How TOEFL Tests Your Speaking Skills

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The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is one of the most popular tests, along with IELTS, that is required for admission to MBA and Master’s programmers. It checks the level of your speaking skills along with listening comprehension, grammar, writing and reading comprehension. Let’s see how this is done.

Which TOEFL format tests speaking skills?

TOEFL is delivered in several formats – a paper-based test (PBT) and an Internet-based test (iBT). The speaking section is available only on the iBT TOEFL. The iBT TOEFL is the more accessible test internationally. It is offered over 50 times a year throughout the world.

Where can you take an iBT TOEFL?

Although the name of the format – iBT – suggests that it is done via the Internet, iBT TOEFL is administered in testing centres authorised by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). This means, that you cannot do the test from home or elsewhere. You should register in advance and select a test centre where you will take the test on the date you booked during registration. The test is done on a computer.

What is the Speaking section?

The iBT TOEFL has four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing). It is over 3 hours long with just one break of 10 minutes after section 2. The Speaking Section comes third and it starts immediately after the break.

You will have 20 minutes to complete 6 tasks which evaluate your speaking skills. There are three types of tasks – reading texts and replying to questions 1 and 2, reading texts and listening to talks on the same topic and replying to questions 3 and 4, and listening to conversations and lectures and replying to questions 5 and 6.

How are your responses evaluated?

For the speaking section you will use headphones and a microphone. When you speak, your responses are recorded. Your responses are then scored on your ability to accurately convey information, and to speak clearly and coherently.

For each of the six tasks, you have time to prepare your response and time to speak. You can take notes and use them when you speak. For questions 1 and 2, preparation time is limited to 15 seconds and the response time is 45 seconds. For questions 3 and 4, you have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to reply, and respectively – 20 and 60 seconds for preparation and response to questions 5 and 6.

Practical considerations

Some test-takers feel uncomfortable to talk “to the computer” without any real interaction. It is good to practice getting used to this setting. Another embarrassing factor is that test-takers often get distracted by the hearing the voices of the rest of the test takers in the centre. So you should practice keeping your concentration despite the circumstances. It is also a good idea to check how the IELTS tests your speaking skills, before you select which test to take in order to perform at your best.

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7 thoughts on “How TOEFL Tests Your Speaking Skills”

  1. This information has been most helpful. One of my son’s friends is preparing to take the TOEFL iBT speaking test. I think that what your suggestion to practice speaking to the computer will be very beneficial to him.

  2. I think it is really great that the iBT TOEFL has different sections, for things like writing and reading, but also speaking. I have a friend from out of the country that wants to take this test, but he is really concerned about the speaking portion. I think it would be really good for him to practice a bit more and try to study harder. Since the speaking portion has a fairly short amount of time, I will be sure to tell him that he should practice often to be sure that he can get through all 6 tasks without feeling rushed.

    1. HI Julie,

      Please, do encourage him to practice. Fluency in all four language skills – speaking, writing, reading, listening – is really important so that he can be successful during his studies in any programme taught in English.


  3. Your comments about TOEFL iBT, were interesting. I didn’t know that the test was required for an MBA. That is great information to know. Can you find TOEFL iBT speaking practice videos online or at a library? Thanks for sharing your comments.

  4. It’s actually really interesting to hear how a TOEFL test evaluates your speaking abilities. Limiting the time for preparation and responses like that would definitely help to get a more accurate representation of someone’s abilities. Though, I imagine it could be difficult to make conclusions on limited responses like that. It’d be interesting to see the results that different people receive after taking the test.

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