The Difference Between Integrated and Independent TOEFL Speaking Tasks
Similar to the TOEFL writing section, the TOEFL speaking section includes two types of questions—“independent” questions and “integrated” questions. In terms of topics, there’s a pretty clear divide between the two types: integrated TOEFL speaking topics are about academic topics while independent speaking topics are about personal experiences, opinions, and ideas.
The “integrated” topics are called that for a reason: they integrate reading and/or listening with speaking. That also means that integrated speaking topics are as varied as listening and reading topics, and answering them well mostly depends on how well you can find the most important ideas in a lecture or text.
In contrast, the independent tasks are only really about how well you can speak, rather than how well you digest incoming information. That means communicating clearly.
TOEFL Speaking Topic 1: Select One from Many
The subject of the first speaking task will be something very easy to relate to. It will be about a very broad topic which you will then give a personal answer to. For example, you might be asked about your favorite type of music.
Or you may be asked about family member, a hobby, or an accomplishment. Here’s a list of some very TOEFL-like questions for reference. If you started studying English as an adult, these questions might look familiar. They are the types of questions that beginner’s English text books often ask, because they rely almost completely on the present simple (e.g. “I love soccer”) or the past simple (e.g. “I played soccer”).
To answer these questions well, it’s important to choose a specific subject to speak about quickly. If the TOEFL asks you about a person who you admire, you should choose the first person you think of, and then immediately start thinking about why you admire them.
TOEFL Speaking Topic 2: Choose a Preference from Two
This speaking prompt will be very similar to many TOEFL essay prompts. It will ask you to make a choice between two things, then support that choice. For example, this topic is from the essay prompt list in Official Guide, but it could easily appear as the second speaking task: “Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in and why?
Note: ETS used to give a list of essay prompts for free on their website, but they deleted that page. Now, you need the official guide to see the list of essay prompts mentioned above.
Again, this is an exercise in choosing fast. You only have 30 seconds to answer, so you need to make a quick decision and then work on supporting it with a reason or two.
Cats or dogs?
Black or white?
Cold or hot?
And then there’s the most important part of the question: why?
ETS, which makes both the TOEFL and the GRE, likes to ask questions about education especially. So, in order to prepare for your TOEFL, it’s a good idea to practice speaking about your preferences in education. Where do you like to study? What types of teachers do you like? Do you like to work alone or in groups? What subjects are the most interesting? (If you’re going to take the GRE, that essay is very possibly going to be about education, too, so this might help in that preparation, too).
Preparing for TOEFL Speaking
Between the first and second tasks, TOEFL speaking subjects have a very wide range. If you also factor in the integrated, academic tasks, that range is enormous. The most important thing for preparing isn’t learning all of the topics; it’s learning how to answer completely in a very short time and under pressure.
But that’s a story for another day.