Common TOEFL Speaking Topics
- November 26, 2016
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Because the goal of the TOEFL is to test fluency, students are not provided with speaking topics in advance. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t familiarize yourself with the kinds of things that are commonly included on the test.
The speaking portion of the test is divided into six sections. The first two involve independent speaking tasks. You will be given a topic and a short time to prepare, and you will then speak about that topic. The other four sections of the test involve integrated speaking. You will listen to a brief recording as well as a conversation, and then have a short time to prepare before giving your response.
To prepare, you should practice speaking about a variety of topics. Here are some tips to help you do that.
Questions One and Two
The first two questions you will get will fall into one of two categories:
- Questions about your life and personal experiences, such as:
- What is your favorite book and why?
- Which person is your biggest inspiration? Why?
- Questions that require you to offer an opinion on the provided topic, such as:
- Voting in elections should be mandatory. Do you agree or disagree?
- Your friend needs some advice on how to lose weight. What would you tell her?
Both types of question require you to use English vocabulary and grammar to talk about yourself and your thoughts and feelings. A wide range of questions might fall into these categories, but you can practice by making lists of potential questions (or finding them online) and then responding to them.
Question three is the first integrated speaking question. It involves listening to a short announcement based on university life, and then listening to a brief dialogue between two students about the announcement. After that, you will be provided with a prompt and asked to speak about it.
Here are a few examples of what you might expect to hear:
- An announcement about a new university security policy, followed by two students arguing about its merits. You will be asked to talk about one student’s opinion of the policy and give their arguments for or against it.
- An announcement about a social event, followed by a conversation about the merits of the event. You will be asked a question about the conversation that includes explaining one student’s thoughts about the announcement.
You can use these two topics as a place to begin practicing, and then seek out additional topics online.
Many students consider question 4 to be the most difficult part of the speaking portion of the TOEFL. It consist of three parts:
- Reading a short academic passage explaining a concept (45 seconds)
- Listening to a brief lecture about the same topic
- After reading and listening, you will be provided with a prompt, usually following this format:
- Explain the topic described in the academic passage; and
- Talk about how the lecture demonstrated or illustrated that concept.
Some examples of concepts that might be included come from mathematics (symmetry), history (eminent domain), or psychology (flow). A good place to find potential prompts for this section of the text is to look at the glossary of a textbook. The key is to pick a concept that requires some explanation.
The fifth question in this section is the first one to contain no written section. You will be asked to listen to a brief conversation between two people. The conversation will consist of one person asking for advice about a problem, and the other offering several potential solutions.
After you have listened, you will be asked to restate the question, list the potential solutions, and then offer your opinion about which solution is best. Here are some samples of the kinds of problems that might be discussed:
- A student needs extra help with a class and is unsure of what to do
- A student did badly on a test and needs advice about how to talk to the professor
You can find practice prompts online. You may also be able to come up with some of your own by thinking about the problems that students face on campus.
The sixth and final question in the speaking section of the exam is an excerpt from a lecture. There is no reading section. You will have to listen to the lecture and take notes, and then respond to the prompt, which has to do with the topic of the lecture.
The lecture you will be asked to listen to may be about any topic that you might study in college. The question is meant to be difficult and will likely involve a topic that is new to you. Here are just a few examples to help you understand the types of things you might hear:
- A lecture about the cognitive bias known as Confirmation Bias.
- A lecture about pollution and what we can do about it
- A lecture about photosynthesis
Even if you end up with a lecture about a topic familiar to you, you should take notes and organize your thoughts before responding.
For all of the TOEFL questions, you can find additional examples of prompts and responses online. Practicing frequently will help you hone the skills necessary to do well on this part of the test.