How confident or secure do you feel when thinking about the Speaking section of the TOEFL? Is it an area of the test you’ve already mastered, or is it the section of the test that generates the most anxiety for you? Speaking in another language is one of the most insecure activities in the whole process of learning another language. If, on top of this, you are faced with being tested on your ability to give answers in English in less than a minute, your nerves can undoubtedly increase. For many, the TOEFL Speaking section is the most difficult. In this article we explain what it is like and how you should prepare for the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT.

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Structure of the Speaking Section

The Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT is the third part of the test. Like the other sections, the score you can earn ranges from 0 to 30 points. The total time to complete this portion of the test is 17 minutes. Before we talk in detail about the best ways to prepare for this section, the first thing you should know is how it is structured and what the person who will evaluate your test is looking for.

This section of the TOEFL consists of answering four questions: one independent question and three integrated questions.

Independent Question

The independent question tests your ability to express your ideas, opinions, or beliefs in English. In this case, ETS will not test whether your opinion is socially or morally correct or incorrect. Instead, it will test your ability to express an argued idea or opinion, that is, to postulate your position on a certain statement, and to present arguments that justify that position. Depending on the statement, you could even talk about some personal experience that justifies your point.

To answer the independent question, you will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to record your answer. This type of question usually poses the following model statement:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: people who spend more than 2 hours a day on social networks are unhappier than people who spend less time on networks?
  • Do you think scientists should have the freedom to explore anything they want or do you think there should be some limitations on science?
  • If you had to pick one special date in the year, what would it be? Explain your answer.

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Integrated Question

Integrated questions are so called because they test your ability to integrate two or more English language skills. That is, to answer this type of question, you must first listen to a 60-90 second mini-lecture and/or read an academic text. Once you have listened to and read these materials, you will be asked to state or synthesize the main idea and secondary ideas of the topic. In this way, you are “integrating” your reading, listening, and speaking skills into one activity, something you would do in any academic or professional context.

The preparation time for the integrated questions ranges from 20 to 30 seconds (depending on the question), and the time to give your answer is always 60 seconds. These time ranges do not include the duration of the audios or the time to read the academic texts.  You are only recorded once. There are no redos!

How to Improve Your Speaking Score?

Now that we have reviewed the structure of the Speaking section, we would like to offer you a series of tools to help you prepare and improve your score in this section of the TOEFL iBT.


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1.     TOEFL Speaking Practice

One of the most difficult skills in the Speaking section is not speaking but managing your response time. The pressure to answer a question in a minute or less is what leads many students to block, mispronounce, or speak at a speed that is unintelligible. Even if you have an intermediate or advanced level of English, not everyone has the ability to construct TOEFL answers. However, just like any other skill, the more you practice, the more you will master this skill. The key is to do real Speaking TOEFL practice, keeping track of the time it takes to solve each of the 4 questions. Even if it seems frustrating at first, keep practicing and you will learn how to manage your time. It is highly recommended that these practices are guided by a TOEFL preparation specialist who knows the evaluation criteria that governs this section. Check out our TOEFL expert go through the Independent Speaking on the TOEFL here:

2.     Practice Thinking About the TOEFL Speech Rater

ETS uses two methods to score your Speaking score: evaluation by a professional and Speech Rater software. This software is a system that evaluates certain “mechanical” aspects of your speech, for example, the number of repetitions, the number of pauses, the length of those pauses, the level of your vocabulary, the fluency of your speech, and your pronunciation. Let’s say that this software is a first filter to grade your answer, which will then be re-evaluated by a human being taking into account additional aspects (the organization of ideas, content development, etc.). In your study plan, you should emphasize correct articulation, keeping in mind, at all times, the Speech Rater filter.

3.     Seek the Support of TOEFL Preparation Professionals

The Speaking section of the TOEFL is perhaps one of those areas where getting help from a TOEFL instructor can make the most significant changes. The reason is that you will be able to receive immediate feedback on your strengths and weaknesses in developing your answers in 45 to 60 seconds. For example, a TOEFL instructor can help you create a speech structure that easily adapts to various types of answers, using introductory sentences of a few seconds in length, connectors of ideas, organization of concepts, clarity in pronunciation and speech rhythm, etc. A good professional knows the scoring criteria used by TOEFL, so he/she will be able to adapt your Speaking preparation depending on how you evolve to the exercises he/she gives you. 

Hopefully this blog post has resolved all your doubts. However, if you have questions in regards to your TOEFL preparation, get in touch and we will let you know how EPIC PREP can help you achieve your goals. Differently, if you preffer to continue reading here is the link to our TOEFL courses page.

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