David Recine

The Difference Between TOEFL Lectures and Real College Lectures

There are important differences between TOEFL lectures and ones given by real professors. As we discuss in our top TOEFL Listening tips, TOEFL Listening lectures follow a passage-like structure–while real professors’ lecturers may or may not! Know these differences to be both TOEFL ready and college ready.

TOEFL lectures are slower than most college lectures

The professors in TOEFL lectures speak at a slightly slower pace, compared to the average professor at a real university. The difference is small though. It’s possibly you may actually have a professor in your future classes who speaks at the slow, deliberate pace found in TOEFL lectures. But it’s not guaranteed. And more often than not, your professors will speak at least a little more quickly than a TOEFL professor would– and sometimes much more quickly!

TOEFL professors are good public speakers

Speaking just a little bit slower-than-average isn’t just a technique the TOEFL devised to make things easier for their ESL test-takers. Slowing one’s speech just a bit is a good public speaking technique (and something you should use yourself when you practice TOEFL Speaking). TOEFL professors strike a perfect balance in terms of pace. They speak slow enough that the average English user won’t get “lost” as they listen, and fail to understand the key ideas. But they speak quickly enough that their pace isn’t painfully slow. Overly fast speech can seem like nonsense. Overly slow speech can seem boring and even insulting to the audience.

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TOEFL professors are also artful at their use of tone, emphasis, emotion and personal voice in their lectures. TOEFL talks are just emotional enough to be engaging, but the lectures never get so emotional as to sound awkward or unprofessional. And  verbal emphasis in TOEFL lectures highlights all the important information masterfully.

This isn’t to say that TOEFL professors are prefect public speakers– their speech is not designed to really get you excited or fascinated, the way a TED Talk might be. And certainly, you’ll find many good-but-not-perfect public speakers teaching classes at real universities. But unlike the TOEFL, real universities also have their share of professors who are not skilled speakers. Many professors speak too quickly or too slowly,  have a boring flat tone, may be too quiet or distractingly loud, etc….

TOEFL professors speak standard “North American”

In TOEFL lectures, almost all professors have the kind of accent you’d hear in the American Midwest or in Northern and Southern California. The few professors that don’t have this standard “radio and television” accent will usually have an accent associated with some other major North American city, such as Toronto or Boston. And even then, a “non-broadcast” accent will not be very strong. Native English accents from outside the US (Australia, UK, etc…) are also possibilities when you take the TOEFL. But they’re not common. And again, these nonstandard accents won’t be as strong.

In lectures at real universities, the instructors have many different accents. Some instructors may speak Indian English. Others might speak American Southern English. Your professors could could be from Newfoundland and sound a little bit Scots-Irish. Or they could be from Korea, Germany, or another country where little or no English is spoken, and speak in heavily accented or broken English.

The takeaway

Professors in your real-life future studies are not guaranteed to speak with the same clarity or skill that you’ll hear on the TOEFL. But that doesn’t mean the TOEFL is unrealistic, exactly. There are definitely some professors who have the same level of skill as the voice actors ETS hires for the TOEFL.

The fact that real lectures can be harder to understand doesn’t mean that your future college teachers are not as good of professors as the fictional ones on the TOEFL. Universities hire professors based on their content knowledge and overall teaching skill– the ability to speak in a simple, clear way is just one part of the picture. And even if you get a professor who isn’t always well-spoken, you wont’ necessarily find the professor’s course difficult. In higher education settings, it’s not uncommon for students to get most of their understanding form a class’s written materials.


  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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