11 Feb 2017

TOEFL Speaking Overview

Over the last several weeks, we’ve taken a look at the first two portions of the TOEFL, the reading and listening sections. These sections are relatively easy to summarize, as they test “input only” skills. On the other hand, the final two sections of the TOEFL, the speaking and writing, are more difficult to summarize as these test both “input” and “output” sills. This means you will be actively engaged in the test, in that the test will present you with a question or situation and your job is to create a response, not pick one from those presented (so no multiple choice).


How is the speaking scored?  The speaking is broken down into 6 tasks, 2 of which are independent and the other 4 are integrated.  What this means is there are 2 open ended questions which have no referent or guide to assist you in answering them.  The other 4 tasks all provide some sort of guidance, be it a reading passage + listening, or purely listening, and your job is to indicate how the parts are related or to purely just summarize what you just listened to.  Each individual task is scored on a scale of 0-4, according to a quite complicated set of rules and guidelines, which you can find at this link:


Those scores are then combined and scaled to a score of 0-30.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, certain programs (especially grad programs) have a minimum speaking score which is separate from their minimum TOEFL score, and if you score below that threshold you may not be admitted into the program, even if your overall TOEFL score is above what is required by the university.

Unlike the reading or listening sections, the speaking is much more difficult to practice and prepare for on your own, as you actually have to speak, but speaking to no one is useless, not to mention a little creepy.  Asking for a speaking partner may be embarrassing or fruitless.  Even if you ask your family, they may be uncomfortable or unhelpful in your quest to become a better TOEFL speaker.


So what can you do? Just like the other skills, you have to practice.  Any opportunity you get, speak in English.  Something which has worked for our past students is to set up a weekly movie and dinner with someone who is also interested in taking the TOEFL.  Watch a movie (in English), then go to dinner and discuss what you thought about that movie (also in English).

A different idea which addresses  the tone and speed of English is to download a short podcast and memorize it.  (For example: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/).  Then, recite the podcast while recording yourself.  Play your recording, and listen for intonation or pronunciation differences.  This will give you an idea of how you sound compared to a known response.

Finally, a separate opportunity is to record yourself answering this question:

What advice would you give a friend who is going for a job interview?  Give specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Record yourself speaking for 45 seconds, then email your response to us at [email protected].

We will grade your response and offer some specific areas for improvement.  We hope to hear from you soon.

And now, a sloth reacts to this information: