Inside the TOEFL® Test – Speaking Integrated Questions 3 & 4



Video duration: 09:29

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 questions three and four, the Integrated Speaking questions about academic courses.

So, in the next few minutes, we’re going to look at how the questions are structured and what they’re asking, how to approach the questions, how your responses are 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 the questions will look like and how they’re structured. In question three, you will read a passage about an academic subject. Then, you will listen to part of a lecture on that same subject. You’ll have 30 seconds to prepare your response, and 60 seconds to speak your answer.

In question four, you’ll listen to part of a lecture. Then, you will have 20 seconds to prepare your response and 60 seconds to speak your answer, which will always be a summary of the lecture. Now, let’s look more closely at what these academic-courses questions look like and what they will be asking you to do.

For question three, the reading passage will always be about an important academic term or concept that might be found in a first-year college textbook. For example, a science reading might explain what a Keystone Species is. A reading from Psychology might describe what it meant by emotional intelligence. In this example, the passage is about flow.

The listening passage will be from part of a lecture about the same topic as the reading passage.

Speaker: I think this will help you get a picture of what your textbook is describing.

Michael: In the lecture, you will hear details about an example of the term or concept.

Speaker: I remember passing by a classroom early one morning just as he was leaving, and he looked terrible. His clothes were all rumpled and he looked like he hadn’t slept all night, and I asked if he was okay. I was surprised when he said that he never felt better, that he was totally happy. He had spent the entire night in the classroom working on a mathematics puzzle. He didn’t stop to eat dinner. He didn’t stop to sleep. So, he worked furiously all night and covered the blackboards in the classroom with equations and numbers and never realized that time was passing by.

Michael: Then, when you answer the question, you will speak about how the example supports or illustrates the term or concept, like in this question about flow.

Speaker: Explain flow and how the example used by the professor illustrates the concept.

Michael: For question four, the listening passage is an excerpt from an academic lecture on a single topic. Usually, it starts with the professor either defining a concept or highlighting an issue.

Speaker: Human beings aren’t the only animals that use tools. It’s generally…

Michael: Then, it will have examples that help explain or clarify the issue.

Speaker: And, in fact there are two competing definitions, a narrow definition…

Michael: The question will ask you to explain the main concept or issue using the points and examples that were given in the lecture. So, basically, it’s a very straightforward summary. Here’s the example of question four about tools.

Speaker: Using points and examples from the talk, describe the two different definitions of tools given by the professor.

Michael: Now, here are some tips for how to approach these kinds of Speaking questions. Number one, the topics for these questions can be from a variety of fields — life science, social science, physical science, history, art, literature. And although it’s important that you practice with academic texts, the questions are designed so that you don’t need any prior knowledge in a specific field to answer the question. In other words, even though a question is about an academic topic, ultimately, it’s not testing your knowledge of that topic. It’s testing your English.

Number two: You’re allowed to take notes during the test. So, during the Listening passages, write down a few key words or ideas on your scratch paper. Then, use the preparation time to review your notes and prepare your response.

Number three: If you finish your response before time runs out, don’t just repeat yourself to fill the remaining time. Say something that clarifies, develops or elaborates on your response. Practice timing yourself so that you get used to the amount of time you have to answer a question.

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 question, 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.

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 a Speaking response that received a score of three on a four-point scale. This one is responding to the same question about flow.

[Audio Example]: The passage is talking about the general information about the flow, and the professor illustrates an example of that. He said he met a friend of, a friend who teached, who taught physics, and three years ago, he accidentally met the, met his friend. He found that his friend was, his friend's clothes were all rumbled, and he asked him he’s okay, and he said, the friend said he was so concentrated on the mathematic puzzle that he, he didn’t sleep or rest, and even, and also he didn’t actually eat, and actually he thinks that his friend came across to the mathematic puzzle, and he couldn’t realize that the time was passing by, and his friend actually was in the flow.

Michael: Now, let’s look at this response in terms of our three main criteria — delivery, language use and topic development. The speaker’s delivery is generally very clear with good pronunciation.

[Audio Example]: The passage is talking about the general information about the flow. Then, the professor illustrates an example of that.

Michael: And while his pacing is often very good, sometimes his speech is a little choppy, and there are some hesitations that interrupt the flow of the speech.

[Audio Example]: He said he met a friend of, a friend who teached, who taught physics.

Michael: In terms of language use, his vocabulary and grammar are both solid, so no major issues there.

[Audio example]: concentrated on the mathematic puzzle that, he didn’t sleep.

Michael: For topic development, although he does give an accurate summary of the professor’s example about his friend who spent the whole night working on a mathematics puzzle, he never really explains what flow is, and that’s the first part of the question:

[Audio example]: Explain flow.

Michael: So, he needed to do that, then explain how the example illustrated the concept. So, overall, this meets all the criteria for a score of three out of four. For more details about how the Integrated Speaking responses are scored, see the Speaking Scoring Guide on the TOEFL website.

Here are some activities that can help you build your skills for the Integrated Speaking tasks.

One, develop your academic vocabulary. You should be reading academic texts for practice. So, keep a list of important new words that you find and practice pronouncing them.

Two, read a short news article. Then, record yourself summarizing it. Then, create a transcript of the recording by writing down exactly what you said. Then, review the transcript and think of other ways of saying the same thing.

Three, find textbooks in English that include study questions at the end of each chapter, and practice answering the questions out loud. Start with subjects you’re familiar with, and then move on to less-familiar subjects.

Four, if you’re recording yourself, collect your recordings in an audio journal. Ask your English teacher to evaluate your recordings using the TOEFL Speaking rubrics.

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