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TOEFL Tuesday: How to Grade Speaking Responses

This week’s video is for both students and teachers—if you’re studying alone, it will help you grade your own spoken responses, and if you’re teaching a class, it will help you judge your students’ performance. Everybody wins!

There are official rubrics out there already which help a bit, but honestly, they don’t give a very good sense of what is most important for the TOEFL, or what you should focus on as a student. There’s a lot of text in them, too—really boring to read. I hope this video gives you a clearer sense of the key parts and is a bit less boring!

Clarity of speech

This is really the first aspect that graders hear, and so it’s one of the most important. First impressions count for a lot, right?

Basically, this is pronunciation. But it’s really pronunciation as a whole, not just if your consonant and vowels sounds are similar to native English speakers’ sounds. It’s also how well you stress words, how fast or slow you speak, how often you pause, and how clearly you enunciate.

All those aspect affect how well the grader will understand you. Even if your grammar and vocabulary are perfect, with all the important information, if your pronunciation is very unclear your score will be low. We can’t give high grades to speech that we don’t understand! You don’t need to have native pronunciation to score well on this, though. An accent is okay, to a point. Just focus on speaking clearly. Speaking quickly can hurt you if you’re not careful!

Students can grade their own clarity of speech by comparing to high-level TOEFL responses. You can find some of those here. Pay particular attention to the speed, how often and long you pause, and how strong the consonant sounds are.

Content of answer

The question here for most speaking questions is “did you answer it correctly?” That’s because four out of six speaking tasks are summaries of reading and listening material. If you summarize them correctly, then you get points; if you miss important information, you lose points.

But even in the “independent” tasks, without reading or listening, you need clear examples, reasons, and descriptions. If your answer is very general, all about “things” and “people,” it won’t be very clear or easy to understand. Talking about specific people, places and things helps give the grader a clearer picture of what you want to communicate.

And again, if you are studying the TOEFL at home, by yourself, you can grade this by comparison! Look at model answers to questions, and count how many of the main points you included for integrated tasks. For independent tasks, think about how specific your answer was, and how many details you gave.

Quality of language

Students often focus on the vocabulary and grammar of their spoken responses, but those are just one part: the quality of the language. This aspect includes how advanced your language is and how many mistakes you make while responding.

This aspect is harder to grade without a teacher, because it’s not always possible to hear your own mistakes: sometimes, you don’t know that they’re wrong! But even this can be graded alone if you spend enough time studying. By regularly reviewing grammar rules, studying vocabulary, and reading (a lot!), you can learn about your own mistakes. Then, if you review your past answers from previous TOEFL speaking practice, you might hear your own mistakes. And that is extremely valuable—we learn best when we find our own mistakes and correct them.

But as you grade, think about all three aspects of your response! Don’t get stuck on just one. If you grade those three aspects separately, it may give you a clearer picture of what the final score would be on a real TOEFL, even if you are grading your own answers at home.

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2 Responses to TOEFL Tuesday: How to Grade Speaking Responses

  1. Chaitya June 16, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    Very Useful. Thanks!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 16, 2016 at 10:20 am #

      No problem! Thanks for your comment, Chaitya. 🙂


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