TOEFL® Advisor Quarterly

November 2012


Featured story of a TOEFL® test taker

In this issue we are featuring a successful TOEFL® test taker, Ajay Kumar, originally from Dehli, India. This is his story and advice to TOEFL test takers everywhere.

It has been a long journey from Delhi to New Jersey; a trip that kicked off with the TOEFL test and still continues. After completing my undergraduate studies at Delhi Institute of Technology, I wanted to have an international experience and study abroad to meet my educational aspirations. I took the TOEFL iBT® test to apply for business school as most international universities, including New York University, where I completed my Masters of Business Administration degree, accept the test. Interestingly, I now work at Educational Testing Service (ETS), the creator of the TOEFL test, in Princeton, New Jersey.

I frequently hear that the TOEFL iBT Speaking section is viewed as the most challenging section of the test. As an ETS employee who can relate to the students preparing for the TOEFL test, I thought it might be helpful to summarize what the TOEFL iBT Speaking section measures and share the numerous resources.

TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The TOEFL test measures a test taker's ability to use and understand English at the university level. It measures four skills students need to succeed in an academic environment: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The TOEFL iBT Speaking section evaluates the ability to speak clearly and effectively as needed in an academic setting. Speaking section scores range from 0−30, with 30 being the highest possible score. Spoken responses are evaluated on the delivery (speech samples that are clear, contain good pronunciation and natural pacing); language use (effective and appropriate use of grammar and vocabulary); and topic development (answers that fully address the question in a coherent manner). To produce a fair and objective score for every test taker, spoken responses are rated by various skilled raters. It is important to note that raters are aware of the many varieties of English that are spoken around the world.

Test takers are given 20 minutes to complete six speaking questions that demonstrate their ability to communicate in English. The first two questions are called Independent Speaking Questions. These first questions require you to develop and clearly articulate a response discussing a person, object, experience or opinion. Within these responses, you will be asked to describe a topic and provide supporting reasons to explain your answer. For example, you may be asked to name a person who had a positive influence on your life and explain how this person influenced you. The second Independent Speaking Question will present two possible opinions or situations. You will be asked to state a preference for an opinion and support your response with examples and details.

The remaining four questions, which are called Integrated Speaking Questions, ask you to combine or integrate various English skills (for example, reading and speaking). Within this section, you may listen to a conversation or lecture via your headphones and be asked a question about what you heard, or you may be asked to read a passage first, then listen to a lecture or conversation and then answer a question based on what you heard and read.

Helpful study tips and resources to prepare for the TOEFL test

1) Practice, Practice, Practice: The saying is true, the more you practice, the better you will do. I found that developing a study calendar was very helpful to ensure I dedicated ample study time in my busy schedule. I also found it more motivating and enjoyable to study with a friend. You will want to find the most effective study techniques that work for you and dedicate adequate time to practice your English skills. Set study goals!

Helpful Tips to Prepare for the Speaking Section: I would use a digital voice recorder and record myself answering a sample TOEFL Speaking question. I would then play back the recording so I could hear my response. Like many, I had a tendency to speak quickly, especially when I felt nervous. Hearing my recording helped me to slow my speech down, allowing me to focus on clear pronunciation. I also enjoyed watching American television and videos to develop a better understanding of pronunciation, idioms, and appropriate pacing of the delivery of the English language. These are some strategies that helped me, but each test taker is unique. Find the study strategies that work best for you.

It is important that test takers know they are not penalized for accents. This is a common question we are asked at ETS.

2) Practice in Similar Testing Conditions: When possible, I found it helpful to practice and study in a similar format to that of the testing environment. A few tips that you may find beneficial:

Time Yourself: For each speaking task, you are given 15–30 seconds to prepare your response and then 45–60 seconds to provide your answer. I found it helpful to have a friend ask me questions similar to what would be asked on the test, such as describing a special place or defending an opinion. Then, being consistent with the testing format, I would take a few seconds to think through my answer and then provide a response in the allotted time. Following the testing format helped me to become more familiar with the process and to feel more confident on test day.

What is really important to remember is that practicing for the test is also practicing for the future. In a classroom, if a professor asks a question, you don't receive preparation time at all. The same is true in a job setting. So practicing speaking spontaneously for the test will also help you in the future.

3) Benefit from the Official TOEFL Resources: My colleagues continue to develop new ways to assist students by making the testing process easier. Some of the resources that are available to help you include:

  • The TOEFL Go Anywhere website offers free sample questions, provides access to registration, and links students to the more than 8,500 institutions around the world that accept the TOEFL test. The "Welcome to the TOEFL iBT Testing Site" video may also be helpful in becoming more comfortable with the testing experience.
  • The TOEFL Journey® program, available on the TOEFL Go Anywhere website, is a free online tool that helps students plan for their educational journey. It provides useful study tips through the website as well as through text messages and email alerts.
  • TOEFL® Test Taker Resources Video: This new nine-minute video shows students the many resources the TOEFL Program has to offer as they prepare for the test and for studying abroad.

Succeeding on the TOEFL test is an important part of the application process. Your hard work and dedication will be well worth it. Good luck with your studies and meeting your educational goals.

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