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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
Instructor: Matthew Hamel

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

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.

International Speaking Exams

Currently, advanced or older students may take one of two universally recognized and accepted English language assessments outside of class. These assessments are typically used for university admissions and may be required by employers hiring non-native English speakers. In this lesson, only the IELTS exam will be discussed because the TOEFL speaking exam is computer based and relies on recorded questions very similar to the teacher-administered questions in the previous section.

The IELTS is a 2 hour, 45-minute comprehension exam that has both academic and general versions and includes speaking, reading, writing, and listening exams. The IELTS speaking exam is divided into three sections and is administered one on one by a live examiner.

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