The Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT™ (SSTiBT): Test-Takers’ Reported Strategic Behaviors

Swain, Merrill; Huang, Li-Shih; Barkaoui, Khaled; Brooks, Lindsay; Lapkin, Sharon
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-09-30, TOEFLiBT-10
Document Type:
Subject/Key Words:
Academic speaking second-language speaking strategic behaviors speaking tasks speaking tests TOEFL iBT


This study responds to the Test of English as a Foreign Language™ (TOEFL®) research agenda concerning the need to understand the processes and knowledge that test-takers utilize. Specifically, it investigates the strategic behaviors test-takers reported using when taking the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT™ (SSTiBT). It also investigates how the reported strategic behaviors differed across integrated and independent tasks in the SSTiBT, as well as the relationship between test-takers’ reported strategic behaviors and their performance on the tasks as determined by their test scores. The participating students were 14 graduate and 16 undergraduate engineering students whose first language was Chinese. The results indicate that test-takers reported using 49 separate strategies when completing the SSTiBT tasks. Of the five strategy categories, the metacognitive, communication, and cognitive strategies were proportionally the most frequently reported. The interrelationships among these three categories were negative. Undergraduates reported using significantly more communication strategies, whereas graduates reported using significantly more cognitive and affective strategies. No statistically significant differences were found in reported strategy use across proficiency levels. The integrated tasks were more alike with respect to reported strategy use than were the independent and integrated tasks. Furthermore, the integrated tasks elicited a wider variety of reported strategy use than the independent tasks. Overall, we found no relationship between the total number of reported strategic behaviors and total test score on the SSTiBT. We conclude that strategy use is integral to performing SSTiBT tasks and should therefore be considered as part of the construct of communicative performance. However, the relationship between strategy use and test performance is varied and is due to complex interactions among test-taker characteristics, tasks, and contexts.

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