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5 Tips and Tricks for TOEFL Speaking

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

TOEFL Speaking requires you to really exercise your English skills. You don’t just speak — you also read, listen, and even write notes in English. As challenging as this can be, there are ways to master TOEFL Speaking and get a great score. Here are some tips and tricks.

For Independent Speaking, keep your answers simple

In TOEFL Speaking Task 1, you need to talk about an important personal issue (such as a time you overcame a difficulty, or a time you learned something new and surprising about a friend or family member). And in TOEFL Speaking Task 2, you need to give and support an opinion an an important social issue.

In a real conversation, the answers to these kinds of questions could be pretty complicated. But on the TOEFL, you only have 15 seconds to think of your answer, and just 45 seconds to actually talk. This really isn’t much time! So for each answer, quickly think up your basic response, and not more than three supporting details. In fact, you may be able to fill the 45 seconds with just one really solid supporting detail for your response.

For TOEFL Speaking tasks 3 and 4, focus on the lecture and not the reading

TOEFL Speaking Task 3 and TOEFL Speaking Task 4 require you to read a passage, listen to speakers talk about the passage, and summarize what the speakers said. But often, test-takers forget that they are summarizing the speech and not the reading. Don’t make this mistake. You should just skim the reading. If you try to read the passage very carefully for every last detail, you may not complete the passage quickly enough. You could also be distracted from the real focus of these tasks: the audio track. It’s perfectly fine to just skim the passage and treat it as background information for the more important audio.

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Use different listening and note-taking strategies for lectures and conversations

The lectures in TOEFL Integrated Speaking have a structure that’s not too different from an academic reading passage. When you take notes on lectures, the idea is to understand the key academic information in the talk, identifying main ideas and supporting details. In other words, you can think of yourself as “reading” a lecture in TOEFL Listening.

The conversations in TOEFL Integrated Speaking are different. In Task 3, only one speaker really matters — the speaker who has an opinion about the ideas in the reading. There, you should take notes that show a “back and forth” between the ideas in the reading and the speaker’s response to those ideas. But in Task 6, both speakers matter equally. In that case, you need to pay close attention to what each speaker says, so you can identify the problem that’s being discussed and the proposed solutions to the problem.

Understand how English intonation works

In English speech, important words are emphasized by a rising and falling tone. Being able to hear and recognize this pattern will help you identify all of the important information in the TOEFL Integrated Speaking audio. You should also need to reproduce this intonation pattern in your own spoken responses. Even if your pronunciation is great, your speech can be pretty hard to understand if you don’t use standard English intonation. (For help in this area, check out these tutorials for English intonation and its “rise and fall” tones.)

Be aware of your pronunciation strengths and weaknesses

There are probably some sounds and words in English that you have a lot of trouble pronouncing. And this is actually OK! TOEFL Speaking doesn’t require you to get rid of your accent or be perfect at pronunciation.

But you do need to use good pronunciation strategies. In your spoken responses, avoid words you have trouble pronouncing, if possible. And if you must say a word that is hard for you, find ways to repeat the word in your response. That way, the listener has multiple chances to hear and understand the word…and you’re able to put more context around the word, giving more clues about what you’re trying to say.

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