TOEFL Speaking Section: Independent Task Strategies

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  • 0:01 Independent Tasks
  • 0:50 Preparing Your Response
  • 3:12 While You're Speaking
  • 4:50 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.

Get some tips for managing independent tasks on the TOEFL Speaking section. The open-ended prompts don't have to be scary if you know how to handle them!

Independent Tasks

On the TOEFL Speaking section, the two independent tasks ask you to respond to a prompt based on your personal experiences. You won't have to read or listen to any extra material; it's just you and the prompt. Most prompts will ask you to make some kind of choice - you'll either have to pick one side of a prompt or choose a topic to discuss in response to the prompt. Each independent task lasts 45 seconds, and you'll get 15 seconds before that to prepare your response.

Independent speaking tasks can be a little scary because there isn't a lot of structure to help you if you're stuck. How do you know if you're saying the right things? What if you freeze up and can't decide on your answer? Here are some tips for making it all work.

Preparing Your Response

Before you start speaking, you need to be smart about preparing your response - this can set you up for a great response or an awkward one. First, pick an answer to the prompt that's easy to discuss, regardless of what you truly believe. There are no right or wrong answers on the TOEFL Speaking section. You're graded on how well you make your point, not on what your point is. Whether you're picking one side of an issue or thinking of an experience to talk about, it doesn't matter what you choose as long as you can support it well. So make things easier for yourself and choose the answer that will be easiest for you to support, regardless of what you actually think.

You should basically be done picking a side or an experience to discuss as soon as you read the prompt. It doesn't matter, so don't get stuck on it. Next, come up with reasons that support your choice:

  • If you're choosing one side of a prompt, jot down one or two reasons why your side is correct. In other words, fill in the blank: I believe that (insert the position you took) because (give your support argument). You don't have to do this in complete sentences; you can use chatspeak or abbreviations, or any other method of writing that makes sense to you. Just be sure to do it in English.
  • If you're choosing an experience to discuss, jot down reasons why your experience is relevant to the prompt. For example, if the prompt asks you to describe a great vacation, you might talk about a fishing trip you took, and your reasons might be things like 'it was relaxing' or 'I got to spend a lot of time with my father.'

Order the reasons from best to worst - the best is number one, the second-best is number two, etc. Remember that the first thing you think of might not be your best reason. As you talk, you'll start with your best reason to make sure you get it in, and go down the list from there.

If you have any time left, write down any key words that you know you'll need to say in your response, especially words that you're worried about mispronouncing. If you're worried about getting tongue-tied, break the words down into syllables so you can read them right from the page.

While You're Speaking

Now comes the really nerve-wracking part: the actual speaking. You'll have your notes right there in front of you, so don't worry about forgetting what you were going to say. It doesn't matter if you forget it all out of nerves; you have your notes to remind you. When you speak, first state your answer to the prompt then state your reasons for picking it, starting with the reason marked number one in your notes.

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