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Last Updated: November 28, 2023

TOEFL Speaking Section

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test has been designed to test the English communication abilities of students seeking higher education admission in English-speaking nations. At least 130 countries and over 10,000 colleges rely on TOEFL scores to admit students to their courses.

The TOEFL test, which is conducted several times throughout the year at various centers across the world, has reading, writing, speaking, and listening sections that help assess a student's overall ability to communicate in daily classes in colleges where English is the medium of instruction.

Why Speaking Test? What do they look for?

The speaking section of the TOEFL test aims to understand a student's communication, effective, metacognitive, and cognitive strategies. It examines the efficiency level of a student's communication through independent and integrated exercises.

Factors like being able to formulate unique perspectives on the topics and prompts given along with the ability to organize these thoughts in the best structure possible to convey the exact meaning projects a candidate's efficiency in the language. Since it is a speaking test, it is not the complexity of a candidate's thought that is graded. How they can understandably articulate even simple concepts will fetch them better grades than fumbling with the language over a difficult concept.

Test Structure

There are 4 tasks in the speaking section which have been differentiated based on the concept. The two different kinds of tasks/ questions that are provided are either Independent or Integrated.

Task 1, Independent task: There is only one independent task in the speaking section of TOEFL. The question pattern here will have a choice like an essay prompt in the writing section. Candidates will have to choose between two things, which may or may not be closely related, and then support that choice.

Task2-4, Integrated task: Integrated tasks deal with skills that demand combining language skills. In this part of the section, candidates will have to integrate the four sections of the test into proving the proficiency they have in the language.

The TOEFL speaking section is a highly important part of the examination. Students are scored on a scale of 30 based on their written answers to four questions in this section. Two graders evaluate each solution on a scale of 0-4. The responses are scored by quality and strength.

Examinees are given about 15-30 seconds to prepare an answer to the question asked and are then required to speak for about 45 seconds to a minute. This means that a fluent speaker can easily speak more than 100 words.

During the iBT test, candidates are expected to respond to the microphone on the headset. Their answer is then recorded and sent to ETS who will score their answer with a combination of AI scoring and human scoring to avoid biases that may occur through any single method.


The scores candidates receive will be on a scale of 0-4 with each of these scores acting as a combination of general description, delivery, language use, and topic development. Candidates will receive a score of 0 if and only if they have not responded at all. Or if their response is entirely different from the topic, they have asked the candidate to speak about. The rubrics of the independent section and the Integrated section are different since they demand a different skill set altogether.

Independent Speaking Rubrics
ScoreGeneral DescriptionDeliveryLanguage UseTopic Development
1 Limited response, Minimally connected words, Mostly unintelligible. Problems with stress and intonation. Requires heavy listener effort. Less control over grammar and vocabulary. Lacks content to the point.
2 Problems with delivering thoughts, has overall coherence but loses meaning at times. Intelligible with listener effort, unclear articulation and unfamiliar rhythm in speechunable to articulate with proper grammar and vocabulary, good with only basic sentence structures. Content is related to the task though not entirely.
3Mostly intelligible and organized. Clear speech, minor inaccuracies in grammar, pronunciation and intonation. ease in articulating thought with flow and pace, certain inaccurate use of words. Coherent information. Strictly based on topic.
4Communicates efficiently, is intelligible with only minor lapses. Clear speech with proper pronunciation and intonation. Nearly perfect grammar and automatic delivery of accurate grammar. Pertains fully to the topic.

Integrated Scoring Rubrics
ScoreGeneral DescriptionDeliveryLanguage UseTopic Development
1No content development, largely intelligible speech. Pronunciation and intonation problems require high listener effort. Incorrect vocabulary and inaccurate grammar. Not connected to the topic.
2Intelligible speech but lapses into incoherency. Problems in pronunciation and intonation. Speech is not consistent. Limited response-based limited knowledge of language and grammar. Relatively connected to the topic.
3Mostly intelligible and coherent but lacks expression of ideas. Clear speech with minor problems in pronunciation and intonation. Effective grammar use and use of relevant information. Connected to the topic but digresses a lot.
4Intelligible speech with great flow inarticulation. Clear, sustained speech but with varying pronunciation. Exhibits control over grammar and organization of thought. Connected to the topic and has automatic sounding grammar.

Speaking tips

Listen carefully: Questions require a specific point of answer. Listen to the audio clippings and questions carefully to comprehend the exact question. This will help candidates frame their answers well.

Organize thoughts: Jot down brief points one wishes to stress in their answer. Use these as reference points. Don't read out sentences or memorize answers. Speak naturally.

Simple language: Students should not try to use high-sounding words and words whose meaning they're unsure of.

Clarity: Students often worry about accents, but that's not a contention in the TOEFL speaking test. However, students must ensure that every word they speak is clear. Maintaining a rhythm, speaking every word with clarity and forcefully, and ensuring the syllables are all present bolsters scoring points.

Avoid stammering: Getting the 'ums' and 'uhs' out of the spoken language is vital. Though candidates don't lose on scores for stammering, too much of it can hinder their speech.

Intonation and pauses: It's important that candidates pause between sentences. Don't be too fast or too slow. One should intonate clearly while they speak.

Use effective conjunctions: Answers should flow naturally and with effective connecting phrases like 'Because', 'By this I mean', "or instance", "After that", "So", etc.

Develop thought: Start by stating one's topic for an answer and develop that thought. Give it an ending. Don't leave the concluding sentence hanging.

Don't speak to fill in time: If candidates have completed an answer before time and they have nothing more to add, stop. Don't try to fill in the time if one has nothing substantial to say.

Preparation tools

There are many test samples and speaking test simulators available online. But an easier way is to choose simple topics and time themselves. Candidates are advised to collate thoughts for 10-15 seconds and record speech. The more one practices, the better their thought and speech processes coordinate.

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