A Complete Guide To
TOEFL Speaking Topics | Crack the TOEFL Speaking Section
Students who wish to study abroad must improve their English language skills. Good language skills will enable students to communicate effectively and fluently in English — both inside and outside the classroom. This is where the TOEFL exam comes into the picture. The TOEFL exam measures how well a student can read, listen, speak, and write in English in an academic environment.
Keeping in line with the aim of the TOEFL exam, the TOEFL Speaking section too is designed to assess how well a student can communicate in English in an academic setting. The speaking section lasts for a total of 17 minutes, during which the test-taker will have to complete a total of four tasks: one independent and three integrated speaking tasks. As a whole, the TOEFL speaking section is designed to assess the test taker’s ability to express their opinion on a familiar topic and their ability to speak based on their understanding of academic or campus-related reading and listening texts.
Since the skills you would need to ace this section are the same skills you would need when studying in an English-speaking country, prepping for this section will prove quite useful. Read on to learn more about the TOEFL Speaking section and topics for better preparation.
TOEFL Independent Speaking Task :
TOEFL Speaking Task 1
The first task in the TOEFL speaking section is an independent speaking task. Here, you will be presented with two options or situations and will be asked to state which of the two options you prefer and why. To successfully complete the task, you will have to state your preference, elaborate on it, and support it with reasons. You will be given 15 seconds to prepare your response for this task and 45 seconds to complete it.
Since this question will usually include everyday topics, you will not need any specialized knowledge to respond to this question. While responding to questions of this type, ensure that you respond to all parts of the question. Make sure that you are clear about your opinion and give reasons that support your opinion. Your score doesn’t depend on which option you choose (because there is no “right” or “wrong” answer), but rather on how well you state and explain your choice.
TOEFL Independent Speaking Task - Question Types :
As mentioned earlier, the TOEFL independent speaking task will ask you to choose between two things and then support that choice. While this will remain the aim of all TOEFL independent questions, the question may appear in different forms. Let’s look at some of the most common forms in which these questions appear on the TOEFL exam.
Here, you will be presented with two different options and will be asked which of the options you prefer.
There are many different approaches to academic studies, and all of them have specific benefits. Do you prefer to study for tests in a group, or to study alone? Include details and examples to support your explanation.
I like to study for my examinations on my own. This is how I feel for two reasons.
Firstly, I will be able to concentrate solely on what I need to study. Since everyone has their own weak points, we may end up spending a lot of time addressing those points, even if most of the other members are good in those areas. When we work alone, on the other hand, we may concentrate solely on our own weaknesses, allowing us to get the highest potential exam result.
Moreover, I’m easily distracted, which may be problematic while studying in a group setting. For example, last year, I was researching for a midterm test with a group of classmates. Rather than studying, we spent most of our time talking about music and sports. As a result, my exam scores were quite low.
Some people like to watch television news programs every day, while others like to watch them only now and then. Which do you prefer? Include details and examples to support your explanation.
I would much rather watch the news only on rare occasions. This is because of two reasons.
To begin with, spending too much time watching the evening news makes me really uneasy. For example, if I hear about a new battle or tragedy every day of the week, I become melancholic and so, find it difficult to function in my day-to-day life.
Second, I believe that daily news viewing is a waste of time. For example, if I watch a news program for an hour daily, I will simply not have enough time to accomplish other things. For instance, ever since I quit watching the evening news, I find that I have more time to complete all of my school tasks.
Agree or Disagree
Here, you will be presented with a statement, and will be asked whether you agree or disagree with the statement.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Children should help their parents with household chores as soon as they are old enough. Use details and examples in your response.
I believe that allowing children to help with home duties as soon as they are old enough is a fantastic concept.
First and foremost, this may teach youngsters some really useful skills that will serve them well later in life. When I was a youngster, for example, I was in charge of making breakfast for my younger brother every day before we went to school. This experience served me well later in my life when I moved away to university. There, I was able to prepare my own healthy meals instead of depending on fast food joints like my peers.
Secondly, when parents and children work together on domestic duties, they get an opportunity to bond. They can converse while doing tasks like washing dishes or making food, and the kids may open up about what’s happening in their life.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? It is better for children to have teachers who are young, even if they are inexperienced.
I believe that having young professors, even if they are inexperienced, is beneficial for kids.
To begin with, youthful instructors are better able to relate to their students. In terms of actual interests and pop-cultural understanding, they just have a great deal in common with them. As a result, they have an easier time connecting the classroom subject to the students’ everyday life. This can make the learning process more fun for the students.
Secondly, I personally find young instructors to be less intimidating. In my experience, older instructors are more critical of their students’ mistakes than their younger counterparts. This may cause students to be apprehensive, and as a result, they may be reluctant to ask doubts in class—which in the long run will affect their learning process.
Description and Explanation
Here, a common occurrence will be described in some detail, and you will be asked whether or not you think it is a good idea.
Some companies have rules that forbid employees from using personal cell phones during working hours. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
I don’t think it is a good idea for companies to prohibit employees from using their phones during business hours, because of two reasons.
To begin with, our mobile phones are the fastest means by which we can communicate with others. So, if there is an emergency at home, the news would most probably be conveyed to us through our phones. And, of course, we’d like to know about emergencies as quickly as possible. If a worker is worried about being disconnected from his loved ones throughout the day, then there is a good chance that he may start looking for jobs that allow him to use his phone, which would be disastrous for the company.
Second, I believe that personal phones have the potential to increase our workplace atmosphere. Making a brief phone call or looking at a social media post might help us relax. And if we’re happier, we’re more likely to do well.
Nowadays, some people use extreme methods, including surgery, to change their appearance. They do this because they want to look more attractive. Do you think this is a good idea? Support your answer with details and examples.
I think getting surgery to change your look is a terrific idea. This is how I feel for two reasons.
First and foremost, by changing our appearance through plastic surgery, we will be able to develop the confidence to face any social situation. After all, self-confidence comes only when you are comfortable in your skin, and sometimes an aesthetic surgery with that!!
Secondly, if we are unhappy with the outcome of our operation, we can always reverse it. I mean, plastic surgery is so inexpensive these days that if you get an operation and it doesn’t look good, you can easily have another treatment done. For example, I’ve changed the shape of my nose three times already, and the cost to me has been modest.
TOEFL Independent Speaking Tips :
Develop a General Template
Given that you will only get a few seconds to prepare for your response, it would be nice if you have a ready-made template in hand. The template should include all the details you would want to include in your response. This will ensure that you do not spend too much time trying to figure out what should be included in your response. For the TOEFL independent speaking task, we suggest that you use the following template:
“There are many different approaches to academic studies, and all of them have specific benefits. Do you prefer to study for tests in a group, or to study alone? Include details and examples to support your explanation.”
I like to study for my examinations on my own. This is how I feel for two reasons. First and foremost, I am able to concentrate solely on what I need to study. Everyone has distinct weak points when we study in a group, and they all deserve to be addressed, even if other members of the group are particularly good in certain areas. When we work alone, on the other hand, we may concentrate solely on our own weaknesses, allowing us to get the highest potential exam result.
Second, I’m easily swayed, which may be problematic while studying in a group setting. For example, last year I was researching for a midterm test with a group of classmates. Rather than studying, we spent most of our time talking about music and sports. As a result, my exam scores were quite low.
Go with the Easier Choice :
As mentioned earlier, your response is not scored based on which option you choose but rather on how well you can substantiate your choice. Since you do not have much time to prepare your response, it would be a good idea to select the option for which you will be able to come up with more points quickly; this is irrespective of whether or not it matches your personal opinion. For example, if the question is about whether you prefer online or offline classes, and you have more points to state why online classes are better, go ahead and select that option, even if you personally believe that offline classes are better. This will help you save some valuable time.
Commit some Useful Expressions to Memory :
Since the independent speaking task will inevitably ask you to state and elaborate your opinion on a given topic, you could memorize some words/phrases that you would want to use in your response. Having these words ready at hand could help you feel more confident while giving your response. The more you practice using them, the easier they will be to remember and use on test day. You could use the following words/phrases when you want:
- to present your opinion: “I believe”, “I think”, “I feel”, “My view is”, “My opinion is”, “My preference is”.
- to state why you believe something: “Because”, “The reason”, “Due to”, “For”.
- to mention additional points: “Another reason”, “Additionally”, “Moreover”, “Second”, “Furthermore”
- to conclude: “And so”, “In conclusion”, “Finally”, “Thus”, “Ultimately”, “As I’ve stated”, “Clearly”, “To sum up.”
Use your preparation time effectively :
Don’t spend the entirety of your preparation time making notes. Set aside 5 or 10 seconds to plan how you would like to start and conclude your response. Remember, both the introduction and the conclusion are important parts of any response. So, planning them beforehand will help you feel more confident when giving your response.
As always, constant practice is the best way to get a good score on your exam. Practicing regularly has three main advantages. Firstly, it will help familiarize you with the kind of questions that will be asked in the exam. Secondly, it will help you improve your skills. Thirdly, it will help you develop an intuitive understanding of how much information you can convey within the 45 seconds allocated to you. Remember, to get a high score you should be able to prepare and mention all the necessary points within the allotted time — all the while ensuring that your pace is natural and consistent. This is tricky to manage the first time around, so the more you practice, the easier it will be for you when you attempt the exam.
Always record your response when you practice. This will allow you to listen back to your response and evaluate your performance. Once you have evaluated your performance, decide what changes you want to make to your response. Then, make a new recording. Compare the recordings and determine if any further revisions need to be made.
TOEFL Integrated Speaking Tasks
The remaining three tasks in the TOEFL speaking section are integrated speaking tasks. Here, you will be presented with a listening text and/or a reading text and asked to summarize the information presented. So, as the name suggests, you will have to use more than one skill to successfully complete tasks of this type. As with the reading, listening, and integrated writing tasks on the TOEFL exam, you do not need any prior knowledge to complete the integrated speaking tasks. All the information you would require to complete these tasks will be provided either in the reading or the listening text. So, do ensure that you take comprehensive notes while attempting the integrated speaking tasks.
TOEFL Speaking Task 2 :
The first integrated task in the TOEFL speaking section is based on a topic related to campus life. There are three parts to this task. First, you will have to read a short passage (of around 100 words) on a campus-related topic (e.g., a change in university policy, campus facility, quality of life on campus, etc.). Then, you will have to listen to a conversation (of around 90 seconds) in which two people express their opinion about the reading. Finally, you will be required to summarize the main speaker’s opinion within the context of the passage. So, essentially, you will have to use your reading, listening, and speaking skills to complete this task. You will be given 30 seconds to prepare your response for this task and 60 seconds to complete it.
The reading passage and the conversation will provide you with all the necessary information to complete the task. The reading passage will provide the context in which the conversation occurs; it will reveal what the proposal is and why it was made. The conversation, on the other hand, will provide the main information; it will reveal the main speaker’s opinion and the reasons why the speaker holds that opinion. In order to successfully complete the task, you will have to include all these points (in varying degrees) in your response.
Example of TOEFL Speaking Task 2 :
Narrator: You will now read a short passage and listen to a conversation on the same topic. You will then be asked a question about them. After you hear the question, you will have 30 seconds to prepare your response and 60 seconds to speak.
|Currently, the university drama club organizes plays only on campus. Next year, however, the drama club will also perform street plays in and around Washington D.C. Mr. Watkins, the head of the drama club, feels that doing street plays will help in taking important social messages to large groups of people, which in turn will help create a sense of awareness in the society in which we live. In addition to this, it is hoped that getting the drama club to perform street plays will also help motivate students in the club to pursue a higher standard of excellence, and will also help them improve their confidence.|
Narrator: Now listen to two students discussing the article.
Male Student: Meriya, you are a part of the drama club, right? What do you think about the proposal in the article?
Female Student: I really liked the proposal. I have always wanted to do a street play. I personally believe that art should try to bring about a social change in the society that we live in.
Male Student: I agree…but why a street play? Wouldn’t a conventional theatre performance also have the same impact?
Female Student: Yes, conventional theatre performances can have a good social impact. But, I feel the street theatre provides a much wider reach…not very many people visit a theatre, but you can always find people on the street.
Male Student: Mhmm…that’s true
Female Student: Also, I know a lot of people, who would like to do a street play, but lack the confidence to do it. I feel that when the club organizes a street play, those people also will get an opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, with the added advantage of their peers being there for support.
Male Student: Mhmm…you’re right…I hadn’t really thought about that.
Female Student: Also, the audience of a street play would be similar to the audience we’d get if we were to take up acting as our profession…at least, it would be more similar than the kind of audience we usually get when we perform a play in the campus…I have a feeling that this article might encourage more students to join the drama club.
Male Student: Um, to be honest, right now, I am considering if I should join the drama club.
Female Student: Given your artistic flair, we’d be more than happy to have you in our club.
Q: The woman expresses her opinion about the change described in the article. Briefly summarize the change. Then state her opinion about the change and explain the reasons she gives for that opinion.
In addition to the plays performed on campus, the university drama club is planning to perform some street plays. The head of the club feels that doing this will not only help in raising public awareness of social causes, but will also motivate the students to do better and improve their confidence.
The woman fully agrees with the head of the club. She holds that street plays have a much wider reach when compared to conventional theatre performances. She believes that by performing on the streets, students will get an opportunity to spread public awareness on a much larger scale.
She also believes that this initiative of the club will not only help boost its members’ confidence by giving them an opportunity to perform in public alongside their peers, but will also encourage more students to join the club since it offers a more ‘real’ experience.
TOEFL Speaking Task 3 :
The second integrated task on the TOEFL speaking section is based on an academic topic. There are three parts to this task. First, you will have to read a short passage (of around 100 words) on an academic topic. Then, you will have to listen to a lecture (of around 90 seconds) in which the lecturer will elaborate on the subject in the reading passage by adding more details and giving specific examples. Finally, you will be required to combine and convey important information from the passage and the lecture. So, essentially, you will have to use your reading, listening, and speaking skills to complete this task. You will be given 30 seconds to prepare your response for this task and 60 seconds to complete it.
The topics for the question are drawn from various fields: life science, social science, physical science, and the humanities. Although the topics are academic in nature, you do not need any prior knowledge to understand the reading passage and the lecture, or to answer the question that follows. In fact, it is recommended that you do not include any ‘extra’ information when responding to this task. All the information you would require to respond to the task will be provided in the reading passage and lecture.
Example of TOEFL Speaking Task 3 :
Narrator: Read a passage about man vs nature conflict from a literature textbook. You will have 50 seconds to read the passage. Begin reading now.
|Man vs. Nature Conflict
Man vs. nature conflict refers to the conflicts that occur when a literary character faces resistance from a natural force. This natural force can include the weather, wildlife, the wilderness, or a natural disaster. In man vs. nature conflict, a common theme is for a natural event to force a character to look within themselves and consider their internal strengths to meet the challenges they face. The characters usually end up confronting their powerlessness and mortality in the face of the natural world. Therefore, the essence of the man versus nature conflict can be summarized thus: man struggles with human emotions, while nature charges forward undeterred.
Narrator: Now listen to part of a lecture from a Literature class
Professor: One of the conflicts that can be seen in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is that between man and nature. Romeo and Juliet are two star-crossed lovers from two warring families.
When Romeo kills a member of the Capulet family, he is exiled from Verona. On the eve of his banishment from Verona, Juliet—who understandably wants to spend more time with her love, mistakes the singing outside her window to belong to the nightingale—a symbol for the night. Upon realizing that it was a lark—the messenger of the morning—Juliet is forced to let Romeo leave. Nature, thus, hinders the couple from spending more time together.
Another instance can be seen when the messenger, who is supposed to carry an important letter to Romeo detailing the plan for Juliet to fake her own death, is detained by a plague threat. The letter, which would have explained to Romeo that Juliet was still alive and that he could whisk her away when she awakens from her death-like slumber, is not delivered to Romeo in time. As a result, when Romeo sees Juliet’s still body, he decides to take his own life. Juliet also follows suit when she wakes up from her slumber and sees him lying dead.
Q: Using the examples provided by the lecture, explain the man vs. nature conflict.
When in a literary work, the character encounters some resistance from natural forces, it is known as the man vs nature conflict. The professor, here, takes the example of two characters in William Shakespeare’s play — Romeo and Juliet. They are lovers who come from rival families.
The first instance he provides is of the lark’s song. This song prevents the couple from spending some much-needed quality time together. Thus, the lark, here, serves as a symbol of nature intervening in their love.
Another instance is when the messenger who carries an important letter to Romeo detailing a crucial plan is held back by a plague threat. This results in the death of the two lovers. Thus, the plague—another one of nature’s minions—succeeds in putting a complete end to their love story.
TOEFL Speaking Task 4 :
The third integrated task in the TOEFL speaking section is also based on an academic topic. Unlike the other two integrated speaking tasks, there are only two parts to this task. First, you will have to listen to a lecture (of around 90 seconds) in which the lecturer explains a term or concept and provides examples to illustrate it. Then, you will have to summarize the lecture and bring out the relationship between the examples and the overall topic. So, essentially, you will have to use your listening and speaking skills in order to complete this task. You will be given 20 seconds to prepare your response for this task and 60 seconds to finish it.
As with the previous integrated task, the topics for the question are drawn from a variety of fields within the life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences, and the humanities. Here also, you do not require any prior knowledge to understand the lecture or to answer the question that follows.
Example of TOEFL Speaking Task 4 :
Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a neuropsychology class.
Professor: “Déjà vu” describes the uncanny sensation that you’ve already experienced something, even when you know you never have. Say you’re exploring a new city for the first time. And all at once, you feel as if you’ve walked down that exact tree-lined footpath before. You know that you haven’t been there before. So, then, why do you experience that feeling of familiarity?
One theory suggests that déjà vu has to do with how you process and recall memories. Déjà vu can happen in response to an event that resembles something you’ve experienced, but don’t remember. Even though you can’t access that memory, your brain still knows you’ve been in a similar situation. This process of implicit memory leads to the somewhat odd feeling of familiarity. If you could recall the similar memory, you’d be able to link the two and likely wouldn’t experience déjà vu at all. This commonly happens when you see a particular scene, like the inside of a building or a natural panorama that’s very similar to one you don’t remember.
Instances of déjà vu in healthy individuals may also be attributed to a ‘mismatch’ in the brain’s neural pathways. This could be because the brain is constantly attempting to create whole perceptions of the world around us with limited input. For example, it only takes a small amount of sensory information—like a familiar smell—for the brain to create a detailed recollection. This may produce the unsettling feeling that we’ve experienced a new moment before.
Q: Using points and examples from the talk, explain how déjà vu occurs.
The professor, in her lecture, discusses two potential causes of déjà vu. The professor describes déjà vu as the uncanny sensation someone gets when they feel as if they have experienced an unfamiliar situation before.
The first theory states that déjà vu occurs when our current experience is similar to a past forgotten experience. So, even though you cannot recollect that experience, your brain is—causing you to feel as though you have been in this situation before.
Another theory states that déjà vu occurs when the brain attempts to make sense of the world using the limited information it receives. The lecturer talks about how a familiar smell could sometimes evoke a detailed recollection in our minds. And this may cause us to feel that we have experienced that event before.
TOEFL Integrated Speaking Tips :
Develop a General Template
Earlier, we looked at the advantage of having a template for the TOEFL independent speaking task. The same thing applies to the TOEFL integrated speaking tasks as well. So, let’s look at some templates that you could use for each of the different integrated TOEFL speaking tasks.
For the first integrated task that requires you to read a passage on a campus-related topic, listen to a conversation on the same, and then summarize the main speaker’s opinion on that topic, we suggest the following template:
|Campus Policy (very briefly)
Main speaker’s opinion
Reason #1 for opinion
Details for reason #1
Reason #2 for opinion
Details for reason #2
While the templates for the independent speaking task and the campus-based integrated speaking task are more or less fixed, the templates for the remaining two speaking tasks will depend on the kind of content that is discussed in the reading passage and/or lecture.
In the third speaking task, for example, the passage may define a general principle or process, and the lecture may discuss a specific instance of the principle or process. Another pairing might include a passage that describes a problem and a lecture that presents the success, failure, or unintended consequences of an attempt to solve the problem. Whatever be the case, you would need to integrate and summarize the key information presented in both sources. So, we suggest that you use the following template when responding to the third speaking task:
|Detail #1 from Passage
Corresponding detail #1 from lecture
Detail #2 from Passage (if any)
Corresponding detail #2 from lecture
Detail #3 from Passage (if any)
Corresponding detail #3 from lecture (if any)
In the fourth speaking task, the lecture could be about processes, methods, theories, ideas, or any phenomena. If the lecture is about a process, the professor might explain it by describing its functions. If the lecture is about a theory, the professor might explain the theory by describing its applications. If the lecture is about a phenomenon, the professor might explain it through examples that illustrate its causes or its effects. Whatever be the case, you would need to summarize the key information presented in the lecture. So, we suggest that you use the following template when responding to the fourth speaking task:
|Main idea of the lecture
Detail #1 from lecture
Detail #2 from lecture
Detail #3 from lecture
Detail #4 from lecture (if any)
Take ‘good’ notes
Since the integrated speaking tasks require you to summarize the information presented in a reading passage and/or listening audio, you need to make ‘good’ notes within the time allotted for you. So, you need to be strategic when you take notes. Don’t jot down everything you read or hear word for word; instead, jot down keywords or phrases that will remind you of what you want to say. Also, try to draw connections between ideas when you take notes. You can do this through the use of arrows. While making notes, ensure that you include all the important points discussed in the reading passage and/or listening audio, and make certain that the points you jot down are accurate.
While responding to a speaking task, try to keep your answers simple. Don’t over-explain. This is especially true in the case of an Integrated speaking task where you might feel like including each and every point made in the passage, lecture, and/or conversation. Instead of repeating verbatim what the reading passage or listening audio says, try to paraphrase the ideas. This will ensure that you can complete your response within the stipulated time—all the while ensuring that your pace is natural and consistent. Remember, the raters scoring your response want to hear you speaking, not reading aloud.
Commit some Useful Expressions to Memory
Just like with the independent speaking task, it would be a good idea to memorize some phrases that you could use in your responses to the integrated speaking task questions. Some phrases you could use in your response to convey someone’s opinions are: “This person believes that”, “This person holds that”, “This person argues that”, “This person’s view is that”, “This person’s point is that”, “The lecture stated”, “The reading stated”, “The reading presented”, and “The lecture offered”. In addition to this, try to learn a minimum of two new words (including spelling, pronunciation, meaning) every day. This will help you in all sections of the TOEFL exam. Vocabulary.com is a helpful website that you can use to build your vocabulary.
As we mentioned earlier, constant practice is the best way to get a good score in your exam. While practicing using sample TOEFL questions is the best way to help you prepare for the speaking section, it’s not the only way. You can also practice the necessary skills while performing your day-to-day activities. For example, you could improve your note-making skills by making notes during class lectures and while reading your course textbook. You can, then, improve your speaking skills by summarizing (and synthesizing) what you learned from the lecture and textbook.
TOEFL Speaking - FAQs
How will my speaking attempts be scored?
Each of your responses is scored out of 4 by a combination of AI-scoring technology and human raters. The raw scores are then converted to scaled scores of 0 to 30.
Since there will be a lot of students who take the TOEFL along with me, won’t I get distracted if everyone is speaking at once?
You need not worry about external distractions. You will be provided with noise-reducing headphones (with an in-built microphone) for the listening and speaking section.
For the TOEFL Independent speaking section, should I speak for the entire 45 seconds?
Try to speak for at least 40 seconds. If you finish your answer before then, see if you can include any additional information that would help develop your response more fully. Avoid repeating what you have already said. Timing yourself when practicing the speaking tasks should help you familiarize yourself with the time allowances.
What happens if I don’t have enough time to complete my answer?
When practicing for the speaking section, time yourself to get a rough understanding of how much information you can convey within the stipulated time. But, if you do run out of time before you say everything you have planned to say, avoid panicking and speaking at an unnaturally rapid pace. After all, how clearly and coherently you convey information is as important as how much information you convey.
Will I lose marks because of my accent and/or pronunciation?
You will not lose marks because of your accent or occasional pronunciation mistakes, unless they interfere with the intelligibility of your response.