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TOEFL Speaking Tips | Infographic and More

Though the TOEFL Speaking section is the shortest section of the TOEFL test, many students struggle with it the most. Speaking in English, into a microphone, under a time constraint, in a room full of other test-takers … it can be stressful if youโ€™re not prepared.

Luckily, you have time to prepare! By understanding the format of the TOEFL Speaking section, and some strategies for making good use of your time, youโ€™ll be able to answer all six speaking questions in the allotted time.

What You Need to Know About TOEFL Speaking Infographic

Check out our new TOEFL Speaking Infographic for useful information and helpful tips!

And after you’re done reading the infographic, check out Magoosh TOEFL for six practice tests with sample answers, explanations, strategies and tips for every question!

toefl iBT speaking tips infographic
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TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Overview

The Speaking section is just one of four sections on the TOEFL exam. The four sections are: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing (in that order).

Here is a breakdown of how you will spend your time during the TOEFL:

  • Reading
    • 60 or 80 minutes
    • 36-56 questions
  • Listening
    • 60 or 90 minutes
    • 34-51 questions
  • Break
    • 10 minutes
  • Speaking
    • 20 minutes
    • 6 tasks
  • Writing
    • 50 minutes
    • 2 tasks

 

The TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The TOEFL Speaking section actually tests more than just your English speaking skills. It tests your ability to read, listen to and understand recordings by native English speakers, pronounce words correctly, use appropriate grammar, and manage your time wisely. This section also tests exam-taking strategies, such as your ability to remain focused and take brief notes.

Though you won’t be speaking directly with another person, you will be speaking out loud into a microphone. No one will be listening to you in the moment, but your recordings will be graded at a later date. Hopefully, you will find this to be less nerve-wracking than speaking to a live person – you could even do it with your eyes closed! ๐Ÿ™‚

TOEFL Speaking Questions

The Speaking section is made up of six tasks, which require you to give personal opinions, summarize lectures and conversations, and speak about the opinions of others. TOEFL Speaking topics vary, but the format of the section is always the same.

There are two categories of questions in the Speaking Section:

      1. Independent (Tasks 1 & 2)

 

    2. Integrated (Tasks 3 – 6)

Independent Tasks 1 & 2:

  • You’ll be asked a general question about your life or your opinion on a topic.
  • You’ll have a short period of time to take notes and gather your thoughts.
  • You’ll respond into the microphone.
  • Tip: Your answers and opinions don’t have to be true! No one is going to fact-check your response, so go ahead and be creative if it saves you time and angst.

Integrated Tasks 3 & 4:

  • You’ll be asked to read a short text and listen to a recording on the same topic.
    • In Task 3, you’ll listen to a recording of students discussing their opinions on the reading.
    • In Task 4, you’ll listen to a professor’s lecture on the topic of the text.
  • You’ll then be given a short period of time to prepare your response.
  • You’ll explain what you read and heard.
  • Tip: Use your 30 seconds of prep time to identify key information. Don’t try to include every single detail in your response! You’ll run out of time.

Integrated Tasks 5 & 6:

  • You’ll listen to a recording, but this time there will be no accompanying text for you to read.
    • Task 5: You’ll listen to a recording by a student.
    • Task 6: You’ll listen to a lecture by a professor.
  • You’ll be given 20 seconds to prepare your response.
  • You’ll be given 60 seconds to answer a question about the recording.
  • Tip: The question in Task 5 is difficult to answer in only 60 seconds. Use an outline to structure your response:
    • 10-15 seconds: Explain the student’s problem.
    • 20-30 seconds: Provide two solutions to the problem (these solutions will be suggested in the recording).
    • 15-10 seconds: Explain which solution you prefer and why.

 

Scoring the TOEFL Speaking Section

For each task, you will receive a score between 0 and 4. These scores will be scaled, and your combined Speaking score will be out of a total of 30 points. Here’s how to rate the quality of your score:

  • Weak: 0-9 points
  • Fair: 10-17 points
  • Good: 18-25 points
  • Excellent: 26-30 points

So, how can you boost your score on the TOEFL iBT Speaking section?

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TOEFL Speaking Tips and Practice

This blog is jam-packed with strategies for succeeding in the TOEFL Speaking section. Let’s break down the six best TOEFL Speaking Tips we have:

1. Take Awesome Notes

TOEFL lectures are dense, so taking brief notes while you listen can help you stay focused and thinking about the main ideas. They are also great to revisit when you’re planning your response.

2. Relax

Take a 10 or 15 second break. Close your eyes, sit back, and take a few deep breaths. Sometimes you need to let your heart rate go back to normal before you can think straight. Being nervous is completely normal, but don’t lose points because you’re panicking.

3. Stay Focused

The test center can get noisy with everyone speaking at the same time. Try not to listen to your fellow test-takers. Try doing some TOEFL Speaking practice with distractions in the room so you can get used to tuning out the chaos.

4. Use a Template

Structuring your answer ahead of time can help you outline your response faster, and prevent test-day stress. Create a template with structure words for each task. A phrase like, “Besides that, the student also points out that…” will help organize your answer. But beware…

5. Don’t Plagiarize!!

This should be obvious. Remember that templates can be useful on the test, but be very careful. If you memorize sentences and use them on the TOEFL exam, suspicion of cheating could lead to cancelled scores.

6. Block Out Distractions

If you can’t focus, try momentarily covering your ears and closing your eyes to clear your head.

Ready to Ace TOEFL Speaking?

Remember that the Speaking section is only one part of the TOEFL exam, and that you aren’t expected to speak English like a native speaker. Try to practice speaking English as much as possible in the days leading up to your test, so that you become more comfortable coming up with quick responses.

Good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Still have questions about TOEFL Speaking? Let us know.

 

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32 Responses to TOEFL Speaking Tips | Infographic and More

  1. omar March 19, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    thank you for these genuis and good informations

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 19, 2015 at 11:26 am #

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words!

  2. Peter March 19, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    Hello Lucas,

    I wonder whether or not using synonyms or some of the words or phrases from the conversations or lectures back and forth can be consider as plagiarism?

    Is there any other ways to avoid repetition during the speaking and formulate our own thoughts coherently? What about our notes? How we can make use of notes more efficiently?

    In case, if the test requires us to make a substantial argument, what we should do?

    What ‘s about the TOEFL speaking part related to GRE verbal sections? Do we need to conpare and contrast the formates from these sources? Is there something in common between the two tests? I try to think about it, but not come up with the exact answers yet. Please clearify my points.

    Thank you very much for your great kindness:)

  3. Pratika March 28, 2015 at 7:23 am #

    Hi
    One question needs to be answered,I gave my toefl today I could remember 5 questions out of 6 in speaking section,I’m having a bad feeling that I might have skipped answering a question no. 1 or 2,Is there any possibility to happen so…?coz its all automatic.If I were asked to speak I would or it could be that I must have a forgotten the question.

  4. David Recine
    David Recine March 31, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    Hello Pratika,

    That’s a very good question. Fortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to accidentally skip a TOEFL Speaking task. You are given a set amount of time to prepare for each question, and a set amount of time to speak. There is no button you can push to skip or shorten these times. If you are asked to speak, you must either speak or sit through long silences when you should be speaking.

    I’ve seen a lot of students have trouble remembering all the details of their TOEFL exam experience. Taking the TOEFL is stressful, and stress can cause your memory to be a little unclear at times. It’s very likely that you did complete every speaking task, and just don’t have perfect recall of the section.

    I suppose there’s a small chance of computer error, with the computer itself skipping the answers. If it seems like that has happened once you get your score report, you’ll want to contact your testing center or directly call ETS. But that’s very unlikely.

  5. Theresa September 27, 2015 at 4:24 am #

    hi, I took the toefl exam yesterday. The speaking section was difficult for me. I couldnt complete any of the speaking tasks on time. For example, ive left all the last sentences of my tasks hanging..Dats a bad thing right? Will that affect my scores tok much?

    • David Recine
      David Recine September 29, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

      Sorry to hear that you struggled with Speaking on test day— that must have been very frustrating. The bad news is that getting cut off before you can say all of your last sentence really IS bad, and really will affect your score.

      The good news is that this kind of pacing mistake doesn’t always have a *big* effect on your score. It depends on how complete you answer is, even without a full final sentence. If your answer was pretty well-developed throughout, you could be OK. You will lose minimal points if the TOEFL scorer is still able to basically understand what your answer is, even with some words missing at the end.

  6. Shivant February 3, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    Hi,

    I plan to take the TOEFL some time soon, but just have a quick question. Do you have to use ALL the time allotted to you… or can you do well on the speaking assignments using half the time (around 30-35 seconds)?

    Thanks

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 4, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Shivant, you definitely want to speak close to the full allotted time. If you’re more than 5 seconds short, you run the risk of giving an answer that seems incomplete or underdeveloped. And test-takers nearly always lose points if they’re 10 seconds under the limit. It’s a delicate balance of course— you don’t want to get cut off at the time limit before you’ve finished. But it is good to get as close to the maximum time as possible.

  7. Luis March 16, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Is it necessary to use the time precisely in question 1 &2 to get a score of 4? can you get interrupted but your idea is stated clearly with what is said in the first 45 seconds

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 4, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      Luis,

      I generally recommend that my students speak for at least 40 seconds and no less than 45 seconds if possible. As for going slightly over time and getting cut off, yes— you can get slightly interrupted and still get a decent score if your answer overall is very clear and well-constructed. But it’s risky. It’s probably better to be just a few seconds under time than to get cut off.

  8. Katrine March 23, 2016 at 1:42 am #

    Hello!

    Thank you so much for a great and helpful blog!

    I have a question about the structure of the speaking section. Do I have 15-30 seconds in EACH of the tasks to prepare my answer and then 45-60 seconds in EACH of the tasks to speak? I mean, for instance in task 5-6, do I first listen to the student(s) in task 5 and then have 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak – and afterwards I’ll listen to the lecture in task 6 and then have 20 seconds to prepare and then 60 seconds to speak? Or do I have to listen to both task 5 and 6 before I give my answer?

    Maybe it’s a stupid question but I’m a little confused about it!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 30, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

      Katrine,

      Not a stupid question at all. As Rita said, this is a pretty complex section, in spite of how short it is. It really can be hard to keep track of how the exam works.

      To answer your question, each task is done completely individually. You’ll listen to Task 5 and reply to task five before moving on to Task 6. Each task is like that— you don’t move on to the next task until you’ve fully finished the previous task.

  9. Eyob April 6, 2016 at 2:39 am #

    Hello Magosh,

    i have just one question. Can i take notes in the TOEFL speaking section?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 7, 2016 at 2:34 am #

      Hi Eyob,

      Good news! You can definitely take notes for the speaking section. We recommend you do so both when listening to the lecture/reading the text and quickly as you plan your main points so you can hit the topics you intend to hit. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Bajel May 14, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    hi
    am took the tofel exams before a week a go and now i cants not get my scoring, how do i? sorry for bads englishing talk am nots great englishing talker

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

      Hi Bajel,

      Happy to help! ๐Ÿ™‚

      According to the ETS website, “For TOEFL, usually it takes around 4 to 6 weeks (outside US) to get your score report (hard copy) after it is mailed, which is done 13 days after your test date. The scores will be available online within 10 days approximately after your test date.” I hope that helps!

  11. Stefanie May 31, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    Hi,
    I have a question about the toefl speaking section. You said that it is important not to speak for too long or give an answer that is too short. While I speak will I see a time somewhere so I know how long I already spoke for and when I should try to come to an end or say some more?
    Thank you very much for your help.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 6, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

      That’s a great question. Yes, the timer will be clearly visible on the TOEFL iBT test screen.

  12. ed June 21, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    Hi, my question is regarding the speaking section. Unfortunately my score was below the minimum required to validate my credentials.
    Can I just take the speaking section alone or do I have to take everything again?

    thanks & regards
    ed

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 22, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      Hi Ed,

      Unfortunately, you have to take the exam in its entirety. You cannot take just a single section. :/ But now that you know what is coming, you can definitely do it! Good luck. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Jenna July 1, 2016 at 5:51 am #

    Hi, I have a question about the TOEFL speaking section.
    I have taken a practice test in the past which was said to be very similar to the actual TOEFL test itself. In the practice test, you were able to record again if you accidentally messed up one of your answers.
    I was wondering if this is possible for the actual test? Or do you only get one chance to record each answer?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 5, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

      On the actual test, you only get one chance to record, sadly.

  14. David August 2, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    I’m still interested in knowing those key expressions for the several tasks regarding to the speaking section.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 6, 2016 at 11:28 am #

      I recommend looking at our free TOEFL Speaking Template ebook. In this book, we list some good key words and phrases to use in each different TOEFL Speaking Task.

  15. Axel August 30, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

    My biggest nightmare is the speaking part, for me the preparation time is not sufficient can’t find ideas for tasks (1 & 2) and i can’t organize my speech. I am training on this since 2 weeks but i get stuck on a score of ~15/30. Could you advices some advices?
    Thanks a lot for response

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 5, 2016 at 10:13 am #

      Thinking fast and having enough to say really is a big challenge in TOEFL Speaking. A lot of students come to Magoosh for help with this aspect of TOEFL Speaking. In fact, so many students need to work on these skills that the Magoosh TOEFL Blog has created an article on thinking fast and having enough to say in TOEFL Speaking, just for students like you. ๐Ÿ™‚ Check out that article, and certainly let us know if you have any other questions.

  16. Deni January 30, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    I hated the speaking section. Specially the integrated part. I speak, listen and write english everyday, but this test is annoying:

    1.- Topics are boring. How can you focus if you are listening about the behaviour of turtles or penguins and you are considering this test to study business administration?

    2.- Time for preparing the answer is too short. There’s a difference between speaking fluently and preparing an opinion and solution for the problems of turtle mating. First you don’t care, second, I don’t even think native speakers can prepare a detailed answer with that short time. You need to have a cheap strategy about preparing a quick opinion.

    3.- The section is too short, you can’t make mistakes. I don’t even speak coherently in my native language! When I speak in my native language I also have grammar mistakes, I get stuck on giving a coherent opinion. It’s normal but doesn’t mean I can’t understand a class about a complex subject, or speak about it. I think I had a good performance in the speaking section, but I panicked in one question and that made my score lower, which was a critical requirement for the university I am applying on. So I have to pay for the TOEFL again. That sucks.

    • David Recine
      David Recine January 31, 2017 at 2:16 am #

      Hi Deni,

      Thank you for this comment. You’ve touched on a lot of frustrations that TOEFL test-takers experience. And I think a good discussion of this can help all of our readers. Let me address your concerns one-by-one:

      1) The topics in TOEFL Speaking (and on the whole test) are based on undergraduate general education classes. There are also a disproportionate number of TOEFL topics about animal science. (Birds, penguins, etc… As Lucas has remarked, the TOEFL loves animals!)

      This range of topics is relevant for students who are going for their bachelor degree. But such topics aren’t relevant for a lot of grad students, or for people who are taking the TOEFL for medical licensing and other non “general education” purposes. Unfortunately, most English-language grad programs ask for the TOEFL, even though the topics on the exam aren’t a perfect match for grad studies.

      2) The TOEFL Speaking Section really is very fast-paced. The answers you give need to be quite short. And it can help to use templates and formulas to come up with answers quickly. If you were asked a similar question outside of the TOEFL, you’d probably speak for much more than 45 or 60 seconds.

      With its fast pace, the TOEFL Speaking section is trying to test impromptu speech– short speeches with little or not planning. Since the TOEFL is a standardized test and not a real English speaking environment, TOEFL Speaking can’t capture this kind of speech in a way that’s completely natural. Instead, you can think of the TOEFL Speaking section as a training simulation for the real impromptu English speaking you’ll do in your future studies.

      3) I’m sorry to hear that your TOEFL Speaking score wasn’t where it needs to be. That sounds frustrating! ๐Ÿ™ And yes, it is also a bummer that you have to retake the whole exam again. (I wish the TOEFL would just let students retake a single section!)

      For your TOEFL retake, I have some advice: Use the “boring” nature of TOEFL Speaking to your advantage. Every TOEFL Speaking task has a very predictable structure. Understand task structure and giving a good answer will be simple, even if the tasks themselves aren’t interesting. Here on the blog, we’ve actually created some tutorials to help students understand the structure of each task. Lucas has explained the structure of TOEFL Speaking Tasks 1 and 2, with sample topics. And I’ve written about the structure of each TOEFL Integrated Speaking Task.

  17. Sebastian March 22, 2017 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi there,

    I just have one question about this section: Am I in control regarding when to move forward from one Task to the next one in the Speaking section? For example, in the tests for the Official TOEFL guide, I am completely in control of this. In other words, when I finish one Task, I need to click Next to move to the other (it is not automatic). If I wanted, I *could*ยจtake some short break there and I even write my templates for the next task.

    I am asking this question because of your piece of advice #2 (Relax: take a 10 or 15-second break).

    In other words, do I need to click Next to move on to the next task in order to move forward (allowing me some seconds to have a break) or the Speaking section is completely automatic and I am in no control of the pace?

    Thank you so much!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 24, 2017 at 10:01 am #

      Hi Sebastian,

      On the speaking section, you are in control of the pace. On the exam you click “next” before you go to the next question. The questions do not automatically follow each other. And yes, this can give you some time to potentially collect your thoughts and prepare for the basic format of the next question. (But not for the actual specific content of each question, of course.)

      If you want to see a pretty good free simulation of the TOEFL exam, I suggest downloading the official TOEFL Interactive Sampler. Hope this helps ๐Ÿ™‚


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