The speaking section is the shortest of the four sections on the TOEFL, totaling about 20 minutes in length. All in all, you’ll answer six questions on various topics; the first ones will be opinion-based. For these questions, you will hear the question and then have 15 seconds to collect your thoughts and form an opinion. Then you will speak for 45 seconds. These questions are totally based on your opinions and experiences, so there is no right or wrong answer. Your communication is what’s important, not your ideas.
The speaking section also contains “integrated” questions. For these, you’ll have to incorporate outside information from a short reading passage and a short lecture excerpt or conversation into your answer. Integrated questions will give you slightly longer to collect your thoughts (20 or 30 seconds instead of 15—woo-hoo!) and 60 seconds to give your answer. We’ll go into more detail about these questions later.
What you’ll be graded on…
Your score, which will be determined by two graders, will be dependent on your performance in three categories: delivery, language use, and topic development. Delivery is basically your fluency—how well you maintained a reasonable speed, whether your pronunciation was clear, and whether your answer was hard to understand because of unnatural rhythms or intonation. To score your language use, the graders will be paying attention to the breadth and appropriateness of your vocabulary, the variety of your sentence structure, and the grammar of your response. In the official rubric, which you can find on the ETS website or in the Official Guide page 188-89, you’ll see the word “automaticity” used as a characteristic of a high-level response. This means that your speech needs to sound natural—like you’re not working very hard to come up with the correct words and form good sentences. Topic development is the last category, but it’s just as important as delivery and language use. For this category, the raters will be listening for the organization of your response, how well you support your opinion, and how clear your examples and explanations are.
If you’d like to learn about the TOEFL speaking section in video format, you can watch the video below. 🙂