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Structuring your TOEFL Speaking Responses

The speaking section moves fast. The 45 or 60 seconds that you have to give your answer will fly by, and you need to be sure you can fit all of your thoughts into that time. Generally, this means that simplicity is key. The speaking section isn’t a good time to improvise a complicated set of contrasting ideas and show your logical abilities. Instead, try structuring your response around a set formula that you can practice and that you know will fit the time frame you’re given.

One good way to structure your response is in three parts. First, give a general statement about the main topic. For example, in the opinion task (speaking question 2), that’s your personal choice. Similarly, in the lecture summary task (question 6), that’s the main subject of the lecture.

Then, lay out the more specific details. Be as concrete as possible during this part. For example, don’t say “some animals” when you mean to say “tigers.” Concrete things are almost always easier to understand than generalities or abstractions. This part of your response—the details—is by far the most important part, and it is also the most varied from question to question. In the first task, the details might be the reasons why you chose a specific person who you admire, while in the third task, the details will be the reasons that you heard a student give for disliking some piece of university news. In either case, there are very often reasons and examples. That is, in this middle part of your response you will explain and illustrate.

Finally, you will give a quick sentence to conclude. In that conclusion, you’ll briefly restate the same reasons or details you already gave, using different wording and with less specifics. This should not be more than a few seconds—just one sentence. Because the concluding statement is so short, you can watch the clock and use this last sentence to fill time once you get close enough to the end that you can’t start another example. It’s much better to spend that time concluding than to give an inadequate, halfway-thought-out or halfway-expressed example that confuses the listener. But, at the same time, it’s better to talk until the end of the clock than it is to stop ten seconds early. So it’s helpful to finish with that unimportant conclusion, which just repeats the same ideas in different words.

It’s also a great idea to have some transitional or introductory phrases in your metaphorical toolbox so you can make it clear to the listener how each sentence fits into the whole response. Begin with a phrase like “I think that…” or “In my opinion…”. In between your examples, try using expressions like “Also”, “In addition,” and “On that note…” to show the listener that what follows will be similar to what came before. To redirect them, you can use a phrase like “On the other hand,” or “In contrast to that.” That way the speaker will be prepared for you to change topics or directions. Transitions and linking words are key!

 

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3 Responses to Structuring your TOEFL Speaking Responses

  1. Visperas September 4, 2014 at 3:16 am #

    Hi! I’d like to do the speaking and writing parts of the Toefl Test but I don’t know how can I get the scores. I need someone to correct my tests. Are there any websites doing that? THX!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

      There are some sites which offer grading for essays and speaking tasks, yes. They’re generally pretty expensive, though, since the grading is packaged with other material and help. The only site I know of that gives individual scoring for pay is Notefull.com. You can also take an official online practice test for $45, and that gives you a computer-rated score for both speaking and writing. The speaking score is really not accurate, though, because computers can’t grade speech well.

    • Germain September 21, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Hello everybody,

      In regard to the writing, you can go there: http://www.language-exchanges.org, submit your essays and have them corrected for free by native English speakers.

      Regards.


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