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TOEFL Speaking Task 1: Keeping Things Simple

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 Task 1


Giving well-supported, complete responses is important in TOEFL Writing and Speaking. And in TOEFL Independent Speaking, there’s an added challenge. Your Independent Speaking responses need to be fully supported, complete, and yet short — just 45 seconds in length. So it’s important to understand that a complete statement doesn’t need to be to be a long or complex one.

In TOEFL Speaking Task 1, raise just one point

A TOEFL Independent Writing essay can have a set of points, organized around a larger main idea. And TOEFL Integrated speaking responses, which can be 60 seconds long, are also multifaceted in nature. But in TOEFL Independent Speaking, you answer the question by bringing up just one main point. You don’t need to have several different points that are part of a much larger main idea.

So for example, say you are asked — in TOEFL Speaking Task 1 — to talk about a time you learned something by overcoming a difficulty. In response, you’d want to think of just one life event. You wont’ want to compare a few different times you overcame difficulties. And you’ll want to say as little as possible about other life events that give context to your struggle.

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A correct statement of your point might be something like: “When I was in high school, it was very hard for me to pass my math classes.” (OK, so you may have actually been good at math in high school, but play along….) This statement would be followed by details about what things made high school math difficult, and why successfully completing your math courses was a good learning experience for you.

It would be a bad approach to add lots of other related points to your main point about high school math classes being hard. You probably wouldn’t want to mention that your middle school math performance or your abilities in other classes, compared to math. These additional points might make for a good speech if you had five or ten minutes to speak. But with TOEFL independent Speaking’s 45 second time-limit, those kinds of “support points” to your story about a struggle you had in high school are simply too detailed. It would take more than 45 minutes to fully explore the greater context of your academic career.

In TOEFL Speaking Task 1, give just one or two supporting details

Once you state your main point in response to the personal questions you’re asked in TOEFL Speaking Task 1, be prepared to support your main idea with simple, easy-to-explain details. In the hypothetical case above, where the main point is that you were bad at math in high school, you could add a supporting detail such as “But I knew how important math grades were for getting into university.”

This supporting detail helps your listener understand why you were motivated to overcome your math difficulty. After briefly explaining that supporting detail, you could complete your response by adding a supporting detail such as “So I got a tutor, and carefully looked at a lot of math books, and I finally learned my math formulas and methods.”

Make sure the overall structure is short and to the point

In the response above, a complete outline of the answer might look like this:

  1. Math in high school = difficulty
  2. Wanting to get into college = motivation
  3. Tutor and book reading = success, learning math

With these three points as the backbone of your response, you can easily fill 40-45 seconds, but you can also easily keep the whole speech within the short time limit.

Keeping TOEFL Independent Speaking Task 2 short and simple

In TOEFL Speaking Task 1, you’re asked to talk about personal experiences. This is a very flexible task, in which it’s pretty easy to make your answer as simple or as complex as it needs to be. In contrast, the second TOEFL Independent Speaking Task is a little harder. In Task 2, you’re asked about your personal opinion on a very public social issue. So you’ll need to create a fully supported intellectual argument, using objective evidence.

Giving this kind of response in a 45 second speech is a little harder. But it can be done. In my next post, we’ll look at keeping things simple in TOEFL Speaking Task 2.

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