TOEFL Speaking Section Breakdown: Question by Question

Posted on January 19, 2010 | Filed in TOEFL

Many people might feel apprehensive about the TOEFL speaking section because they simply don’t know what is expected of them for each question type. While the speaking section on the TOEFL requires you to speak, there are slight variations between each question. Below is a breakdown of all six TOEFL speaking questions in an attempt to ease apprehension for test day!

  • QUESTIONS 1 & 2: Both the first and second questions on the TOEFL speaking section are independent topics; meaning, you are required to speak on a topic that is familiar to you, as it’s purely opinion-based. Some independent questions will ask you your preference on a topic, such as:

    - Do you think it’s better to study alone or in groups when preparing for an exam?  Use reasons and details in your explanation.

    While some are more open-ended, such as:

    - What is your idea of the perfect house?  Use reasons and details in your explanation.

    For independent questions on the TOEFL, you will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to give your response.

  • QUESTION 3: Question #3 on the TOEFL speaking section begins the integrated speaking portion of the exam and involves reading a short passage (45 seconds) and then listening to a conversation on the same topic.  The conversation will always be between a man and a woman and usually university-related.  The reading portion on this question will usually have to do with a university-related topic that is the basis for the conversation between the man and the woman.

    Typically in Question #3, one speaker will have a strong opinion about the given topic and you are expected to give the reasons the main speaker has and any supporting details that go along with it.  For Question #3, you have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond.

    Remember – your personal opinion is not needed or wanted for this type of question.

  • QUESTION 4: Question #4 on the TOEFL speaking section is very similar to Question #3; however, this question type, in particular, will give you a short reading passage (45 seconds) on an academic topic and then play a lecture on the same topic, as well.

    This question always seems a bit more difficult than Question #3, because the material is much more dense, particular if the topic is science-related, and often times it’s difficult to give a full response with all relevant information under 60 seconds.  (The prep time and speaking time for Question #4 is the same as Question #3.)  Basically, you are required to give a summary of the lecture, with a focus on a particular process or emphasis given to you in the question.

  • QUESTION 5: Question #5 takes you back to conversations, as you hear a lengthier conversation than in Question #3, and are required to give a short summary of all the important information.  This question type gives you 20 seconds (not 30 seconds in Question #3) to prepare your response and 60 to speak. Ultimately, it will be a bit more difficult in terms of content and vocabulary than Question #3, but it also requires you to give your opinion at the end of your response. Question #5 has no reading portion, only listening and speaking.

  • QUESTION 6: Question #6 is often the most difficult question on the TOEFL speaking section, as it’s typically a rather dense lecture you are expected to listen to and give a summary of.  With 20 seconds to prepare and 60 to respond, many students have trouble with the complex academic vocabulary in the lecture, as well as sorting through so many facts to get to the main idea.  The key to an effective response for Question #6 is not to get boggled down with the intimidating vocabulary and focusing on just the main ideas.

All in all, a key to a great score on the speaking section of the TOEFL exam is to familiarize yourself with each question type and practice, practice, practice!

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