The speaking section of the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL test, contains six items with predictable topics. Two items require test takers to talk about a familiar topic or give their opinion, two items require a response to a question based on a reading passage and listening text, and two items require a response to a question based on a lecture or reading passage. Scores for the speaking section range from zero to 30, and each institution sets its own minimum required score. Fluid speech, pronunciation, intonation, speed, content and correct language use are important factors in scoring.
Items One and Two
For the first set of TOEFL speaking questions, you have 15 seconds to prepare an answer to a short question followed by 45 seconds to record the answer. The topic of the first question will be some person, place or thing you are familiar with. For example, you might be asked to describe your hometown or your best friend. The second question gives you two options and asks your opinion about which you prefer and why. For example, you may be asked whether it is better to work in a company or be self-employed or if students should wear uniforms or not. Your answers should be conversational and clear.
Items Three and Five
For question three, you have 45 to 60 seconds to read a short text, followed by a dialogue on the same topic. Then you are asked a question and have 30 seconds for preparation and 60 seconds for recording your response. For question five, you listen to a short dialogue and have 20 seconds for preparation and 60 seconds for recording your response. The topic of the text and dialogue are related to a college campus in some way. For example, it may be about the cafeteria, classes, a new university policy or dormitories. In question three, you must summarize information from the written and spoken texts to answer a question, while in question five, you have to discern what campus problem the speakers are discussing and give your opinion about possible solutions.
Items Four and Six
For question four, you read an academic passage and listen to a lecture on the same subject. Then you are given a question and have 30 seconds for preparation and 60 seconds for recording your response. For question six, you listen to part of a lecture and have 20 seconds for preparation and 60 seconds to record a summary of the lecture. Topics in question four can be from any academic discipline and cover information that may be found in a first-year college course. The passage describes the topic and the lecture gives an example; your answer should explain how the example illustrates the passage. Topics in question six are about one academic topic. The lecturer defines the topic, then gives explanations. Your answer should summarize the lecture, stating the main point and examples the lecturer used.
Three Tips for Success
You can take notes while listening to or reading the speaking questions, passages and dialogues, so write down important information such as names, dates, numbers, opinions, reasons and cause-and-effect relationships. You can then use this information in your spoken responses. Don't try to memorize responses before the test. Scorers can tell the difference between a recitation and spontaneous speech and will give low scores to the former. Don't repeat yourself just to fill up the allotted response time. If you finish your answer early, add details, explanations, examples or clarification that you didn't mention before.
Sara Juveland has been writing articles and textbooks related to education since 2012. Based in Oregon, Juveland has five years of experience living, studying, and working in South Korea, Japan, and China. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from Pacific University and an MA TESOL from Portland State University.