Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT

The TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The speaking section of the TOEFL iBT consists of six questions, for which test-takers are given a total of 20 minutes. Students speak their responses to these questions into a provided microphone, and responses are graded by Educational Testing Service (ETS) staff according to criteria such as pronunciation, intonation, and general intelligibility. ETS graders give each speaking section question a score of 0 to 4, which is then converted to a scaled speaking section score of 0 to 30. Questions are delivered via audio recording, and some questions also include passages of written text. Note-taking is allowed throughout the speaking section. For each exercise, test-takers are given 15-30 seconds to prepare their responses and 45-60 seconds to audio-record their responses. There are two types of questions on the iBT speaking section: independent (the first two exercises) and integrated (the last four).

TOEFL iBT Independent Speaking Exercises

Independent speaking exercises require test-takers to be able to articulate themselves in English on general and academic topics. For each of the two independent speaking questions, students listen to short lecture or conversation excerpts. The first question asks students to talk about something from their own life experience, such as a favorite hobby, a meaningful place, or a person they respect. The second independent speaking question requires test-takers to express their opinion on a given situation. This question might concern two possible courses of action, or it might ask the student to stake out a position on a given issue. It does not matter which side or action the test-taker chooses; what is important is how he or she uses spoken English to express and support whatever choice is made. Both independent speaking exercises allow 15 seconds of preparation time and 45 seconds of response time.

TOEFL iBT Integrated Speaking Exercises

Four questions on the iBT speaking section are referred to as "integrated" because they combine either reading, listening, and speaking or listening and speaking only (there are two exercises in each category). On the first integrated reading/listening/speaking question, students read a brief passage on a general topic that relates to university life, and then listen to a short, two-person conversation on that topic. The second integrated reading/listening/speaking exercise features a reading passage and spoken lecture excerpt on an academic subject. For both of these questions, preparation time is 30 seconds and response time is 60 seconds. The listening/speaking questions follow a similar structure in terms of subject matter (the first is about a general campus topic and the second concerns material that could be studied in an actual college course). Listening/speaking questions include spoken lecture excerpts or conversations only (there are no reading passages). Response time for these exercises is also 60 seconds, but preparation time is reduced to 20 seconds.

Important TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Skills

Test-takers should focus on correct English pronunciation, intonation, patterns of word stress, and clarity of delivery. One way to develop these skills is to simply speak along with video or audio recordings of films, TV shows, radio broadcasts, or any other sources of spoken content. Students can listen carefully to and memorize specific lines, and then speak along with those lines while making every effort to precisely imitate all aspects of speech. Test-takers should also practice having conversations in English with native speakers, about general topics and issues related to their primary area of postsecondary study. While the integrated nature of the TOEFL iBT speaking section presents students with a number of preparation challenges, test-takers who receive high scores on this section can be confident in their ability to communicate as English speakers.

Speaking Section Requirements at Universities

Some undergraduate and graduate degree programs have entrance requirements that address total TOEFL scores only, but others have specific expectations with respect to the speaking section. Boston University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, for instance, mandates a minimum speaking score of 23, which is the highest of any of their four sectional score requirements (21 reading, 18 listening, and 22 writing). Furthermore, applicants for teaching assistantships or other forms of financial aid must often produce higher speaking scores than students applying for admission only. The general TOEFL requirement for applicants to the Graduate School at the University of Arizona is a total iBT score of 79, which is an average of less than 20 for each of the four sectional scores. Students who wish to be considered for teaching assistantships in many the University of Arizona's individual schools and departments, however, must produce an iBT speaking score of 26 or higher.