Want to get a high score on your TOEFL Speaking exam? You’re in the right place! In this study guide, we’ll share with you the best tips and strategies to improve your test score fast. We have also given examples to help you understand these tips in the context of the exam. Let’s dive in!
What you will learn:
You need good fluency in English to get a high score on TOEFL Speaking. Fact!
However, not all fluent speakers get a top score. Why? This is where knowledge of the test is important. In English, we call this “exam technique”.
Below we have created a list of the top strategies for successful candidates. You can use this as a checklist before your TOEFL Speaking exam. Remember to give yourself plenty of preparation time before the test. This will help you achieve the best result.
TOEFL Speaking tests your spoken English for university entry. This section of the exam is 17 minutes long. There are a total of 30 points available. A “high score” would be 26-30 points. Your university will tell you in advance what score you need.
TOTAL AVAILABLE POINTS: 30
The TOEFL Speaking exam has two parts and 4 tasks to complete. The first is “Independent Speaking” (x1 task). The second is “Integrated Speaking” (x3 tasks). These tasks try to simulate real-life situations inside and outside the academic classroom. Let’s take a closer look…
|Explain a choice||Campus-related||Academic||Academic|
|15 seconds||30 seconds||30 seconds||20 seconds|
|45 seconds||60 seconds||60 seconds||60 seconds|
In this section, you will answer one question using your own ideas, opinions, and experiences. There are three main types of questions:
i) Good/bad idea
ii) Paired choice
iii) Agree or disagree
You should always support your opinion with relevant examples and give as much detail as you can. You may also contrast your chosen answer with an alternative viewpoint. In this section, you’ll have 15 seconds to prepare and your speaking time is 45 seconds.
Let’s look at 3 examples of these questions and how to give strong answers to them:
Questions 2, 3 and 4 on the TOEFL Speaking test are “Integrated Speaking” tasks. ‘Integrated’ simply means that these tasks combine reading, listening and speaking skills. For example, you may need to listen and respond orally, or to listen, read and then respond orally.
This section focuses on campus and academic–related topics. In questions 2-4, you’ll have 15-30 seconds to prepare your answers. Your speaking/response time for each question is 45-60 seconds.
Let’s look at an example for each topic and how to give a strong answer:
To score top marks in the TOEFL Independent Speaking task, study the assessment rubric (criteria). The marks are focused on the following three concepts:
A. Delivery: The candidate generally speaks at a good speed and shows fluency of expression. Speech is clear and may include minor lapses or minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation patterns, but these do not affect overall intelligibility.
B. Language use: The response demonstrates effective use of grammar and vocabulary. It shows a relatively high degree of automaticity with good control of basic and complex structures. Minor errors may be noticeable but they do not lead to misunderstanding.
C. Topic development: The response is sustained and relevant to the task. It is generally well-developed and coherent, and relationships between ideas are clear.
Source: ETS TOEFL Official Website
When answering TOEFL Speaking questions, consider the following:
Practise giving your opinions, describing problems and solutions, and using language to compare and contrast ideas. These are key concepts in the TOEFL Speaking test.
The more you talk about your thoughts and opinions, the easier speaking in English will become, and the less stressful it will be to talk about bigger ideas.
Practise beginning your answers with phrases, such as:
To describe problems and solutions, use intro phrases like these:
To compare and contrast ideas, try expressions like:
Listen carefully to how native speakers sound when they speak, and try to copy what you hear. There are many free and paid online platforms where you can interact with native speakers. Facebook has many groups where you can find speaking partners.
If you want more focused preparation for the TOEFL Speaking exam, consider taking paid online lessons with a qualified native English teacher. At OTUK, our courses concentrate on fluency AND exam technique to help you get faster results.
Click here to Request your free consultation today!
On the TOEFL Speaking test, you will need to read and listen to material that may be fairly long or wordy. It’s important to pick out the most important points fast and summarise information to create answers that are short, clear and relevant.
You can prepare by frequently listening to the news, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. in English, and then recording your own summary of what you have heard. You can also practise doing this with reading texts or articles.
Try to express your ideas at ever-increasing speeds, begin with a 2-minute summary, then a 90-second summary, then 60 seconds, etc. Each time remove any non-essential elements. Only focus on the key concepts. This exercise forces your brain to select relevant words and phrases for more effective communication.
Practise explaining your answers. Support them with clear reasons. If you want to argue that travelling on a gap year is better than going straight to university, then be prepared to come up with at least three reasons to justify your opinion. In the test, you will not have time to give three reasons, but it is always better to have too many than too few.
For the travel/university example, your reasons might be: learning about new cultures, visiting famous places, and taking a necessary break from education. You could use a couple of these reasons to support your answer.
You need to demonstrate that you have a good knowledge of vocabulary. Including various adverbs and adjectives can add more expression and complexity to your English.
Try to use transitional adverbs to make your speech flow, e.g. however, therefore, consequently, moreover, nevertheless, nonetheless, thus, and hence. When discussing your personal opinions, use adjectives like: reliable, resourceful, sensible, passionate, and bright.
In the TOEFL Speaking test, you will have the opportunity to write notes as you listen to texts in preparation for your answer. If you don’t regularly practise this skill, time may become a problem, and you may not record all the important points. For the integrated tasks on the Speaking test, you’ll have 45 seconds to read a text, during which time, you’ll also make notes.
Exercise: Try listening to the radio/TV news and make a bullet point list of the essential information. This will be the backbone of a good summary to reference when speaking. Now practise retelling the news item in the shortest way possible using your notes. You can get a friend to comment on your summary or ask you a specific exam question.
You won’t be marked on the appearance of your notes. They are just for you. Keep them as brief as possible by using abbreviations and “shorthand”. Use bullet points and include only one fact per line. Make sure your notes are 100% clear to you.
Let’s look at an example text with very brief bullet point notes.
Beginning with the fall semester, tuition bills must be paid in full before classes begin. Returning students will not be able to attend classes for which they preregistered last spring if there is an outstanding balance due on the account. Although in previous semesters students were allowed to attend classes if 50 percent of the bill was paid, the new policy, with no exceptions, will go into effect immediately. The bursar’s office is open Monday to Friday from nine to six to assist you with financial aid, loans, and scholarship applications. Please check your account balance online.
Native speakers often use phrasal verbs in conversation, especially in more informal situations. It’s a good idea to use some phrasal verbs during your TOEFL Speaking test to show that you know them. This is higher-level vocabulary.
Make sure you know common phrasal verbs to use in different contexts. For example:
You don’t need to learn all the phrasal verbs in the dictionary! Just focus on fully understanding 15-20 common ones. Check out our list of recommended phrasal verbs for IELTS – these can also be used for your TOEFL exam.
Use phrasal verbs naturally and just several times during your Speaking test. Make sure you don’t overuse them, like in this example below:
I don’t know how I got through the lecture today. Everyone was dozing off! The students at the back of the room did nothing but fool around. I know the faculty has tried to crack down on disrespectful behaviour and get back to a sense of decency, but today the lecturer ended up breaking off the lesson and leaving the room to cool off. I think that this behaviour may cause a drop off in the number of students who enrol, and the university may even do away with the course altogether.
Listening to yourself speaking is a highly effective method of study. This can help you find weak points in pronunciation, reduce pauses, correct common mistakes in grammar, etc. It’s also a good idea to share your recordings with a study buddy or English-speaking friend/tutor to get additional feedback.
Don’t judge yourself too harshly. We all make mistakes. The objective here is to practise speaking, analyse our errors, and then improve over time. The more you speak about the same topics, the better your answers will become!
Connect and move between ideas by frequently using phrases like: first, however, in contrast, on the other hand, moreover, etc. Remember that flowing easily between ideas is a sign of fluency. Using transitions can help you avoid pauses and lead the examiner smoothly into your next point.
Let’s look at some really useful transition words and phrases:
Giving yourself time to think
Expanding on your point
Illustrating cause and effect
We can think of the TOEFL Speaking test as a “performance”. You are the main actor and you need to demonstrate your knowledge of English to the examiner. This may include vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, style/flow, and other aspects of the language.
Use each Speaking task as an opportunity to show the examiner what you know in English. If you want to get a higher score, you need to use more complex vocabulary and grammar correctly. This should also be relevant to the question.
If you can, try to include a number of different verb tenses in your answers. For example:
Q. Do you agree or disagree that pupils should have a job while they are studying at school?
A. When I was at school, I had a part-time job, and it really helped me to learn about self-discipline. I don’thave a job at the moment because I need to dedicate all my time to university, so I suppose I can see both sides of the argument. I would definitely recommend getting a part-time job if you can handle the workload. I know I’llsee the benefits of it later in my life.
We’ve already mentioned vocabulary like phrasal verbs, adverbs/adjectives, and transition words in our list of TOEFL exam tips. There is no specific set of vocabulary given by TOEFL ETS for candidates to learn. Your goal should be to acquire vocabulary over time as you progress your English.
4 ways to improve your vocabulary for TOEFL:
In the TOEFL Speaking test, you will have 15 seconds to prepare your first response. Make sure you know what this feels like. Try to watch or listen to the news every day and give yourself 15 seconds to prepare a summary of one news item.
At first, you may find it hard to make notes in such a short time. That’s ok! With practice, you will get faster. If your English is good enough, use native news sources and not ESL-adapted material. Make sure you have a stopwatch on your mobile to time yourself.
ESL-adapted news sources:
Native English news sources:
There may be some background noise during your Speaking exam. If you need complete silence to speak well, this may be distraction on your test. This may also affect you during tasks that involve listening.
Practise speaking and listening to English in public places where there are multiple distractions. If you don’t have anyone to practise with, record yourself speaking in places that have some amount of background distraction. You can also practise at home by increasing background noise from a TV or radio while you are doing a speaking or listening task.
During your TOEFL speaking test, the examiner may ask you to listen to a number of audio recordings. The audio for the first task will probably contain a mixture of accents from English-speaking countries around the world – USA, England, Scotland, India, South Africa etc. This could be a problem if you are only used to one accent of English.
Expose yourself to as many different accents as possible so that you become familiar with them over time. Remember that you can control the accent you use, but you never know what to expect when other people open their mouths and start speaking English! You need to be flexible and able to understand a variety of different accents for the test.
For some great audio samples, check out the IDEA archive of accents and dialects of English. For example, try listening to these accents from across England.
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