Inside the TOEFL® Test - Speaking Independent Question 1



Video duration: 07:23

Hi, I'm Michael from ETS, and welcome to Inside the TOEFL Test. Today, we're going to go inside the Speaking section of the TOEFL Test, specifically question one, the Independent Speaking question. So, in the next few minutes we're going to look at how the question is structured, how to approach the question, how your response is scored. We'll look at a sample response that received a high score, and we'll give you some tips for improving your speaking skills.

So, here is generally what question one will look like. For this task, you'll be given a topic to speak about with no additional reading or listening passages. You'll have 15 seconds to prepare your response and 45 seconds to speak your answer. Now, 15 seconds is actually longer than you think, and if you feel like you need more time, just remember the professors at university aren't going to give you more time than that to answer questions in class.

Now, let's look more closely at what the Independent Speaking question will be asking you to do.

In question one, you'll be presented with two situations or opinions. You'll be asked which you prefer and you need to explain your choice. Here's an example.

[Audio example]: Some people think it is more fun to spend time with friends in restaurants or cafes. Others think it is more fun to spend time with friends at home. Which do you think is better? Explain why.

Michael: Now here are some tips for how to approach these kinds of speaking questions. Number one: Use the preparation time to organize your thoughts and maybe jot down some notes. Don't try to write a full response because you won't have time, and the raters scoring your response want to hear you speaking, not reading, and they can tell the difference.

Number two: Don't memorize responses before the test, especially ones that you get from the Internet or from test prep instructors who say that's a good idea. It's not, and it will lower your score. It's very easy for ETS raters to identify memorized responses because they sound different and the content is different from responses that are more natural and spontaneous.

Number three: It's not necessary to organize your response into an introduction, a middle and a conclusion like you would with a written essay. Just speak naturally and use common connecting words. Some of those are: because, so, after that, on the other hand, I want to mention, and what this means is.

Before the test, make sure you understand what the raters are looking for and how the questions are scored. In the speaking section, all responses are scored on a scale from zero to four, and they're scored holistically, which means the raters listen for various features in your response and then give it an overall score.

Although there are some variations depending on the questions, raters will be looking for three main things. First, delivery: Your speech needs to be clear and fluid with good pronunciation. The pace or speed of your speech should be natural, and you should have good sounding intonation patterns.

Second, language use: This is mainly how you use grammar and vocabulary to express your ideas. And third, topic development: This is mainly how fully you answer the question, how clearly you express your ideas, and how you can connect one idea to the next in a way that is easy to follow.

Now, let's listen to an example of the speaking response that received the highest score of four out of four. This is responding to the question about spending time with friends.

[Audio Sample]: I actually only spend time with my friends in restaurants and cafés, almost never at home because my apartment is very small and there is just almost nothing to do. On the outside and café and restaurants, it's much more — there are more people. The atmosphere is usually good. Maybe there's some music playing. Usually we meet to discuss things and meet other people and meet people we do not know, possibly. There's always a chance to get to know someone and it's always exciting. For me, it's much more exciting than just staying at home in the environment that I know and am familiar with. I think that's boring.

Michael: Now, let's look at this response in terms of our three main criteria – delivery, language use and topic development.

First, delivery: His flow of speech is good and he's easy to understand, and he's able to sustain his speech for the full 45 seconds without repeating himself.

[Audio Sample]: My apartment is very small, and there is just almost nothing to do.

Michael: With language use, his language is simple and direct and he chooses his words accurately. He doesn't need to use overly complex vocabulary.

[Audio Sample]: There are more people. The atmosphere is usually good, and maybe there's some music playing.

Michael: Topic development is also strong. He starts by stating his preference for cafés and also says why he doesn't meet his friends at his home (because his apartment is too small and there is almost nothing to do there), and he gives several reasons why cafés are better for him.

There's a better atmosphere, often there is music, and he can meet new people.

[Audio Sample]: There is always a chance to get to know someone. It is always exciting.

Michael: So, overall this meets the criteria for a score of four out of four. For more details about how the Independent Speaking responses are scored, see the Speaking Scoring Rubrics on the TOEFL website.

Now, here are some activities that can help you build the skills you need for the Independent Speaking tasks. Most important for these questions is that you need to practice speaking continuously for 45 seconds or more. So, it's a good idea to have a stopwatch or other timer to use while practicing.

Number one, find a way to practice with native speakers or others who know English well, or join an English club or start one of your own.

Two, collect pictures from magazines, newspapers or the Internet. Look at each picture and describe it in 45 seconds. Try describing the same picture more than once using different adjectives and adding details.

Three, think for 15 seconds about what you did yesterday. Then, talk about it for 45 seconds. Remember to use your connecting words, and use verbs in the past tense. You can do the same thing to talk about what you will do tomorrow using verbs in the future tense.

Four, practice making a recommendation. Find a topic that you're interested in and explain why your idea is the best way to proceed.

There are lots of ways to improve your English skills. Whatever you do, keep practicing and good luck on your TOEFL test.