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TOEFL Tuesday: Speaking Section Advice

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.


If these TOEFL Tuesday “TOEFL Tips” videos were what you did on the actual TOEFL, you would just be coming back from your ten-minute break. That’s because this week, we’re going to look at the Speaking section, which is the first section of the TOEFL after the break. If you want to know more about the structure of the speaking section and the question you will answer, click that link! It leads to a beautiful infographic that our visual designer and I made to explain this unique part of the TOEFL.

If you missed the last two advice videos, they are here:

Now, let’s look at the two most common problems and how to avoid them.

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TOEFL Speaking Common Problem 1: Not Knowing the Format

The format of the TOEFL speaking section is very specific. If you don’t know the format before you take the test, it can be confusing and much more difficult than it should be. In this week’s video, I mention a short story about another TOEFL teacher who was learning about the test before teaching it, and but after taking the TOEFL, realized it was actually quite difficult. And of course, my reaction when I first read that story was “the speaking section, of course!” That’s because you need to do a lot in the speaking section in a very short time. Summarizing a lecture and a text in only one minute can be challenging, and it’s not something you normally do.

TOEFL Speaking Tip 1: Experience

Of course practice is important! Everybody knows that. But it’s especially true for the TOEFL speaking section. You should know exactly what types of questions come at what time in the text before you walk into the TOEFL center on your test day. Know what every question will be like, and what type of answer you will give for each of the six questions. The best way to learn that is through practice. The more you answer speaking questions, the more familiar you will be, and how exactly you will structure each answer on the test.

TOEFL Speaking Common Problem 2: Distraction

The most common complaint about the TOEFL speaking section is how many people are speaking at the same time. You may be in a room with 20 other people all answering the same questions at the same time, so it can be noisy! And when the person sitting next to you is talking about the same topic as you, it can be especially distracting.

The good news is that everybody has the same disadvantage. All TOEFL scores are dependent on the special situation of the TOEFL speaking section.

But you can do more to help avoid the problem!

TOEFL Speaking Tip 2: Outlines

At the start of each TOEFL speaking question, you will get 15, 20, or 30 seconds to prepare your answer (different times for different questions). You will use that time to make a very short outline of what you will say and in what order. While you’re speaking, if you become distracted, you can use those notes to remind yourself of your thinking. If you follow the outline and focus on it while speaking, it can be a great help in ignoring the people around you.


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2 Responses to TOEFL Tuesday: Speaking Section Advice

  1. cora April 23, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks for all your great videos and tips.
    I am wondering if there is any possibility to make a model sound record of a test room! To just listen to and be familiar with it or even students can use it az a background noise while they are practicing. The magoosh team is very smart. I wish you can make one.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas April 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

      That’s an interesting idea! We might try something like that in the future, but we have other projects we’re working on right now, so even if we do decide to try this, it might not be for a while, I’m afraid. But I really like the idea, and it’s something we’ll keep in mind for later. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion!

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