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TOEFL: 5 Ways to Help Your Student Practice for the Speaking Section

 This article covers:
  • What is the format of the TOEFL exam speaking section?
  • How can I help my students practice for the TOEFL speaking section?
  • How to prepare for the TOEFL speaking section?
  • How to improve TOEFL speaking section score?

TOEFL is one of the most popular English language proficiency tests accepted worldwide. The TOEFL iBT exam specifically tests your student’s academic English skills. This means that the TOEFL test can help your students stand out to prospective schools.

To help your students prepare for the TOEFL exam, it’s important to understand each exam section. For many students, the speaking section of an English language test can be the most intimidating. That’s why students who score well in this section often spend a lot of time practicing. You can prepare your students for success in this section by helping make the best use of their practice time.

TOEFL Speaking Section

Whether your student is taking the TOEFL iBT in-person or the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, they’ll need to complete the TOEFL speaking section. This section is the third part of the exam and it takes around 17 minutes to complete.

Click here to learn more about which TOEFL test is the right choice for your students, and click here to find out more about each TOEFL section in detail.

Your student will be tasked with an independent speaking question and three integrated tasks. They will only have a few seconds to prepare their answer after listening to or reading the questions. Each of the four questions will be graded on their delivery, language use, and topic development.

Share these tips with your students to help them succeed on their TOEFL test day.

TOEFL Speaking Practice Tips

Writing book

1. Make Transcripts

Grammar is important for every section of the TOEFL exam. However, it can be hard to notice grammar mistakes (especially small ones) if your student only has a recording of their answer. Next time they practice, encourage them to take a few minutes to create written transcripts of their answers. Afterwards, they should look for grammar mistakes in the transcript. They will probably find some on their own, but they can also make use of an online grammar checker. If they do this many times, they will know which errors they often make and how to avoid them.

Another great reason for them to make transcripts of their answers is that they can use an online word counter. This will help them to check how much they’ve actually said. Answers that contain more words generally get higher scores on the TOEFL.

Learn more about how each TOEFL test section is graded and how each section impacts the overall score.


2. Use a Timer

There are time limits for each speaking question. And when that time runs out, your student’s microphone will turn off. This means it’s important not to waste time when answering speaking questions.

Next time your student practices, you can suggest they use a timer to discover if they are using their time in an optimal way. What is the optimal way?

Your student should only spend about 10 seconds stating their main point for this independent speaking question. Most of their time should be used to support their point with reasons and details. Likewise, they should only spend about 15 seconds summarizing the reading parts of the integrated questions. It’s much more important for them to spend time talking about the listening parts.

Encourage your students to time themselves as they practice to help hit these targets.

Speech bubbles

3. Count Pauses

In everyday life, pauses and the occasional “umm” are common. Often, these pauses help us think about what we say before we say it. But on the TOEFL test, these pauses can lower your student’s score. Your student should listen to recordings of their practice answers and count the number of times they say “um” or “ah.” As they continue to practice, encourage them to try to reduce that number. Remind them that while this change is challenging, it is possible.

Curious about how TOEFL compares to IELTS or PTE? Learn more about the different types of English Proficiency Tests and which is best for your students.


4. Develop Imagination

The independent speaking question requires your student to talk about their personal opinions and experiences. This isn’t always easy as students sometimes worry that they don’t have enough experience or that their lives are boring.

If your student has this concern, encourage them to try to tell a few dozen stories from an imaginary academic life. Get them to imagine a time that they had a difficult assignment to do. In five or six sentences, ask them to imagine how they overcame the challenges of the assignment. If they need help, suggest that perhaps they went to the library or maybe they talked to a teacher. Next, ask them to imagine a time that they helped another student on campus. Encourage them to talk about how that made them feel.

Now do the same for their family life and their working life. You can even use a prompt generator to help them come up with new examples or situations. This will give them a bank of imaginary stories that they might be able to draw on when they take the exam.

ApplyBoard offers discounts on official TOEFL prep and practice materials that you can provide to your students including the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test, Official TOEFL iBT Practice Tests, and Graded Online Practice Tests.

Need more information? Learn how to redeem TOEFL prep vouchers.


5. Practice Reading and Listening Skills

Ensure your student doesn’t forget the three integrated questions involve more than just speaking. Encourage them to spend a little bit of time each day practicing their listening and reading skills. You can help by providing them with short academic articles about the same kinds of topics they’ll get on the TOEFL. For reading, try finding short articles on websites like Science News. For listening, check out short podcasts such as 60 Second Science. Regular exposure to content like this will keep your student’s academic listening and reading skills sharp!

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