The Speaking sections test your ability in an academic environment to clearly and fluently converse in English. It tries to assess whether you will be able to engage fruitfully in discussions with fellow students and professors in an academic as well as a non-academic setting; to express your ideas and opinions; and your ability to carry out general social conversation.
Many candidates find the Speaking section challenging because it goes by so fast. It is over before you know it—it lasts just 20 minutes and quickly puts you through six tasks. There is very little time
to recover from lapses in performances.
This article will give you an idea of what to expect in the Speaking section, and how best to prepare for it.
Types of Tasks
The Speaking section comprises of some tasks that fall under two types: independent and integrated. The independent tasks are those in which you are simply given a topic, on which you must speak with minimal preparation time. These tasks are meant to test your opinions and thought on various familiar subjects, the clarity with which you organize your thoughts and your ability to think on your feet.
Since the independent task requires you to speak on a familiar topic, it is the best opportunity to play to your strengths. In these tasks, you can be confident and must try to display your language abilities to the fullest.
The integrated task, on the other hand, is a more multimedia affair. In these, you will have to combine your listening, reading and speaking skills to understand and then express your thoughts on a given issue or situation. In some of the tasks, you will need first to listen to a lecture or conversation before you respond to what is said. In others, you will also need to read an additional passage before you provide an oral answer.
These tasks test your skills in absorbing new information quickly, and in collating information from different information media. The integrated task challenges your skills in inferring meanings and, once again, you’re summarizing skills.
Types of Questions
The Speaking section is comprised of:
(a) two independent tasks – For the independent tasks, you are required to speak for 45 seconds after a preparation time of only 15 seconds; and
(b) four integrated tasks – In the four integrated tasks in which you will have to read and listen, and then speak in response. You will be allowed 30 seconds of speaking time and 60 seconds of response time for the two reading-listening-speaking tasks. The two listening-speaking integrated tasks will give you a preparation time of 20 seconds and response time of 60 seconds.
For the test, you will have to speak into a microphone. Your voice will be digitally recorded and sent to certified examiners who will assess your responses using various criteria.
1. Independent Questions
Questions 1 and 2 are independent tasks. In Question 1 you will be asked to speak about a place, person, and event or object that you are personally familiar with. While there may be some variation in the specifics of the question, it will always require you to draw on your personal experience.
In this question, you will be asked to answer the question in several parts. Your response is expected to include a description component and then its substantiation—you will have to describe something (your favorite teacher, your favorite holiday destination, etc.) and then provide reasons for your choice. You are expected to provide some detailed information and a coherent justification.
In Question 2, you will be presented with two possible courses of action in a given situation. You will have to compare and contrast the relative merits and demerits of the choices and explain which one you prefer and give your justification. The topics will either deal with something familiar to you in your everyday life or an issue of general interest to students.
2. Integrated Questions
Questions 3 and 4 are integrated reading-listening-speaking tasks. In Question 3 you will first read a short passage on some general issue related to campus life.
This may be anything from an official notice to a newspaper article. You will also have to listen to a brief conversation between two people expressing their opinions on the same issue. You will then have to respond orally to a question that is based on the text and conversation provided.
Question 4 is also a reading-listening-speaking task, the only difference being that here you will be dealing with an academic topic. You will first read an academic extract, followed by a professor ’s lecture on the same topic. You will then be asked a question based on what you have read and heard.
Questions 5 and 6 are listening-speaking tasks. In both of these, you will have to listen to a brief conversation/lecture before providing an oral response to the given question.
Question 5 will typically be a conversation between two people about a problem faced by one of them. It will provide you with two possible solutions to the problem. You will be asked to summarize the discussion and provide your opinion on the solutions offered by the speakers.
Question 6 will have you listen to a short excerpt from a professor ’s lecture on an academic subject. The lecture can be on anything from the arts, physical science, social science and natural science. You will then be asked to summarize what you heard in the lecture.
How to Speak
The best way to prepare for the Speaking section is to get an idea of how your responses will be evaluated. In accessing your performance in the Speaking section, the examiners adopt a holistic approach. They take in account various aspects of your speaking and will give a combined mark.
This is because speaking is not as easily quantifiable as the other skills, and ‘good speaking’ combines different aspects in different measures. Most important among these are speech delivery, language use, and topic development.
Language delivery is concerned with how clearly you speak, and how easily you can be understood. This includes the use of clear diction and intonation; naturalness and ease of speaking; and, the naturalness of your speaking pace.
Language use parameters measure the correctness of the language you use while speaking. It deals with the range of your vocabulary and application of the rules of grammar, syntax and sentence construction.
Finally, topic development is about the content of what you have said. It assesses your abilities in the presentation of ideas, logical progression and overall organization and structure.
When you practice your speaking sessions, it is beneficial to record yourself—you can easily use a Smartphone app to do this. Once you have a recorded sample, listen to it carefully and note down the mistakes you made in your delivery, language use and topic development. Now, repeat what you said but this time without the mistakes. Record your voice again. Analyze again.
This is a very useful exercise, for two reasons. First, repeating the same passage many times is more effective in fixing your mistakes than speaking on a different topic every time. Second, this exercise will give you a good idea of timing. Are you finishing too soon? Are you speaking too fast when the time is running out?
Tips for practice
The Speaking section requires regular practice, and your skills cannot be developed overnight. Here are a few tricks that can help you focus on improving your skills in a well-rounded manner.
Improve your impromptu speaking. Speaking without preparation is a skill that will stand you in good stead for the TOEFL test. Pick any simple topic of your choice, take 30 seconds of preparation time, and then speak on the subject for a whole minute without interruption. Start initially with topics you are very comfortable with. As you become more fluent over time, move on to unfamiliar subject—pick up your daily newspaper, look at the topic for the main editorial article and do an impromptu speech on that topic.
You can even replicate an integrated task for yourself: on any prominent news issue/controversy of the day; read an article and listen to a report on the same in evening news; now produce your impromptu summary of the issue at hand.
Speaking is often marked by errors that are habitual in nature—peculiar pronunciations, repeated grammatical errors and confusing of similar to name a few. These mistakes can only be rectified through a systematic approach that consciously track your progress.
It might be a useful idea to maintain an audio diary. An audio diary is essentially a collection of your speaking samples, built up over time.
This can be done easily by making good use of a voice recording app on your Smartphone. Since it provides a long-term record, an audio diary helps you to get a good idea of the progress you are making in rectifying particular mistakes.
One of the most distracting things about the Speaking test is that everyone is taking theirs at the same time. The voices of so many people talking together can be quite distracting, even though the noise-reduction headphones. The best way to get accustomed to this is to do some speaking practice drills in a public space such as a café, crowded park, or some other such bustling public place.
You may also read:
- Schedule Planning in TOEFL – A Brief Guide
- Tips for Success in your TOEFL Writing Exam
- Tips for Success in your TOEFL Speaking Exam
- Tips for Success in your TOEFL Listening Exam
- Tips for Success in your TOEFL Reading Exam
- Top 6 TOEFL Exam Preparation Tips: Key To Success
- Getting Started To Learn IELTS or TOEFL