Overview of the Speaking Section. The speaking section tests your ability to communicate in English in an academic setting. During the test, you will be presented with six speaking questions. The questions ask for a response to a single question, a conversation, a talk, or a lecture. The prompts and questions are presented only one time.
You may take notes as you listen, but notes are not graded. You may use your notes to answer the ques- tions. Some of the questions ask for a response to a reading passage and a talk or a lecture. The reading passages and the questions are written, but the directions will be spoken.
Your speaking will be evaluated on both the fluency of the language and the accuracy of the content. You will have 15-20 seconds to prepare and 45-60 seconds to respond to each question. Typically, a good response will require all of the response time, and the answer will be complete by the end of the response time.
You will have about 20 minutes to complete the speaking section. A clock on the screen will show you how much time you have to prepare each of your answers and how much time you have to record each response.
Review of Problems for the Speaking Section
A prompt for the Speaking section is either spoken or written. For example, a prompt might be a question, a conversation, part of a lecture, a written announcement, or part of a textbook passage. Each question has a slightly different prompt. There are six sets of prompts in the Speaking section with 1 question after each set. (Optional)
In addition to the academic skills that you learned in the previous chapter, there are several speaking strategies that will help you succeed on the TOEFL and after the TOEFL.
Anticipate the first question
You will probably be asked to talk about familiar topics at the beginning of the Speaking section. If you think about some of these topics, you will know how to answer when you hear the questions. A few seconds to prepare does not give you enough time to organize your thoughts unless you have the advan- tage of prior preparation.
You may be asked to choose a favorite person, place, activity, or item to talk about. To prepare for this question, spend a few minutes thinking about your personal favorites.
• Prepare some answers
• Read them aloud
Support your answers
The directions in speaking questions usually ask you to give examples or reasons to support your answers. Develop the habit of adding the word because after your opinions, and provide at least two reasons to support your position. You will become a better thinker and a better speaker. For example, “My favorite pastime is traveling because I like to meet people and enjoy learning about different places.” “My favorite city is San Diego because the climate is beautiful year round and there are many interesting sights in or near the city.”
• Use the word because
• Give two or three examples or reasons
Understand the task
You must listen to the question to understand how to organize your answer. If you are being asked to state an opinion, you should state your opinion and argue only one side of the issue. If you are being
asked to argue both sides of the issue and take a stand, then the task is very different. In that case, you will have to make a case for both sides before you state your opinion.
• Read the question carefully
• Respond to the topic
Pronounce to communicate
Everyone has an accent in English. People from Australia have an Australian accent. People from the United States have an American accent. People from Britain have a British accent. See what I mean? The important point is that your accent is okay as long as the listener can understand you. It is good to try to improve your pronunciation, but communication is more important for the TOEFL and for your academic and professional life.
• Accept your accent
• Improve communication
If you speak in a very low voice, hesitating and apologizing, the listener makes some negative assump- tions. This person is not confident. This person probably doesn’t know the answer. Try to speak up and sound assertive without being aggressive. It helps to start with a smile on your face.
• Speak up
• Be assertive
Read 135 words per minute
Yes, this is a speaking strategy. To succeed on the Speaking section, you will be asked to read short passages of about 100 words each, and you will have about 45 seconds in which to complete the reading. The speed is not difficult to attain, but you will have to avoid re-reading phrases in order to finish within the time limit. When you take the quiz at the end of this section, you will hear a cue to start reading, and a question at the end of 45 seconds. This will help you time yourself. You probably already read 135 words per minute. If not, work on reading faster, using the reading strategies at the beginning of the chapter.• Time yourself
• Increase speed up to 135 words per minute
The system for taking notes that you will learn in Chapter 3 can be made more effective by adapting it for each question. Use the task and the question to anticipate an outline for your notes. Refer to the example notes for Problems 25-30 on pages 59-68 for models of adapted notes.
• Use a system for taking notes
• Adapt the format for each question
There is no time for a long introduction. You have one minute or less to make your point. Start immediately with a direct statement. For example, “The lecture compares bacteria and viruses.” Include the most important points. When you practice speaking, using the model tests, you will hear a prompt to start and a beep to end your speech. On the TOEFL you must stop when the beep sounds. Always time yourself when you are practicing for the Speaking section. If you are not using the audio timing, then set a kitchen timer for the number of seconds that corresponds to the type of test problem that you are practicing-45 or 60- and then begin speaking. When the bell rings, stop speaking. Did you complete your thought or did you have more to say? Learn to pace yourself. Soon you will develop a sense of timing for the questions and you will know how much you can say in a short answer.
• Start with a direct statement
• Make a few major points
• Set a timer
Prepare Key Phrases
Key words help you identify the important information in a textbook or a lecture. Certain key words appear
more often in a reading passage or a lecture with a particular purpose.
The key words below are listed under the purpose for which they are frequently used. These key words are not 100 percent accurate, but they do give you a starting point. Key words are especially important in lectures since the sentences that the professor uses in speech are not edited like the sentences in textbooks, and are therefore, more difficult to follow.
Use Verbal Pauses
If you get to a point where you don’t know what to say, it is better to use some verbal pauses to think instead of stopping and thinking in silence. Silence on the tape is going to lose points for you. You can say, Okay, Now, Um, And, or Uh. All of these verbal pauses are very common in the speech of native speakers. Of course, if you use these too often, you will also lose points because they will distract the listener and you won’t have enough time to answer the question completely.
• Learn verbal pauses
• Use them when necessary
How can you correct yourself while you are speaking? First, recognize the difference between mistakes and slips. Most of the time, you don’t know that you have made a mistake, but you do know when you make a slip. Even native speakers make mistakes and slips in grammar. In a very long sentence, we can forget whether the subject was singular or plural, and we can make a mistake. But sometimes we hear our mistakes, and we correct slips by backing up and starting over. Some commonly used phrases to correct a previous grammatical slip are ‘I mean’ or ‘that is’. For example, “The worker bees that take care of the young is called, I mean are called, nurses.” These phrases can be used to correct content, too. For exam- ple, “Drones are female bees, I mean, male bees.” A good rule is to always correct slips in content and correct slips in grammar and word choice if you can do it quickly and move along without interrupting the flow of your speech.
• Correct slips
• Use common phrases
Speak to the criteria for evaluation
There are checklists for each question on the Speaking section. Use these checklists to evaluate your speaking. If you do not know how to use the checklist, get some extra help.
• Keep the checklists in mind
• Take advantage of other options
It is natural to be a little anxious about speaking in a second language, but it is important not to become negative and frightened. Negative thoughts can interfere with your concentration, and you may not hear the questions correctly. Take some deep breaths before each question and say this in your mind: “I am a good speaker. I am ready to speak.” If you begin to have negative thoughts during test, take another deep breath and think “confidence” as you breathe in. Focus on listening to the questions. Focus on taking notes.