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ETS’s Official TOEFL Course Online, Week 4: Speaking

ETS's official TOEFL course online

ETS has an official TOEFL course online. It’s tuition free and is offered through the EdX website. I’ve been taking this course and reviewing it week-by-week.

Previously, we went through the course introduction, the course unit on TOEFL Reading, and the week that ETS and EdX devoted to TOEFL Listening. This week’s unit is all about the TOEFL Speaking section. Let’s take a look!

Structure of the Speaking Unit

Week 4 has a total of 10 modules. Similar to weeks 2 and 3, the first two introductory modules give an overview of English Speaking skills and the TOEFL Speaking section.

This introduction is followed by three modules about the six TOEFL Speaking task. Each module covers two similar tasks. Module 3 looks at TOEFL Speaking Task 1 and TOEFL Speaking Task 2, the Independent Speaking tasks. Module 4 covers the two TOEFL Integrated Speaking Tasks that involve both reading and listening: TOEFL Speaking Task 3 and TOEFL Speaking Task 5. Finally, Module 4 examines the TOEFL Speaking tasks that have an audio track but no passage; these would be TOEFL Speaking Task 4 and TOEFL Speaking Task 6.

From there, the unit has a sixth module on how the TOEFL Speaking Task is scored. Then, the seventh module features some actual TOEFL Speaking practice prompts. In Module 8, the course instructors select 12 recorded TOEFL Speaking responses from 12 currently enrolled students. These students receive public feedback on their performance. Module 9 features activities and resources that can help students practice TOEFL Speaking, and module 10 ties it all together with a unit review.

The Lecture Videos

The first lecture video is hosted by Molly, the course’s TOEFL expert. This video features student testimonials about the different challenges one can face when learning to speak in English. The next video talks very briefly about strategies for TOEFL Speaking… a little too briefly, in my opinion. The video only touches on how to feel confident while speaking into the microphone, and doesn’t mention anything else important about the structure of the TOEFL Speaking section or the best way to approach it.

Actually, this seems to be the course’s week for insufficient videos. The videos that explain the different TOEFL tasks are all extremely short too. Each video is a minute long on average. Question types are mentioned briefly but not really explained all that well, and no complete Integrated Speaking prompts are shown.

Even the video lecture on section scoring seemed less helpful than usual. This video was also barely a minute long, and it failed to capture the complexity of the official TOEFL Speaking rubrics. And the unit review video lecture was almost as fast-paced — a hasty 92-second recap of the course that didn’t really add anything helpful.

The Practice Questions

This is where ETS and EdX gave their students something really special for the week. Although the video lectures for this unit lack any useful TOEFL Speaking practice prompts, the unit’s TOEFL Speaking practice test is incredible. It’s a full, authentic TOEFL Speaking section. The six tasks are taken from ETS’s TOEFL Practice Online. TPO itself can be useful, but it’s quite pricey: $45 for one full practice test. This means that a full Speaking Section from TPO is worth more than $10, but is offered free of charge to students who enroll in the EdX course.

Teacher and Student Interaction

Once more, ETS and EdX find a way to compensate for their less-than-great video lectures for the week. The instructors chose 12 students and publicly posted their responses. Each response was then given detailed, helpful feedback, also publicly viewable. There were two example responses with feedback for each of the six TOEFL Speaking tasks. One task response was a high-level response and the other was intermediate. This content can really help TOEFL preppers model their own top-scoring responses for the Speaking section.

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