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Don't miss: Useful tips to crack the TOEFL

Last updated on: November 3, 2011 14:33 IST

Don't miss: Useful tips to crack the TOEFL



New Delhi born Ajay Kumar writes about how his life changed post writing the TOEFL exam. Today, he is employed with ETS, the creator of the TOEFL test and helps students prepare for the exam. Read on.

It has been a long journey from New Delhi to New Jersey; a great trip that kicked off with the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and still continues!

After completing my undergraduate studies at the Delhi Institute of Technology, I wanted to have an international experience and study abroad to meet my educational aspirations.

I appeared for the TOEFL since most international universities accept the test, including New York University, where I completed my Masters of Business Administration degree in Finance. Interestingly enough, I now work at Educational Testing Service (ETS), the creator of the TOEFL test, at the headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey!

While visiting my family in India or speaking with my sister who is a teacher in Delhi, I frequently hear that the TOEFL iBT (Internet based test) Speaking section is the most challenging section of the test.

As an ETS employee who can relate to the students preparing for the TOEFL test, I thought it might be helpful to summarise what the TOEFL Speaking section measures and share the numerous resources available to assist fellow students.


The TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

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In short, the TOEFL test measures a test taker's ability to use and understand English at the university level. It measures the four skills students need to succeed in an academic environment: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The TOEFL iBT Speaking section evaluates the ability to speak clearly and effectively as needed in an academic setting. The speaking section score ranges from 0−30, with 30 being the highest possible score.

Test takers' spoken responses are evaluated on the delivery (speech samples that are clear, contain good pronunciation and natural pacing); language use (effective and appropriate use of grammar and vocabulary); and topic development (answers that fully address the question in a coherent manner).

To produce a fair and objective score for every test taker, spoken responses are rated by various highly skilled raters. It is important to note that raters are aware of the many varieties of English that are spoken around the world.

Test takers are given 20 minutes to complete six speaking questions that demonstrate their ability to communicate in English. The first two questions are called Independent Speaking Questions. The first questions will require you to develop and clearly articulate a response discussing a person, object, experience or opinion.

Within these responses, you will be asked to describe a topic and provide supporting reasons to explain your answer. For example, you may be asked to name a person who had a positive influence on your life and explain how this person influenced you.

The second Independent Speaking Question will present two possible opinions or situations. You will be asked to state a preference for an opinion and support your response with examples and details.

The remaining four questions, which are called Integrated Speaking Questions, ask you to combine or integrate various English skills (for example, reading and speaking). Within this section, you may listen to a conversation or lecture via your headphones and be asked a question about what you heard, or you may be asked to read a passage first, then listen to a lecture or conversation and then answer a question based on what you heard and read.

There are two sets of scoring guides (called rubrics), one for the independent speaking questions and another for integrated speaking questions. The scoring rubrics are available at

Rubrics are published for students so they know exactly what they are being evaluated on.

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How you can prepare for the TOEFL

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Practice, Practice, Practice: The saying is true, the more you practice, the better you will do.

I found that developing a study calendar was very helpful to ensure that I dedicated ample study time in my busy schedule. I also found it more motivating and enjoyable to study with a friend. You will want to find the most effective study techniques that work for you and dedicate adequate time to practice your English skills accordingly. Set study goals!

For the Speaking Section

I would use a digital voice recorder and record myself answering a sample TOEFL Speaking question. I would then play back the recording so I could hear my response. Like many, I had a tendency to speak quickly, especially when I get nervous. 

Hearing my recording helped me to slow my speech down, allowing me to focus on clear pronunciation. I also enjoyed watching American television and videos to develop a better understanding for pronunciation, idioms, and appropriate pacing of the delivery of the English language.

These are some strategies that helped me, but each test taker is unique. Find the study strategies that work best for you.

It is important that test takers know they are not penalised for accents, a commonly asked question.

Practice in similar testing conditions

Whenever possible, I found it helpful to practice and study in a similar format to that of the testing environment. A few tips that you may find beneficial:

Time Yourself

For each speaking task, you are given 15-30 seconds to prepare your response and then 45 to 60 seconds to provide your answer.

I found it helpful to have a friend ask me similar types of questions that would be asked on the test, such as explaining a special place or defending an opinion. Since I got familiar with the testing format, I would take a few seconds to think through my answer and then provide a response in the allotted time. Following the testing format helped me to become more familiar with the process and confident on test day.

What is really important to remember, is that practicing for the test is also practicing for the future. In a classroom, if a professor asks a question, you don't receive preparation time at all. The same is true in a job setting. So practicing speaking spontaneously for the test will also help you in the future.

Benefit from the official TOEFL resources

My colleagues continue to develop new ways to assist students in making the testing process easier. Some new resources that were not available when I took the test, but are now available to help you, include:

The TOEFL Go Anywhere website ( which offers free sample questions, provides access to registration, and links students to the more than 8,000 institutions around the world that accept the TOEFL test.

The "Welcome to the TOEFL iBT Testing Site" video, available at, may also be helpful in becoming more comfortable with the testing experience.

The TOEFL Journey Program available on the above website is a new online tool that helps students plan for their educational journey. It provides useful study tips through the website, as well as through text messages and email alerts.

TOEFL Test Taker Resources Video is a new nine-minute video, available at that shows students the many resources the TOEFL Program has to offer as they prepare for the test and studying abroad.

The TOEFL customer care

Among the new tools launched specifically aimed at Indian students include the Customer Call Center for Indian Students. So, if you have questions about preparing for the test, the recently launched TOEFL India Customer Support Center is here to help. Assistance is available through phone, Monday–Friday from 9 a.m. 𔃃 p.m., India Standard Time, at 000-800-100-3780 (toll-free) or by email at

Succeeding on the TOEFL test is an important part of the application process. Your hard work and dedication will be well worth it. Good luck with your studies and meeting your educational goals!

Image: Picture used for representation purpose only
Photographs: Courtesy: Integreon
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