By now, you’re familiar with the basic structure of the integrated questions. But the fifth question changes it up a little: instead of having a reading passage and a lecture to listen to and synthesize, you will have only a conversation. The question will be about a problem that might arise in a student’s life. Scheduling is a common problem, but it may be anything that’s related to classes, clubs, living on campus, or other school-related parts of life. The two speakers, who are often (but not always) students, will then discuss possible solutions to the problem. The question will ask you to identify the problem discussed in the lecture and describe the two solutions that are proposed. Then you should decide which one of the solutions you prefer and explain why. As in other opinion-based speaking questions, there is no right or wrong answer; any answer that is supported by specific examples can earn full points.
Because you’re only given one source to think about, you do not have as much time to prepare for the fifth question as you have for previous questions. You will have 20 seconds to prepare (beginning immediately after the conversation ends) and 60 seconds to speak.
Your answer should follow a fairly standard pattern. First, you should always start by summarizing what you heard. Do this in enough detail that someone who had never heard the recording could understand what the problem was. Then, mention the two solutions that are proposed in the conversation. Neither solution will be perfect, but you don’t have to fully explain the advantages and benefits of both solutions when you do this. You just have to identify the options. Finally, BRIEFLY state which option is better; there’s no need to spend more than a sentence or two on this, as the other parts are much more important. The last bit—and this is key—is to explain why you chose the solution you did. This could be 1/3 or even 1/2 of your answer. You should mention the reasons explained in the conversation for this, and then, ideally, add any other thoughts of your own.
On academic integrated speaking tasks, I recommended that you avoid talking about personal experiences. In this task, however, a personal experience that is relevant to the topic is a perfectly good argument. Just be sure that you’re going to have time to answer the question completely–sixty seconds is not as long as it may feel like at first.
Let’s look at an example from ETS QuickPrep 4. Listen to the conversation, then read the sample response below.
“The male student is worried about his course schedule. He has two required classes, but he can’t take both because they meet at the same time. Because of this conflict, he’s anxious about the beginning of the semester. The student’s professor has given him several good suggestions, but I think the best one is to take the class as an independent study. That way, the student will cover the exact material he’s supposed to, which might not be the case if he took the class at another university. Plus, the one-on-one conversations with the professor are a great opportunity to learn more about the material, as long as the student is prepared for each meeting. The student is worried about being able to motivate himself, so I think he should set a certain time and place every week to do his work for the independent study. If he treats the independent study course work just like a class, he shouldn’t have a problem with getting everything done.”
If you’re looking for speaking questions that you can practice with, make sure you check out our online TOEFL preparation course!