6 Great Tips for TOEFL Speaking Success

Do you want to succeed on the TOEFL speaking exam?

Perhaps you’ve already been getting ready for the test by expanding your English vocabulary and reading about how to speak English more fluently.

But what else can you do to prepare for both the informal and academic questions that are found on the TOEFL speaking?

Here are six great tips that will help you succeed in the TOEFL speaking exam.

6 Great Tips for TOEFL Speaking Success

1. Practice summarizing

One part of the TOEFL exam involves reading a passage on a particular topic. After you have read the text, you will then listen to a person speaking about the same passage. After you have listened and taken notes, you will be asked to paraphrase all of the information that you both read and heard.

Paraphrase (V): To put information into your own words.

A great way to practice for this on your own is to read short articles (preferably scientific or academic articles) and summarize them verbally (by speaking). Ask one of your friends, teachers or a family member to help you. Make sure you use only the key points and put it into your own words.

You will be expected to make comparisons and relate the written text to the dialog that you heard. Some great phrases and words for summarizing are:

All in all…

On the whole…

Generally speaking…

The three phrases above all mean “in conclusion”. However, please note the difference between spoken English and written English here, since the phrase “in conclusion” is mainly used in writing.

Example: Generally speaking, the article and the radio piece was about the effect humans have on their environments…

2. Grab a pen and take notes

You will do the same as in the first step, but using an audio clip instead of a short article. Go online and search for recorded lectures, talks, podcasts and newscasts that are about two minutes long. As you listen to them, take notes about the main arguments and listen for any differences from the written text. Then, using these notes, speak a summary of the audio, making sure to relate it to the article.

3. Don’t overuse phrasal verbs

All English examinations love phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are not really appropriate in the written TOEFL exam because they are somewhat informal; however, they are acceptable in the speaking exam since speaking is more informal. The key is being able to use phrasal verbs correctly without overusing them.

In the first part of the exam you will be asked a few warm-up questions that relate to you. A warm-up question might be: Describe your typical day.

Now compare the following dialog that is stuffed (full) of phrasal verbs to the second example that also uses phrasal verbs, but not too many.

Bad Example: (It uses too many phrasal verbs and there is no flow when you speak).

My typical day starts when my alarm goes off at 6am. I roll over and turn it off and fall back asleep for about 20 minutes and it goes off again and I know it’s time for me to wake up and get up. I really don’t like getting up so early, but I have to because I have to set off for work at 7.30. I get on my train at about 7.35 and I get into my office at 8am. I am working as a secretary for a lawyer. Usually I have to pick up the phone all day and take my boss’s calls. I take down all the notes from the meetings and I carry out a lot of boring tasks. I finally get to leave at 5pm, but I always have to wait for the train.  I don’t have time for cooking so I usually just heat up some soup or make something easy like toast.

Good Example: It uses phrasal verbs, but not too many, and it’s easy to say and sounds more natural.

Well, my typical day begins when my alarm clock goes off. I really find it difficult getting out of bed and I usually lie there for about 20 minutes or so until I have to get up. The only reason why I’m awake so early is because I need to leave for work at 7.30. I catch my train at 7.35 and I usually arrive at my office at around 8am…

4. Record yourself speaking

When you practice your English speaking for any spoken exam, you should try and record yourself if possible. If you don’t have the equipment to record yourself at home, don’t worry! The web has great resources to record temporary files, so there are no excuses.

Don’t keep recording and re-recording yourself, though. It’s a waste of time, and you really need to see what kind of mistakes you make naturally – not in an unrealistic or scripted setting. Listen carefully to the phrases you use, your pronunciation and the tone of your voice. I know it can be quite awful to listen to your own recorded voice sometimes, but this activity is really going to help you fine-tune (perfect) your spoken English skills.

5. Use a variety of verb tenses

Always make sure you read and listen to your question. The great thing about the TOEFL exam is that you will have the question written in front of you to refer to as well. This will help you choose which verb tense you should be using. Many students choose incorrectly in questions 1 and 2 when they are asked to talk about familiar topics. These students think that because the task is to talk about themselves, they automatically assume that the present simple is needed.

Look at the following question for part 1:

Describe a skill you have that will be important for your success in the modern world, and explain why this skill is important. Include details and examples to support your explanation.

First of all, you need to break this question down.

How many things is it asking you to do? (It’s more than one!)

The question actually has four parts!

1. What is the skill? Since it’s a general comment, you will need the present simple.

2. How will it help you succeed in the modern world? Here you’re talking about the effect in the future, so you will need to use the future simple.

3. Why is this skill important? This is a general statement and it needs to use the present simple.

4. What are some examples? These could include a mixture of tenses. If you can think of someone you know or a well-known person who has these skills and is successful, you will either use the past simple or the present perfect tense. If you are talking about general facts, you will use the present simple. If you are hypothesizing (guessing about the future), you will use “would” or “could”.

Generally speaking, examiners are looking for a range of grammar and vocabulary when you speak. So if you’re looking to score maximum points, try to use a variety of tenses when you speak and also consider what they are asking you.

6. Keep it short and sweet

One of the biggest mistakes non-native English speakers make in speaking tests is that they answer the question by stating the question again first. This is incorrect for two reasons. First of all, it’s a waste of time to state the question when it has already been said, especially since you have limited time. Secondly, it’s not natural. Think about it, would you ever do this in your own language? Compare the two beginnings of each response:

Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Bad example: I see myself working in a law firm in downtown LA in ten years time. Perhaps I will have started a family by then…

Good example: Working in a law firm in downtown LA. Maybe I will have even started a family…


Generally, the TOEFL speaking exam is not difficult, and like they say, practice makes perfect! So grab some friends who speak English well and start practicing with them. All you need to do is go over past exam papers and remember the above six tips. And as always, stay calm and think before you speak.

Good luck!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe