How to Take Notes for the TOEFL Speaking Tasks

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  • 0:01 Speaking Tasks
  • 1:08 Taking Notes on Passages
  • 2:57 Planning Your Response
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Taking good notes for the speaking tasks on the TOEFL can make all the difference to your score. Get some tips and tricks for both the independent and the integrated tasks here!

Speaking Tasks

On the TOEFL, you'll have to take notes on two different kinds of speaking tasks.

Independent tasks ask you to respond to a question based on your own experiences or opinions. On these tasks, your notes will help you organize your response and remember your talking points, so you make sure you cover everything you wanted to discuss.

Integrated tasks give you a listening passage or a listening passage plus a reading passage and ask you to respond to the material you heard or read. On the test, you'll get two with just a listening passage and two with a reading passage, as well as the listening.

On all the integrated tasks, you'll use notes in two ways. First, you'll be able to take notes while you listen and read to help you remember the material as you plan and speak. Second, you'll also be able to use notes the same way you do in the independent tasks to help you plan your response. In this lesson, you'll get some tips and strategies for making the most of your note-taking time.

Taking Notes on Passages

You'll only get outside material to take notes on for the integrated tasks, but these are four of the six speaking tasks on the TOEFL, so they're worth practicing for. In some integrated tasks, you'll get a listening passage only; in others, you'll get a listening and a reading passage. And for both kinds, taking proper notes can help you a lot when it's time to respond.

As you are listening and reading, don't try to write down every word. Instead, write down important key words or major points and show relationships between them with arrows, symbols, bullet points, or outline structure.

Here are some other tips and hints for taking effective notes:

  • If it helps you save time, do use smiley faces, abbreviations, chatspeak, slang, or any other shorthand that works for you. Nobody else will read your notes, and you won't be graded on them, so as long as you know what you meant, it's all good.
  • Don't write your notes in another language. You'll need to refer to them while speaking English. If you write in your native language, you're very likely to just get confused.
  • For listening passages, listen for words that are stressed, words that are repeated often, or parts of the passage where the speaker slows down - these typically indicate important information.
  • If you have both a reading and a listening passage, pay attention to key words that pop up in both. This will give you an idea of what kinds of themes the prompt will touch on.

Using these tips will help you take clearer and more useful notes to help yourself plan your response and support it with evidence from the text.

Planning Your Response

Now, let's move on to the second kind of note taking you'll need to do on the TOEFL: planning and outlining your response so you have a rough sketch of what you'll be saying. You'll have 15 seconds to do this on the independent tasks, and 20-30 seconds on the integrated tasks, so it's important to work fast.

The purpose of this outline is not to write down every single thing you'll be saying. It's to briefly cover the main ideas you want to touch on. Don't write complete sentences. Instead, write an outline that looks something like one of these models:

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