A Brief Overview of the TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The following will serve as an introductory feeler for students who want to have a very basic overview of what is included in the TOEFL iBT speaking section.

The speaking section of the TOEFL iBT is the third part of the exam, coming directly after the 10-minute break you take after having completed the reading and listening section.

It runs for less time than the reading and listening sections, needing only 20 minutes to complete.

During these 20 minutes, you will be asked to complete 6 tasks.

During these tasks, you will be asked to listen to and read certain passages, and then you will need to speak about what you have heard.

The table below represents a basic structure of the TOEFL iBT exam:


SectionTime limitQuestionsTasks
Reading60-80 min.36-56Read 3 or 4 passages
Listening60-90 min.34-51Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations
Break10 min.
Speaking20 min.6 tasksExpress opinion on topics based on reading and listening tasks
Writing50 min.2 tasksWrite essay responses based on reading and listening tasks


3 Topic Themes for TEOFL iBT Speaking Component

You can expect to be talking about one of the following three themes:

  • Personal Experiences
  • Campus-based situations
  • Academic content


3 Things Speaking Raters Are Looking For

  • Good delivery including clarity of speech, fluidity, natural pacing and correct intonation patterns
  • Correct use of language showing a good grasp of grammar, vocabulary and speech structures
  • Topic development in which you are able to show a well-structured, organized response that effectively connects ideas with enough support for each point you are making.


The 6 Question Types You Will Be Asked

  • Question 1 will be a personal question in which you will be asked to describe something such as an important event, and to give reasons as to why the event was important, why the activity is one of your favourites, and how the event influenced you, etc.
  • Question 2 is similar to question 1, except that you will be asked to give your opinion on two possible situations, actions or opinions.

You will need to provide plenty of evidence for the position that you support.

  • Question 3 is integrated (i.e. combined) with other skills such as listening and reading in which you will be given 30 seconds to prepare your answer and 60 seconds to respond after having completed the listening and reading task.

For example, you will be given a short reading passage about a campus-related topic. After reading this passage, you will then listen to one or two people (usually two) discussing the same topic you have just read about. They will be expressing an opinion about a proposal (i.e. suggestion, offer), and you will be asked to identify what the opinion of one of the speakers is in regards to this proposal.

You will also be asked to identify the reasons for the speaker holding that opinion. 

  • Question 4 is also an integrated skills-based question in which you will be presented with a reading passage on an academic subject (i.e. science, social science, physical science, and the humanities) followed up by a lecture by a professor who will speak briefly about the same subject from the reading passage.

You will then be asked a question and you will be given 60 seconds to respond to this question. 

The key to questions 3 and 4 is to be able to integrate (i.e. combine) what you have read and heard, and then effectively communicate your points thereby integrating all three of these skills; reading, listening and speaking.

  • Question 5 involves listening to a short conversation about a campus related situations such as as scheduling conflicts, unavoidable absences, unavailable resources, student elections, and financial difficulties.

The conversation will have two people discussing a certain problem related to these types of subjects and possible solutions to the problem.

After you listen to the conversation, you will be asked to briefly describe the situation that was discussed in the conversation. You will have 60 seconds in which to give your spoken response.

When giving your response, you will first need to describe the problem that the speakers are discussing, and then state which of the two solutions you prefer, and finally to explain why you prefer that solution.

  • Question number 6 will once again be based on an academic subject (i.e. science, social science, physical science, and the humanities) presented in a brief excerpt by a professor in which he will define a concept (i.e. view, theory, idea), highlight an issue or introduce a phenomenon (i.e. trending thing or occurrence), and will then go on to discuss important details of the topic.

You will then have 60 seconds to give your spoken response.

The topics for this question are drawn from a variety of fields within the life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences, and humanities.