Speaking Test Sample Questions for ESL Students

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  • 0:00 Background on Speaking Tests
  • 0:33 Teacher-Administered…
  • 3:20 International Speaking Exams
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

For many English as a Second Language (ESL) students, the ability to speak and understand English is the primary goal of their language study. In this lesson, teachers will learn a variety of speaking test questions and formats for assessing students.

Background on Speaking Tests

This lesson will introduce the two primary ways to assess the English speaking abilities of your students. The first and easiest method is through questions you ask in either a relaxed in-class or exam setting. The second method is for students to take an outside, official, widely accepted international language assessment like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Teacher-Administered Speaking Tests

A teacher-administered speaking test is generally preferable for younger and lower-level students, or those who don't have access to an IELTS or TOEFL testing location. When giving a speaking test, it's important to pay attention to the English fluency level of the answer, and not necessarily the difficulty of the question. Here's a look at how a beginner ESL student and an advanced ESL student might answer the same questions.

  • Teacher: What's your favorite sport?
  • Student 1: Basketball.
  • Teacher: What's your favorite sport?
  • Student 2: That's an interesting question. When I was younger, my favorite sport was swimming, but now I prefer basketball.

Notice how the second student acknowledged the question and then provided context for his answer? This example is intended to show how asking a difficult question is not always the best way to accurately assess a student's speaking ability. With that in mind, here is a list of sample questions you can use when personally assessing the speaking ability of your students.

In-class Speaking Test Questions

  1. Where is your hometown? Can you describe it for me?
  2. How did you travel to school today?
  3. What do you like to do in your free time?
  4. Why are you studying English?
  5. What is your favorite subject in school?
  6. What is your least favorite subject in school?
  7. Can you briefly describe the plot of the last movie you saw?
  8. Describe your dream house.
  9. Where is a place you have never been but would like to visit?
  10. Tell me about a time you took a long car trip.
  11. What do you think you will be doing ten years from now?
  12. How would your best friend describe you?
  13. Are there any sports you would like to try for the first time?
  14. What is your favorite holiday?
  15. Talk about the best restaurant you ever went to.
  16. Is it easy for you to lend your things to others?
  17. How would you settle a disagreement between your friends?
  18. Would you adopt a stray dog or cat?
  19. Tell me about a special photograph in your home.
  20. What is your happiest childhood memory?

When students are answering these questions, it's important for them to elaborate. One-word or yes/no answers are unacceptable. No one expects ESL students to speak perfectly, but they should be easily understood. The goal of a speaking test is to assess comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and fluency. A few errors are to be expected and should only negatively affect a speaking score if the error hinders understanding and communication.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts

Lesson Plan Prompt 1:

Create a lesson plan for conducting a teacher-administered speaking test. Before you begin jotting down your questions, describe in a paragraph or two when a teacher-administered speaking test is appropriate and desirable. When writing about this, consider the age group of your prospective students and the varying levels of English fluency they may have. Also consider the location of the test. Next, write down a list of 20 questions you will be asking in your teacher-administered speaking test.

Example: How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn't know you?

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay that explains why asking a difficult question may not be the best way to assess a student's language skills in a teacher-administered speaking test. Tip: Refer to the example about basketball provided in the lesson under 'Teacher-Administered Speaking Tests'.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay that describes the goals of conducting a teacher-administered speaking test.

Example: Explain that the goal is not to assess whether a student speaks perfectly or not, and that, in fact, students are expected to make mistakes. The goals of the speaking test are to gauge the fluency and pronunciation skills of the speaker, as well as their grammatical, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

Poster Prompt 1:

Create a poster or other type of graphic organizer that showcases the components of the IELTS test. Provide a sample question for each section of the test.

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