Kate Hardin

Staying Focused When Speaking

Are you worried that your mind will wander while the clock is running? Below are some tips to help you stay on track throughout the speaking exam.


Don’t get stuck when you don’t know the right word

It really stinks when you know you know the word you want, but you can’t think of it. Nevertheless, it happens to all of us, and it may very well happen to you on the speaking section. If it does, try not to sit there blankly, waiting for the word to come to you. Change your example to include words you  can remember, describe the word you can’t think of, or, if all else fails, simply move on to your next point.

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Say something

If you don’t know what to say, don’t sit and watch the clock run down in silence. If you simply cannot get yourself on track, then say so. Oftentimes, just speaking will get your mind back on the task at hand. For example, I might say something like “I don’t know what to say because __________” or “This is a difficult question because _________.” Oftentimes, whatever follows the “because” will address the prompt, acting as a back door that eases you back into your answer so you can continue.


Stick to the main ideas

There’s no time on the TOEFL for talking at length about little details, no matter how interesting or relevant they may seem. If you’re going to answer the question fully, you probably can allot no more than two or three sentences to each example or major point you want to make, so your examples will need to only include a few specifics.

Remember that the most important part is communicating the main ideas, not explaining the tiny details that you, personally, find interesting. If you get stuck trying to explain something that’s causing you trouble, move on to the next topic as naturally as you can. Transition words can really help in that case.



  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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