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TOEFL Speaking Task 2: Keeping Things Simple

TOEFL Speaking Task 2

TOEFL Independent Speaking is a balancing act. Your response must be complete enough to get a good score, yet simple enough to be said in 45 seconds. In TOEFL Speaking Task 1, where you talk about a personal experience, the trick is to raise just one point, and support that point with just a detail or two.

TOEFL Speaking Task 2 is a little trickier. This question is personal too. But in the second TOEFL Independent Speaking task, you aren’t just talking about a personal experience — you’re giving and supporting your personal beliefs about a social issue.

In TOEFL Speaking Task 2, make a claim that can be explained simply

In this second Independent Speaking Task, the first thing you need to do is think of an answer that’s easy to give and defend. To see how this process for choosing a simple answer works, let’s look at this TOEFL Speaking Task 2 question:

  • Some people think it is very important to have social interactions with neighbors. Others feel it is not important for neighbors to know each other. Which do you agree with, and why?

When faced with a question like this in TOEFL Independent Speaking, it can be tempting to answer the question in the same way that you would in a conversation: by saying exactly what you really feel. But on this TOEFL task, you have just 45 seconds to speak, and you are not in an actual conversation with another person. So it can be better to give a simpler version of your opinion. And it may even be best to state an opinion you don’t actually hold, if that opinion is the easiest one for you to explain. (Yes, it’s OK to lie on the TOEFL.)

Using the example above, I actually believe that interacting with your neighbors isn’t so important. But when I tried to think of why I feel that way, I realized the reasons are personal and complicated. Knowing my neighbors isn’t a priority for me because most of my friends and family live outside my neighborhood. It also isn’t a priority for me because I spend a lot of time socializing with my students and colleagues, and don’t have much time left over to get to know people who live in my immediate area.

Turning my personal situation into a well-supported position on a social issue seems hard to me. I don’t know if I can do that in just 45 seconds. So instead, on this response I’ll say that interacting with neighbors is important because it makes your neighborhood a strong, safe community. This isn’t the real side I take on this issue. But for me, it’s the simplest side I can take on the issue.

So be open to expressing an opinion other than your real one. Sometimes the side of the issue that you don’t agree with can be explained more simply.

Keep your statement-of-opinion short and support your opinion with just one or two points

Your opinion, as stated, should ideally be one sentence long (or possibly two short sentences). In my response, I’ll choose to side in favor of talking to the neighbors. And I’ll state my position as simply as I can:

  • I believe that interacting with your neighbors is important, because it turns your neighborhood into a strong, safe community.

Once you’ve made a simple statement-of-opinion on the Speaking Task 2 issue, you’ll want to support the opinion very simply as well. To stay in that 45 second time limit, support your Task 2 opinion with just one or two details. And express those supporting details in 4 or 5 sentences. A simple set of supporting details for my opinion above might look like this:

  • When neighbors know each other’s needs and struggles, they can help each other. For example, if you know that your neighbor’s car is broken down, you can drive your neighbor to work until the car is fixed. And a neighborhood where people interact a lot is safer too. When a neighbor is in danger, neighbors who talk are more likely to notice the danger and react to it. If you visit your neighbors regularly, you will notice if they injure themselves and can’t come to the door, or if their kitchen is on fire.

The opinion statement and supporting details above might just be enough to fill 40-45 seconds of audio. So you may have a complete response right here. Or you might not, depending on the pace of your speech. When I read this response out loud to myself, I finished talking in 38 seconds. That’s a little short. To fill out the time, I’ll need to add one more sentence at the end of my answer. This brings me to my next tip for the second TOEFL Independent Speaking Task…

If possible, address the other side of the issue (but avoid a counter-argument)

If you still have some time left after stating your opinion and giving some supporting evidence, it’s a good idea to talk briefly about the other side of the issue. Addressing the other side of the issue makes your answer seem thoughtful and truly complete. But remember, keep it simple. The trick here is to acknowledge the other side of the issue without going into a complicated counter-argument.

A counter-argument is an argument in favor of a belief that is the opposite of your stated opinion. It’s used to address objections a person might have, if they disagree with your opinion on an issue. Counter-arguments are not bad per se — they are a great way to fully explore an issue in a longer speech. But in your 45 second TOEFL Speaking Task 2 speech, there really isn’t time to develop a counter-argument.

Instead, you can end a TOEFL Speaking Task 2 response by very briefly explaining why the other side of the argument isn’t a good one. In the case of my answer above, I have just enough time to say that not interacting with your neighbors is bad:

  • When neighbors don’t know each other, they have less support when they face problems, and less help when they face danger.

But remember to always take just one side of an issue

In real conversations, when you discuss two sides of a social issue, you may agree with some parts of both sides of the argument. Take this TOEFL Speaking Task 2 question, for example:

  • Some schools provide children with health education classes. Other schools send health information to parents, so that parents can teach their own children about health issues. Which approach do you think is better, and why?

For this question, I honestly think that schools should take both approaches at the same time, teaching students about health in the classroom while also sending health materials to parents. But arguing for both sides of the issue would make my response too long and complicated. I wouldn’t be able to give a full answer in the 45-second time limit for the task.


Ultimately, your simple TOEFL Speaking Task 2 answer should fit in a simple outline.

For the 45 second response I wrote for the neighbor question, the outline would look something like this:

  1. Main idea: interact with neighbors = stronger, safer community
  2. Strength: neighbors know/help with each other’s troubles
  3. Safety: know when neighbors are in danger/threatened
  4. No neighbor interaction = weak, more danger

So there you have it: one main idea, two supporting details, and a brief mention of the side I didn’t take in my response to the issue of neighbor interactions. And with that, I have a simple answer that can still be recorded in just 45 seconds.

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