TOEFL iBT: Tips For Acing The Speaking Section

For TOEFL iBT Speaking, let's start preparation by taking a look at the exam structure and the various question types.

Time allotted: 20 minutes

No. of Questions: 6

Independent Question Type: Question 1

"Describe something and give reasons why it was important to you"

  • 15s to prepare
  • 45s to respond

 Examples are as follows:

  • A place you would like to visit
  • An important event in your life
  • A person who influenced you
  • An activity you enjoy
  • A teacher you admire

In preparing your response, take note of these tips:

  • Include specific details and examples since it will make your description more informative
  • Provide a background to the question before responding with specific examples and the effect it had on you. You can follow this pattern
  • Don’t memorize answers as it will lower your score - your response should be spontaneous

A sample response is as follows:

Independent Question Type: Question 2

For this question type:

  1. You are presented with 2 possible actions - state which is preferable or more justified and explain your choice by providing reasons and details
  2. You will be presented with a topic of general interest
  3. Your response will be rated on how well you explain your choice of the alternatives by supporting it with reasons and details
  4. 15s to prepare
  5. 45s to respond

Examples are as follows:

  • Is it better to study at home or in the Library?
  • What is the most important quality in a teacher?
  • Some students study for classes individually. Others study in groups. Which method of studying do you think is better for students and why?

In preparing your response, take note of these tips:

  • There are no right or wrong answers, you just need to take a position and communicate clearly your reasons for doing so.
  • Use the 15s to prepare and note down the major points of what you want to say
  • Use words like “In my opinion….”, “I believe…”, “In my view…”
  • Take notes and refer to your notes while answering the question
  • Start by clearly stating your opinion
  • And then give your reasons for holding that opinion

A sample response is as follows:

Integrated Reading/Listening/Speaking: Question 3

For this question type, you will need to:

  • Explain the connection between 2 sources - what you read and what you heard. Do they agree? Where do they agree?
  • Do they differ? Where do they agree/disagree?
  • Connect the information from the 2 sources. Summarize as much as you can within the time you have
  • Man or woman in the audio clip will support OR oppose the reading
  • You have only 60s to respond, 30s to prepare

In preparing your response, take note of these tips:

  • Speed in noting down key points is key
  • You are now a reporter
  • Deliver as said – no time or need to paraphrase

“State the woman’s opinions and explain the reasons she gives for holding that opinion”

A sample response structure for speaking is as follows:

The reading states that (Describe Change)

    The woman’s opinion (agrees/disagrees with the announcement) is that …

            She provides 2 reasons…

                        First is, she feels… this is contrary to/in line with the announcement

                             Second is, she thinks… this is contrary to/in line with the announcement

                                    That’s why…

Integrated Reading/Listening/Speaking: Question 4


  • 45s: Read a short academic passage (75 – 100 words)
  • 120s: Listen to a professor (He/She may have the same or different views to the lecture)
  • 30s: Prepare
  • 60s: Give your spoken response (Conveying info from the reading and the lecture components)

Take note of these tips:

 Question formats that are related are presented in the same colour

Question formats that are related are presented in the same colour

Use the following note-taking structure:

Title – Title of the article

Definition – Major definition from the article

Example/Solution Details – Example from the lecture (note only keywords)

Follow this speaking structure in delivering your response:

This article is about “Insert Title”

    Which the passage defines as “Insert Definition”

          The professor provides an example of “Insert example keywords” to illustrate this

               He/She states that … (In line or contradicts the reading?)

                   This example clearly illustrates “Insert Title”

Integrated Listening/Speaking: Question 5

Question Format:

  • Two people discuss a problem and 2 possible solutions - Listen to the passage
  • You will be asked to describe the problem and give your opinion about solutions to the problem
  • 60-90s long conversations
  • 20s to prepare
  • 60s to speak

 A sample question is as follows:

“Describe the problem and state which of the two solutions you prefer and why” 

The woman’s problem is that…

   The students discuss 2 solutions

      The first is…

          The second is…

            I prefer the second solution

                The first is not very good because….

                  The second is better because

                        That’s why…

You may also adopt the clause below

  • Even though (positive aspect of solution), as the man said (negative aspect of solution)
  • Even though (negative aspect of solution), as the student said (positive aspect of solution)

Integrated Listening/Speaking: Question 6

Question Format:

  1. Listen to the professor present a brief excerpt from a lecture on an academic subject
  2. You will be asked a question about what you have heard
  3. You have 20s to prepare
  4. You have 60s to give your response

Additional Tips

  1. No prior knowledge is required for you to understand the lecture or answer the question
  2. You will need to cross out half of what you hear as you will not be able to discuss everything

To scale TOEFL iBT speaking section, be aware of what the examiners are looking for:

1.     Great Delivery – Ensure your speech is clear with good pronunciation, natural pacing and natural sounding intonation.

2.     Use grammar and vocabulary to convey your message

3.     How well have you answered the question and how coherently have you presented your ideas? A good response will make use of the allotted time by developing your ideas, discussing connections between ideas or the disparity among these ideas.

4.     Deliver your response in a simple and organized fashion

5.     Speak into the microphone at an appropriate volume; don’t touch your mouth to the microphone

6.     Avoid whispering – speak clearly and loudly

7.     Avoid memorizing responses but speak naturally. You have to be as spontaneous as possible while following your notes on the key points to discuss

8.     Avoid making simple lists when responding. You need to be able to elaborate on each point you make within the allotted time

9.     Take notes or draw a mind map to help in structuring your response

10.  Forget the distraction around you and just focus on getting your message across

11.  Avoid repeating what you have already said – having a structure for delivering your answers will definitely help

12.  Stay within the time limit – avoid finishing too early or too quickly. Ideally, you should prepare to conclude as soon as you have 10 seconds left.

13.  Keep to the format -  Introduction»Body (2-3 main points and elaborate on each)» Conclusion

14.  Use transition words to move smoothly from one point to another

15.  Use correct vocabulary and make correct grammar choices when speaking

16.  Remember that your speech is not expected to be perfect – recover quickly from lapses and continue. Even less than perfect speeches score high marks

17.  Avoid excessive pauses and hesitation

18.  Your content should be laced intelligently with keywords from what you have read or listened to.

19.  Remember to speak naturally – like you are talking to a friend at the café. Stress your words and use correct intonation at all times.

20.  Take notes quickly so you don’t miss out on the important points

21.  Record yourself speaking – how many fillers, “umm’s” and “uhh’s” do you have?

22.  Don’t answer questions lazily- speak with power and emphasis, like a native speaker would

23. When I started practising for TOEFL Speaking, I noticed I kept making some beginner's mistakes. Please take of note of them so that you may avoid them as well.

  • Answer the question: This may sound pretty obvious but the truth is I was going around in circles spending too much time on definitions when all I needed to do was dive into what the question asked, which was to discuss examples
  • I was too busy noting down the templates and ended up missing the question. The key here is to listen and take notes only when the speaker starts speaking. The templates are meant only as a guide and are not the holy grail of success. While they provide a structure for answering questions, they should not replace the need to be spontaneous in responding to questions
  • Listen to the instructions - no information should be taken for granted

Do you have any other tips to add to these? Please leave a comment below.