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July 29, 2008


Michael Buckhoff

How to Successfully Prepare for the Six Speaking Tasks on the TOEFL iBT?

Since ESL students have to speak in many different kinds of academic situations, speaking has become a high priority at many English-speaking universities. As such, the TOEFL makes the speaking 1/4 of your total TOEFL iBT score. So, what speaking skills do you need and how do you make sure you have them when taking the TOEFL iBT.

“What Do I Need to Do During the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT?”

(Speaking competencies that Educational Testing Service is looking for.)

For the two independent speaking tasks:

1. My instructor understands me when I ask a question in English.

2. When I speak English, others can understand me.

3. I can talk in English for a few minutes about a topic with which I am familiar.

4. I can speak for about one minute in response to a question.

5. I can give prepared presentations in English.

6. I can state and support my opinion when speaking English.

7. I can participate in conversations or discussions in English.

For the four integrated speaking tasks:

1. While listening to authentic conversations or lectures, I am an active listener by taking notes of the main ideas and critical supporting points.

2. While reading academic reading passages, I am an active reader by taking notes of the main ideas and critical supporting points.

3. Then, using my notes, I can coherently and accurately speak for about one minute as to how the two sources of information are related. Or if I listen to only a lecture, I can coherently and accurately speak for about one minute about its main idea and critical supporting points.

4. When speaking, I am highly intelligible by avoiding awkward pauses and major difficulties
in pronunciation, intonation, and word stress. Additionally, I have good control of basic and complex grammatical structures, have appropriate word choice, and make only minor errors which do not obscure meaning.

“How Can I Prepare for the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT?”

The independent and integrated speaking competencies required for the TOEFL iBT are formidable challenges, but the following suggestions, if implemented through a regular course of study over an extended period of time, will help you to achieve the speaking confidence needed for a strong score.

To perform well on the independent speaking tasks, you should consider the following:

1. Create a list of familiar topics and practice speaking about them: “Describe your favorite vacation destination,” and “Describe an important person who has influenced you” are representative of familiar Independent Speaking topics for the iBT

2. You could also practice by stating an opinion or a preference and then by presenting reasons clearly and in detail. “Which do you think is better: living on campus in dorms or off campus in apartments?” is representative of an opinion-preference Independent Speaking topic for the iBT.

3. Making a recommendation and explaining why it is the best way to proceed is another type of speaking task that you should practice. “What is the best method of travel when going on a vacation? Explain why?” represents this type of Independent Speaking topic for the iBT.

4. Practice giving 1 minute responses to these types of speaking tasks.
Lastly, to perform well on the integrated speaking tasks, you should consider the following:

1. Find a college textbook that includes discussion questions at the end of the chapter. Read the chapter, take notes, and practice orally answering the discussion questions.

2. Read short 100-200 word articles. You can find such articles on the Internet, in the library, or in your TOEFL textbook. After reading the article, make a brief outline which includes its major points Then use the outline to orally summarize the information, after which you can add detail to the outline and orally summarize again.

3. Using the Internet, the library, or your TOEFL textbook + CD Rom, find listening and reading materials on similar topics. The material can provide similar or opposing points of view. After taking notes on the listening and the reading materials, you should do the following:

Orally summarize the information. Make sure that you paraphrase the information using different words and grammatical structures.

Orally synthesize by combining information form the listening and reading materials and by explaining how they relate.

4. Increase your knowledge of vocabulary and idiomatic language. Learn to use them in your speech.

5. Learn grammatical structures, particularly basic and complex sentences, so well that you are comfortable using them in your speech.

6. Learn to solve pronunciation problems, paying particular attention to word stress, intonation patterns, and pauses.

7. When practicing for the TOEFL iBT, take about 15 seconds to prepare a response before beginning to speak.

Write down some key words and phrases, but do not write down exactly what you want to say.

If you read your response, raters will give you a lower score.

8. Use signal words and phrases to create a coherent flow of information: to introduce new information, to connect ideas, and to emphasize important points.

9. Make regular recordings of your iBT speaking tasks and make sure your pronunciation and fluency are clear and easy to understand. If possible, have ESL/EFL instructors evaluate your speech using the appropriate TOEFL iBT Speaking rubrics.

Practice, practice, and practice doing these suggestions, and you will conquer the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT.

Michael Buckhoff

Subject-Verb Agreement and TOEFL iBT Speaking

Your grammar will be evaluated on both TOEFL iBT speaking and writing sections. Therefore, you need to create grammatical sentence structures. One area of grammar about which you should be concerned is subject-verb agreement.

Having correct subject-verb agreement is important to TOEFL iBT speaking and writing since it demonstrates to TOEFL iBT human raters that you have control of your sentence structures. The fewer times you have trouble with subject-verb agreement, the greater the possibility you have of scoring higher on TOEFL iBT speaking and writing sections.

You must be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, Yeah, been there done that. I am an advanced learner and do not have trouble with subject-verb agreement.” Still, remember that the TOEFL iBT speaking and writing sections are taken under pressure with little time for you to think. Furthermore, in the case of TOEFL iBT speaking, you have no time to edit your speech before you answer the six speaking tasks. Even with the independent and integrated writing tasks, you have 30 and 20 minutes during which you must compose well-organized, developed, and grammatically correct writing.

Here are some basic rules surrounding subject-verb agreement:

Rule: The verb agrees with the subject, not the object of the sentence.
Incorrect: Each of the girls are going to the movies.

Revised: Each of the girls is going to the movies.
Rule: There are a few isolated cases where the verb agrees with the object. This occurs after expressions of quantity (i.e., all, most, some, half, and part.)

Incorrect: All of the book are interesting to me.

Revised: All of the book is interesting to me.
Incorrect: Some of the students is sick today.

Revised: Some of the students are sick today.
Rule: After question words, comparisons, negative expressions, place expressions, and conditions without "if," the verb agrees with the subject, which may come after the verb.

Incorrect: On the table is the ungraded final exams.

Revised: On the table are the ungraded final exams.
Rule: Verbs are singular after certain kinds of words:

All of the these words or expressions are singular. Consequently, they require singular verbs.
anybody everybody nobody somebody
anyone everyone no one someone
anything everything nothing something
each + noun
every + noun

As you practice TOEFL iBT speaking tasks, you need to regularly record your voice so that you can monitor your subject-verb agreement and other grammatical trouble spots. Likewise, you will need to practice writing 30 and 20 minute TOEFL iBT independent and integrated writing tasks.

You should also keep in mind that your potential for making grammatical mistakes such as incorrect subject-verb agreement increases as the speaking and writing assignments become more complex. Therefore, you are more likely to make more grammatical errors on TOEFL iBT speaking tasks 4 (reading, listening, and speaking–academic) and 6 (listening and speaking–academic) since they are the most challenging. Therefore, you should monitor your grammar more closely with these speaking tasks.

Finally, since the integrated writing task is more complex than the independent writing task, you are more likely to make more grammatical errors, and, therefore, you should monitor your grammar more carefully as you practice the TOEFL iBT integrated writing tasks.


Hi Michael,

I checked out your site and it looks really helpful.

Perhaps we should look at exchanging links?

Most of my better iBT speaking and writing resources are now appearing at this site:

http: www.global-english.lefora.com

Thanks for your contribution,

~ Jason

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