The Speaking section of the TOEFL is often seen as one of the most challenging parts of the exam. You can’t just circle an answer and hope for the best, and any mistakes you make can’t be crossed out — they’ll all be part of your recorded response.
This means that good practice is key to doing well on this section. In this guide, I’ll explain what preparation you need in order to do well on this tricky section, go over the best TOEFL Speaking practice materials out there, and give you tips on how to get the most out of your studying.
Overview of the TOEFL Speaking Section
The TOEFL Speaking section (on the iBT version of the test, which is what we’ll be focusing on in this guide) lasts 20 minutes and includes six tasks.
Tasks 1 and 2
- The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks that draw on the student’s own ideas, opinions, and experiences.
- Preparation Time: 15 seconds
- Speaking Time: 45 seconds
Tasks 3 and 4
- The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks. Students must use more than one skill when responding.
- Tasks 3 and 4 require students to read, listen, then speak.
- Preparation Time: 30 seconds
- Speaking Time: 60 seconds
Tasks 5 and 6
- The final two tasks require students to listen then speak.
- Preparation Time: 20 seconds
- Speaking Time: 60 seconds
You won’t be speaking to a real person during this section. Instead, you’ll hear recorded conversations and respond by speaking into a microphone. After your exam, your responses will then be listened to by TOEFL graders. Each question receives a score from 0-4. These scores are then added together and scaled from 0-30 for your total Speaking section score. Your Speaking section score makes up 25% of your total TOEFL score (out of 120).
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This section tests your ability to speak effectively in academic settings. You’ll be graded on how completely you answer the each question, your ability to speak clearly and coherently, and your vocabulary and grammar.
What You’ll Need to Prepare for the TOEFL Speaking Section
Although it’s called the “TOEFL Speaking section,” this part of the exam requires more than just strong speaking skills. You’ll also need to be able to listen to English conversations and read English passages, then quickly figure out what the important points and overall messages are.
Because this section requires multiple skills, you’ll need multiple study tools in order to be completely prepared for this section. Some of the most important things you’ll need to prepare for this section include:
- Complete practice Speaking sections
- Individual practice TOEFL Speaking topics
- Opportunities to practice your speaking skills
- Opportunities to practice your listening skills
In the next section, we go over the best tools to help you prepare for the TOEFL Speaking section.
The Best TOEFL Speaking Practice
Below are the best practice TOEFL Speaking topics. What makes these practice materials the best?
First, the practice questions included must be similar in content and format to the real TOEFL Speaking section in order to give you the best preparation for the actual exam. Secondly, it is a major plus if the TOEFL Speaking samples come with answer explanations to help you understand how to answer a question well. Finally, prep materials that include useful tips and strategies for answering Speaking questions are often helpful because they give you advice on how to raise your score on this section.
Official TOEFL Speaking Practice
Official materials are the best to use since you can be sure they’ll be very similar to the real TOEFL Speaking section. Below are all the official TOEFL Speaking practice materials available, both free and paid resources. ETS doesn’t provide just TOEFL Speaking samples, so each of these resources also have practice questions for the other sections of the TOEFL. Be sure to include at least some of these resources in your studying. The next section has more tips on how to make the most of official practice materials.
The TOEFL iBT Sampler is a program you can download with official practice questions, and it’s a great free and official resource to use. In addition to other sections, it includes audio recordings of three TOEFL Speaking samples, which is half of a complete Speaking section. Example answers for each of the tasks are included so you can get an idea of what a great answer looks like. Unfortunately, the Sampler only works with Windows; you can’t download it with a Mac.
This set of problems includes six TOEFL Speaking topics. Like the Sampler, it includes audio recordings of the prompts. This gives you a practice experience very similar to the real TOEFL.
This PDF is another free and official resource. In addition to other question types, it includes a complete Speaking section (six tasks). However, instead of being audio recordings, the TOEFL Speaking topics are written out. This makes them not as similar to the real TOEFL as they could be, but these are still well-written questions that will be helpful to answer. If you’d like, you can also have someone read the prompts to you for a more realistic experience.
TPO tests are retired TOEFL exams now offered for test prep. They give the closest experience to the real TOEFL, and, because of that, they aren’t cheap. You’ll have to pay $45 for each complete TOEFL you buy (you can’t just buy individual Speaking sections).
Your exam will be automatically graded after you finish it, although I was not impressed with how the Speaking section was graded when I took it. For the actual TOEFL, human graders listen to your responses and assign grades to each one. For this exam, a computer grades your Speaking section within about a minute of you completing the exam, and there is no explanation of how that grade was determined. This is a useful resource, but if you don’t want to spend that much money on a practice test, it’s perfectly possible to do well just using the above practice resources.
There are several official TOEFL prep books for sale by ETS. The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, in addition to explaining the types of questions on the test, contains numerous practice questions and three full-length exams. Sample responses for Speaking questions are included.
There’s also the Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volumes 1 and 2. Each of these books contains five unique practice tests, available on paper and the computer. However, no sample responses are given for Speaking questions, which make these a less useful resource compared to The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test.
TOEFL prep books generally cost between $15 and $25. Most offer both paper-based and computer-based versions of practice tests, along with audio recordings for portions of the Speaking section. For more information on the best TOEFL prep books, check out our guide.
Unofficial TOEFL Speaking Practice
You have to be more careful when using unofficial prep materials since not all of them are reliable resources. Some are high-quality and very similar to the TOEFL, others are not. Below are some of the best unofficial TOEFL Speaking topics out there. All of them are free.
PrepScholar’s YouTube Channel contains high-quality practice questions covering all 6 Speaking tasks. The questions mirror the real TOEFL’s format, voice, and time pressure. You can also access perfect score sample responses. This is one of the best unofficial Speaking resources out there. Here’s a sample practice video:
Exam English’s site has a complete Speaking section you can take. The questions are high-quality, you can record your answer, and you can view sample responses to see what a good answer looks like. This is one of the best unofficial Speaking resources out there.
English Club’s site also has a complete Speaking section. The questions are similar in format to the real TOEFL, and there are also sample responses you can listen to.
Magoosh has a PDF with two TOEFL Speaking topics (tasks 1 and 3). Although this isn’t a large number of practice questions, both come with answer explanations and sample answers so you can get a better idea of how you should answer Speaking questions. The questions themselves are also high-quality (although there is no audio, just a transcript) and similar to what you’d find on the actual TOEFL.
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Other Practice Materials for TOEFL Speaking
There are other ways to practice besides just answering practice TOEFL questions. The TOEFL Speaking section is designed to measure how strong your English speaking skills are, so, any practice you get speaking English will help you with this section, even if you’re not directly answering practice exam questions. There are numerous ways to get speaking practice; several of them are described below.
Duolingo is a popular free language-learning site. Users answer different types of questions, including speaking questions. You can’t choose to only answer speaking questions, so this isn’t the best resource for targeted speaking practice, but it’s a good way to strengthen your overall English skills.
For advanced English learners, many of Duolingo’s beginning problem sets will likely be too easy, but you can take a quiz to figure out where in the program you should start.
This site contains numerous speaking prompts on a variety of TOEFL Speaking topics. You have the option of recording your answer, and you can read comments under the questions to see how other people responded. There are no grading guidelines, and the questions aren’t that similar to real TOEFL Speaking topics, but these are a good option to get in more general practice speaking English.
This website contains 40 questions you can answer for TOEFL Speaking practice. Most of the questions are more simplistic than the questions you’d see on the real TOEFL, although some are similar to the first two tasks where you answer questions about yourself. Like the TOEFL Speaking questions, these are a good option if you want to practice speaking but need some ideas to get started.
And finally, good old face-to-face conversations are one of the best ways to improve your English speaking skills. You can grab a friend and practice TOEFL Speaking questions, but even just having a casual conversation will help improve your English skills. As long as you’re talking, you’re getting important practice in. Many towns also host regular meetups for people trying to learn a particular language. These are a great way to practice English in a low-pressure way and possibly meet some new people as well.
How to Get the Most Out of Your TOEFL Speaking Practice
Now you know all the best practice resources for the TOEFL Speaking section. The next step is to put those materials to use in the most effective way in order to see results on test day. Follow these five tips in order to get the most out of your practice.
Practice Speaking English Regularly
The most important thing you can do to practice for the Speaking section is to practice speaking English regularly. If you can practice every day, that would be ideal, but at the very least you should aim to practice speaking English 2-3 hours a week. Remember, this speaking practice doesn’t only have to consist of answering TOEFL Speaking questions; any conversation, even a casual chat with friends, where you’re speaking in English counts.
Make Use of Official Materials
As mentioned above, the official TOEFL resources have the highest-quality TOEFL Speaking topic examples out there, so you want to make the most of them. Spread these questions throughout your studying; don’t use them all up at the beginning or save them all for the end. You want to be regularly seeing these questions as you prepare.
Also, when you answer these questions, make sure you set enough time aside to devote your full attention to them. Practice them in a quiet room with no distractions, and carefully compare your responses to the sample responses. These aren’t the questions to practice when you have a few minutes to spare and need some quick practice while scrolling through your phone.
Record Your Answers
When you’re answering TOEFL Speaking questions, it can be a big help to record your answers. After you’ve finished, listen to them again. If the questions you’re using have sample responses, compare your responses to them.
Also, while listening to your recordings, think about ways you can improve. Did your words flow well, or were there a lot of pauses? Are there any words you struggled to pronounce? Grammar mistakes you made? These mistakes are much easier to identify (and then improve on) when you can listen to a recording as opposed to just trying to remember what you said.
In addition to reviewing your answers yourself, you should also ask someone else to listen to your answers and give you tips on what you can improve on. This doesn’t need to be a teacher or English tutor either; even just having a friend who is also learning English listen to your responses can alert you to mistakes you may not have noticed on your own.
Expand Your Vocabulary
The vocabulary you use is an important part of your TOEFL Speaking score, so it’s important to not just repeat the same handful of words when you speak. You don’t need to sound like a thesaurus, but including a few less common and more challenging words in your responses can help boost your score.
Speaking English regularly will help give you the confidence to use more challenging words, and you can also check out our guide to the 327 vocab words you need to know for the TOEFL for more ideas!
The TOEFL Speaking section can be intimidating, but with enough practice, you can face those six speaking tasks with confidence. Use a mixture of official and unofficial practice questions to bolster your skills, as well as more casual English practice.
In order to get the most out of your studying, you should practice speaking English regularly, make the most of official prep materials, record your answers, and expand your vocabulary.
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