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Independent Speaking: Thinking Fast and Having Enough to Say

At a glance, the TOEFL Independent Speaking Tasks seem like the easiest parts of the Speaking section. You don’t have to do any reading, listening or note-taking, and you only have to speak for 45 seconds. That’s less than a minute!

However, there is a way in which the shorter timing for the two Independent Speaking Tasks can work against you. The preparation time is also very short—you have just 15 seconds to think of an answer. Because of this, many test-takers find that they don’t have enough to say, even in the short 45 second time they’re given to talk. They simply weren’t able to think of an answer quickly enough.

Ultimately, Speaking Tasks 1 and 2 are the two most fast-paced questions in the whole TOEFL Speaking section. These questions seem personal, but there’s really no time for self-reflection. You shouldn’t think too deeply about your life on the first question. And you don’t have time to really reflect on your opinions in Task 2.

These Independent tasks are not really an assessment of your life and opinions. They’re an assessment of your ability to think quickly and promptly express your thoughts in English. As you rush to think up a good response in just 15 seconds, there are a few things you should remember.

For one thing, you should be prepared to use the very first idea or opinion that pops into your head. You can’t afford to waste time trying to think of the perfect idea or response. Just pick your response quickly and run with it. Right here on the Magoosh TOEFL blog, Lucas gives some good advice on how to think fast on these questions.

You also need to remember that it’s perfectly OK to just make something up. Sometimes you can’t easily think of a true answer to a question about your life. Or you may find that you’re not sure of your opinion on a Task 2 issue. Or you do have an opinion, but you can’t immediately think of how to express it. That’s OK. In Speaking Task 1, you can say something about your personal experience that isn’t true. Similarly, in Speaking Task 2, you can just go with the side of the argument that seems easiest to defend. You can do this even if it’s not the side you truly agree with. As I’ve said before, it’s OK to lie on the TOEFL.

Above all, the best way to get faster and better at Speaking Tasks 1 and 2 is to practice, practice, practice. And sometimes the practice questions on Magoosh and in the ETS official materials just aren’t enough. Sometimes you need to just run through dozens of Independent Speaking questions. That way, you can get a better feel for the kinds of things you’ll be asked. And you can have plenty of rapid-fire practice at increasing your speed and thinking up answers in 15 seconds or less.

Fortunately, there are a number of websites with long lists of Independent Speaking questions. I recommend this list for Task 1. And you can find a good set of Task 2 questions here.

To quickly summarize your quick-thinking skills for this task: run with the first thought you have, lie if you must, and practice as many of these kinds of questions as you can. This will help you quickly think up enough ideas to fill 45 seconds of speech. You’ll be rushing toward a good TOEFL Independent Speaking score faster than you think.


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