An important pre-requisite for a student who aspires to study in the US, UK or many of the European countries, is to be a fluent speaker in the English language. The Speaking module in the TOEFL is designed to test this ability in the aspiring candidates. If you wish to study, live, work and lead life in an environment where English is the chief and quite possibly, the only language of communication, then undoubtedly you need to prove your fluency in the English language. So, in short, The TOEFL speaking module is a key step in your journey to study in an English-speaking country.
The speaking section of TOEFL is about 20 minutes long and measures your ability to communicate in English on a variety of topics. There are six tasks in this section and are of two different types – independent and integrated. Each of the questions is scored on a scale of 0-4. Your total score is then scaled to a value out of 30. For a good score, you must aim to score at least 3 out of 4 on most of these 6 speaking tasks.
The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks in which questions are asked based on your knowledge and personal experience: The first speaking question will ask you to describe something – a place, a person, an object or an event in your life, in detail. For example, “An event in your life that made you very happy”.
The second independent task is based on your personal likes and dislikes and opinions about various things. For example – “Some people prefer to live in a cool climate while others prefer to live in a hot climate. If you had the choice, where would you prefer to live and why?” Remember that there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. You need to express your opinion and justify it with a convincing argument.
Note that you have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak for both these tasks. Therefore, you wouldn’t have time to write detailed notes and should quickly be able to jot down an outline on what your answer will be and should include the details while you are speaking your response.
The Independent tasks are followed by four Integrated Speaking Tasks, a bit more complex than the Independent tasks. These are called “integrated” because you are required to read a passage and/or listen to a talk before speaking out your response. In the first two tasks, you are given a short Reading Passage which takes about 2-3 minutes to read and is immediately followed by an audio clip on the same topic for about 2 minutes. You are given 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak for these two tasks. The question asked at the end of this task requires you to integrate the information that you have gathered from the passage and the audio clip.
In the first task, the passage is generally basis some aspect of campus life, such as a change to a university’s policies, rules or procedures or about some program on campus. The short talk generally involves 2 people discussing the passage with one speaker expressing a strong opinion and his/her reasons. The question at the end could ask you the opinion of one or both of the speakers and the reasons for their views. The second task in this format is similar to first task, but the passage and talk are basis an academic topic. The topic could be anything related to Sciences, Arts or Humanities. The talk generally is in the form of a monologue.
Each of the last two tasks requires you to watch a clipping (60 to 90 seconds in duration), allows you 20 seconds to prepare and provides 60 seconds to speak. As in the previous case, one of the clippings is based on an informal conversation between two speakers and features usually two students or a student and a faculty member discussing everyday conflicts at University like schedule conflicts or financial issues. The second clipping is usually an academic lecture by a professor. You are generally required to identify the problem/issue that is being discussed and different viewpoints of the two speakers (in the third task) or the core summary of the lecture (in the last task).
Please note that your speaking responses are scored on 3 factors: delivery, language use and topic development. Delivery defines how well do you speak – do you speak with clarity and without too many breaks and pauses? Does it sound natural? Your pace also can’t be too fast or too slow. The effective usage of any language involves using the right vocabulary and speaking sentences that are grammatically perfect. Topic development refers to how well you answered the question. Is your answer coherent? The flow should be smooth and should go from one idea to the next logically. Though the Speaking Section is the one that gives many a student jitters, a bit of practice and awareness of the kinds of tasks you would face can allow you to face this section with ease and score high.
How to prepare for Speaking Module
1. Remember, you do not need to give a lengthy speech, or talk in front of an audience. You just need to develop the ability to speak into a microphone for about a minute.
2. Make sure that you don’t deviate from the topic at hand.
3. Practice answering questions spontaneously on topics like weather, sports, health, celebrations etc.
4. Learn to read and listen critically and practice to identify the major ideas or the summary of the passage/conversation.
5. Plan and structure your answer quickly before you start speaking. 15 to 20 seconds is not much but try to build a structure before you start to speak.
6. Build your vocabulary. Search out, study, memorize, and use new vocabulary. Use synonyms to demonstrate that your language has a good range and is not repetitive or limited.
And most important, just talk, talk and talk. An easy way to improve your speaking skills is by talking frequently to someone in English, of course, on various general topics.
— Lata Sundararajan, Verbal Expert at Conduira Online