TOEFL iBT Speaking

Is TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Just About Fluency?

The ability to speak the English language coherently and eloquently is a vital skill. And just like any other skill, you need to practice to improve your speaking abilities.

In a globalised world, one cannot stress enough the importance of learning the English language. English, after all, is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

As a universal language, English can take you to destinations, far and wide, and potentially open up better professional opportunities that you probably did not know existed. Pursuing a graduate degree in an English-speaking university is one such remarkable opportunity.

However, non-native English students seeking admission to  universities abroad are required to take TOEFL iBT to demonstrate their proficiency in the English language.

TOEFL iBT is a standardised English language test used in more than 130 countries, including the United States. Over 10,000 colleges and universities in the world use TOEFL iBT for evaluating foreign students’ English understanding and usage levels.

Although TOEFL was launched as a paper-based test, it is now conducted online. The 4.5-hour test is divided into four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing.

Each section consists of different tasks, but the end goal is the same, i.e. to determine an individual’s English language skills. TOEFL iBT is scored between 0-120, with each section rated from 0 to 30 points.

General Breakdown

MicThe speaking section is the shortest section of the test. However, it can often be the hardest part of TOEFL. Test takers have 20 minutes to complete 6 speaking tasks. Broadly speaking, they are required to clearly express an opinion on an independent topic and integrated topics. The primary difference between independent and integrated questions lies in familiarity.

For completing independent tasks, you will have to express your thoughts, opinion and ideas on a fresh topic.

The first 2 tasks in the speaking section are known as independent tasks. Thereafter, you will address questions related to an academic text and audio recording for completing integrated tasks.

What makes the TOEFL speaking section difficult is the fact that test takers only have 20 minutes to complete all the tasks.

The speaking section includes 3 types of question formats. Although 20 minutes is the total time duration of speaking section, test takers get a few sections to prepare their answers and speak into a microphone.

Candidates must also read academic content and listen to an audio recording within seconds for completing the integrated tasks. All this reading, listening, taking notes and preparing responses in limited time can make anyone nervous.

Unlike other standardised tests, test takers must speak into a microphone and not talk directly to an examiner. If you are not prepared, you might find the experience a bit stressful.

The section’s score range is as follows:

26-30 – Good

18-25 – Fair

10-17 – Limited

0-9 – Weak

Each question on the speaking section has a 0-4 score range. The total score is calculated out of 30.

In order to get a good score in the TOEFL speaking section, it is important that you score at least 3 / 4 for all the 6 tasks. Multiple raters, assigned by the ETS, evaluate a candidate’s responses to ensure consistent, fair results.


The TOEFL iBT speaking section is designed to determine if a test taker has the oral proficiency necessary to communicate effectively and flourish in an English-speaking university.

Does the section only focus on a candidate’s fluency in the English language?  The reality is that the section aims to comprehend a non-native English student’s communication, comprehension and cognitive skills.

CommunicationIndependent and integrated tasks are designed to evaluate your ability to communicate clearly, naturally and intelligently.

The first two independent tasks require candidates to express their views on a general academic topic. You can express your opinion with reasoning and examples.


Meanwhile, the remaining questions check a candidate’s reading, listening and speaking skills. The responses should be expressed in a clear, organised manner, with consistent pace and effective usage of words.

If you think you will get additional points for using complicated words, you are wrong. Your responses should make sense.

Speaking raters generally focus on these essential factors when grading responses:

  • Speech delivery: This includes your tone, flow, pronunciation, pace and intonation. Speak clearly in your natural accent. Do not mumble. Do not speak too slow or too fast. Try to maintain a natural rhythm. Remember to pause between sentences. Do not hesitate to show some emotions and speak at a slightly louder volume.


  • Language Usage: Use proper grammar and vocabulary to express your thoughts.


  • Topic Development: Your speech should flow and connect naturally. Collect your thoughts before speaking. Focus on two to three points but try to be detailed.

How to Get a High Score

As mentioned earlier, many test takers struggle in the speaking section due to lack of time. Below are some simple, effective ways to ace the speaking section:

  • Keep an eye on the clock: Keeping track of time and attempting questions simultaneously can be stressful. But, practice TOEFL speaking exercises at home so that you get the hang of it.


  • Focus: Do not look here and there. Stay focused. If you cannot concentrate, cover your ears and close your eyes for a few seconds to clear your head.


  • Take notes: As you attempt each task, jot down quick notes so that you do not forget any important information.


  • Keep talking: If you run out of things to say, do not stay quiet. Test takers have a few seconds to give their answers. If you do not say anything, you will not get any marks. You may elaborate upon a major point or come up with a conclusion.


  • Simple language:  Instead of using difficult words whose meanings you do not know, stick to simple language.


For more tips and tricks on getting a good TOEFL iBT score, visit online TOEFL prep guide uMasterExam.

uMasterExam is a convenient online platform for TOEFL preparation. From textbooks and preparation courses to practice tests and tutors, it features all the resources you need to pass TOEFL iBT.

Lisa Scholfield

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