As I’ve mentioned before, Independent Speaking is harder than it looks. It can catch students off-guard. Speaking Task 1 is especially harder than it looks. It “only” requires basic personal knowledge— seems harmless right? But in reality, personal questions often put people on the spot. In TOEFL or in real life conversations, you never know when a personal question will leave you scrambling for a good answer.
It can be hard to come up with good answers for Speaking Task 1, especially within the 15 second time limit for prep on the exam. This is especially if you’re not very familiar with the task and not prepared for the kinds of questions you’ll be asked. So the best way to prepare for Speaking Task 1 is to go through as many practice questions as possible. Reading and responding to dozens of these questions will help you get comfortable with answering personal questions quickly with short speeches.
Also, as long as you can find truly TOEFL-like practice questions, exposing yourself to a lot of Speaking Task 1 questions will help you get a feel for these types of questions and the answers you’ll be expected to give. Once you know the range and type of questions that may appear on Speaking Task 1, you can prepare for a variety of possible questions. The trick is finding truly authentic questions. I’ve found a few TOEFL Speaking Task 1 topic lists that are particularly good— but not necessarily perfect. Check out the links below:
- Lucas gives 20 examples of task 1 and 2 responses in this blog post. All are based on the structures and topics of real TOEFL questions, so they’re extremely similar.
- 40 New Practice Topics for TOEFL iBT Speaking Part 1
This list by Jason Renshaw is probably the longest list of Task 1 topics on the web with solid examples.
- US Graduates Blog TOEFL Independent Speaking 1 Topic List
This list is pretty good, offering sample Task 1 questions and responses in both audio and transcript. Still, this set has a few drawbacks. A few of the sample questions on this page are really Task 2 questions– they talk about an important issue and ask you to choose one side, or agree/disagree with a statement. There is audio of sample answers too, although the sample answers are not the most realistic or helpful. The answers are given by native English speakers rather than actual ESL learners. And the responses are offered without any commentary or scoring.
- Speaking Task 1 Topic List by Scribd User Allannoe
There are a lot of different TOEFL Integrated Speaking materials hosted on Scribd, the e-book sharing website. This is one of the better ones. The majority of the questions on this list are good examples of possible Speaking Task 1 topics. However, there are a fair amount of Task 2-like questions mixed in. Read this list carefully—if you’re trying to just focus on Task 1, you’ll need to avoid the less personal topics related to your opinions on social issues.
- Magoosh TOEFL includes six practice tests’ worth of speaking questions with explanation videos, sample answers, and guidance for grading. If you want a realistic TOEFL experience with instructions on giving a better answer, that’s much better than simply reading a question, answering it, and then repeating the same mistakes on the next question!
These lists should give you plenty of practice to go through. It’s also important to think about strategy as you practice these. Remember, the key here is to think fast— it’s best to run with the first thought you have. Don’t try to carefully pick a “perfect” idea for you answer, or you’ll risk burning through your 15 seconds of prep time without finding anything to say. Just dive in and speak, even if you have to make something up.