certain fish survive in parts of the ocean without any light. it will illustrate this concept using tangible examples.
After that, you will be asked a specific question that requires you to mostly summarize the lecture. The question will look something like these:
- Using the examples of hawks and eagles, explain two ways birds hunt for food.
- Using points and examples from the lecture, explain how businesses cope with unexpected customer complaints.
- Using the examples of sharks and jellyfish, explain how animals cooperate with each other.
You will have 20 seconds to prepare your response and 60 seconds to speak your answer, which will always be a summary of the lecture.
The topics for these questions can be from a variety of fields — life science, social science, physical science, history, art, literature. And although it’s important that you practice with academic texts, the questions are designed so that you don’t need any prior knowledge in a specific field to answer the question. In other words, even though a question is about an academic topic, ultimately, it’s not testing your knowledge of that topic. It’s testing your English.
Use the preparation time to organize your thoughts and maybe jot down some notes. Don't try to write a full response because you won't have time, and the raters scoring your response want to hear you speaking, not reading, and they can tell the difference.
It's not necessary to organize your response into an introduction, a middle and a conclusion like you would with a written essay. Just speak naturally and use common connecting words. Some of those are: because, so, after that, on the other hand, I want to mention, and what this means is.