The Speaking Section -Questions Part I – TOEFL-iBT® (2/3)

The Speaking Section -Questions Part I - TOEFL-iBT® (2/3)

This post is the second iteration focusing on the Speaking section of the TOEFL-iBT. If you haven’t read our previous post, then make sure you do by clicking here.

If you however just enjoyed that overview, then feel free to continue here to go to a more in-depth analysis of each of the 4 questions.

In this post, we will continue through all the questions, one by one with real-life examples, and some simple strategies on how to organize ourselves to better handle them.

Now, without further ado, we start.

Question 1. Familiar Topic

This is the first question we will find in this section. It has the tendency of being relatively easy compared to the rest, as it will ask about a familiar topic, as its name says.

Here we will split this question into its most elemental parts for us to understand.

Timing

As mentioned in our previous post, the timing for this question is the shortest one.

Here you will be allotted 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. This timing may seem a bit short, but with a bit of practice, it can be done.

Explanation

This question will ask you about your personal opinion on a specific topic. It will present you with 2 or 3 choices (4 choices is very strange) on a given topic and will ask you to choose one and to explain why you support this choice. 

You may be asked to agree or disagree, or to explain the advantages or disadvantages, or to select one as you preferred choice from the options offered.

Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong choices here. They will all fall down to personal choice. What they are looking for is for you to support your arguments well with good reasons and maybe examples.

Example

Here are a few prompts to help us understand the type of questions we may be presented with.

  • Some people prefer to live in areas with changing seasons, yet others prefer to live in areas where the seasons barely change. In which place do you prefer to live and why? 
  • Some schools require students to follow a specific dress code. Others allow a more casual or relaxed dress code. Which one would you prefer? Use examples and personal experiences to support your answer.
  • Some people like going on vacation to very popular and touristic places. Yet others prefer to go to more isolated and less crowded areas. Where would you prefer to go on vacation?

So we can see here that these prompt questions are relatively simple to answer if we make a quick decision.

However, the issue here is normally not selecting one option or another one, but being able to speak for 45 seconds about why we have chosen one option or the other.

And this is what we will review now.

We know that we are given 15 seconds to prepare and those seconds are golden and precious, so we need to organize our thoughts fully.

As we know, we will have access to paper and pencil during the whole length of the TOEFL-iBT, so we have to take advantage of this and organize our ideas in some small notes.

Here is one of the options from above to work on a real answer.

Prompt. Some people like going on vacation to very popular and touristic places. Yet others prefer to go to more isolated and less crowded areas. Where would you prefer to go on vacation?

Here we are given two choices, which is what we must first identify.

  1. To go to popular touristic areas.
  2. To go to more isolated and less crowded areas.

After this, we have to make a quick choice as to which option we wish to select. For this example, we will go with the first choice.

Once we´ve selected our choice, we must quickly think of 2 arguments to support it. Those arguments, need to have some substance as well, they cant be bland arguments.

So, when thinking of why to go to more touristic areas on vacation we can draw a number of reasons. For example, these places can be:

  • More popular
  • Have more things to visit
  • Have more interaction with people
  • You can find cool souvenirs
  • Are rich in culture and history
  • Have predetermined tour guides
  • Are of easy access
  • And many more…

However, we will not have time to support all of them, so we need quickly to select 2 of them which we feel we can support.

The first two – More popular, and Have more things to visit, are very similar. So we will merge them into one. 

The latter two – Have more interaction with people, and You can find cool souvenirs, can also be merged. And that is what we will do.

We need to create a good support for each of them in our notes. So here we will see what we can scribble in those 15 seconds.

R1 – Popular

  • places to visit
  • places to see/learn

R2 – More people

  • adventure
  • souvenier

This small scribbling can is all we will have time to write in those 15 seconds. It will be impossible to plan and write all the text we wish to say in 15 seconds.

Tip: We should always fully support whichever choice we select. Supporting one choice, then saying good things about the other choice may lead to confusion. So choose one and stick with that one when speaking.

From these short notes, all we have to do is to focus on connecting the ideas that we have and making sure to express ourselves in a fluid manner where we use decent vocabulary, in a fluid form.

Here is a sample answer:

In my opinion, I would rather visit a more touristic place for two main reasons.

Firstly, these places are popular. They must be so for a very good reason. They may be full of interesting places to visit, see, and learn where you can discover the local culture. You may visit museums, natural parks, restaurants and more. You can walk through interesting places and blend in.

Additionally, you´ll be able to find lots of different people from all over the country or even the world. The more variety of tourists, the more of local artists you may find, and with that, the possibility of finding some cool souvenirs. The more the merrier the saying goes. And with so many people you may make new friends, and have an excuse to visit them on your next vacation.

It takes about 45 seconds to read the sample answer above. Which is great. One thing we want to avoid in the recordings is long silences. Having long periods of silence can hurt your score, especially if they are about half the allotted time or longer. 

My recommendation is to avoid silences of over 5 seconds. Just stop reading for a moment, and count to five. That way you can feel how long it is.

Now pay attention to how this answer was developed with regards to the question that was asked. See any format?

The way that is best recommended for students to respond to this question is to follow a simple format, that is explained in the graph below.

Task

Approximate Time in Seconds

Your position

5

Reason 1: Argument/Support

20

Reason 2: Argument/Support

5

With this easy pattern, you can become better at tackling question 1 with relatively easy practice. As a challenge, it is good to practice with this question, but supporting other choices, that way you maximize your practice and preparation..

Tip: if when speaking, you see that you have very little left to say, and too much time left, then try to slow down a little bit and give a “conclusion” to your answer. E.G “And those are the reasons why I choose this option… It will buy you a few extra seconds of speech.

Question 2. Integrated 1

This is the second question we will get in the Speaking section of the TOEFL-iBT, and as its name declares, we have to integrate information.

This question is very similar to the third question, Integrated 2, and here we will discuss a bit about their similarities and differences.

Timing

This question is longer than the previous one, as in here we have to receive information which then has to be synthesized and integrated. Hence, they must give us extra time to prepare.

For this question, we are allotted some 30 seconds to prepare our answer, and 60 seconds to speak.

We can see that we are given double the time of the previous question to prepare. And this time will come in handy.

Explanation

During this question, we will be exposed to a short text of roughly 100 words in length. We will only be given 45 seconds to read this text, which may make things complicated for us.

We need to be accurate readers, to grasp the core message of what´s occurring.

So this text will refer to a modification of a rule or policy within the university. It may also be about a new rule/policy, an event, or anything occurring in the university premise.

For example, a new cafeteria plan, a dress code, library procedure, sports event, timetable, etc.

After we have read this, we will be presented with an audio of a conversation. This audio will be less than 2 minutes long and the conversation will be either between two students or a student and a staff/professor of the university.

During the conversation, the speakers will express their opinion of the announcement made in the text. They will mention a few reasons as to why they support or reject the text.

Tip: when taking notes here, keep in mind that it is impossible to write everything down, so try and capture the most relevant pieces of info. Search on how they support or reject and focus on the reasons they give.

After this, we are presented with the typical question. Which will read something like this:

The student expresses his opinion about the new change. Report his opinion and explain the reasons that he has for having that opinion.

So we understand that we need to report from the information that is predominantly from the conversation. However, we must always include information from the text as well, so that we effectively integrate the answer.

Let´s go to a more complete example to visualize things better.

Example

Here we will see a short text and then we will continue with the transcript for the audio.

Tip: We should always fully support whichever choice we select. Supporting one choice, then saying good things about the other choice may lead to confusion. So choose one and stick with that one when speaking.

Text:

Change in meal-plan.

Students are no longer required to purchase the standard meal plans offered by the cafeteria in order to accommodate the different dietary needs and preferences of all. From now on two additional plans will be added to accommodate a vegetarian and a vegan meal plan. These meals will be prepared in the new wing of the cafeteria kitchen in order to prevent animal-based ingredients mixups and contamination. The $4 addition to your monthly tuition will help fund the construction, staffing, and setup of the ingredients for these new alternatives.

Tip: When reading this text, don’t write, but rather try to understand the change that is occurring and the consequences mentioned.

Now we get to be presented with a short audio of a conversation about this new change in the university. Here we go.

Audio Transcript:

Student 1: Another raise in our tuition, can you believe it?

Student 2: I know, I feel this is the third one this year.

Student 1: The fourth actually. At least this is the smallest one so far. But it still seems unfair to do it.

Student 2: How so? This will help those who are vegetarian or vegans, it´s becoming more popular you know.

Student 1: Yes, I know it´s trending on campus, but what I mean is that the transition had already been taking place in the regular cafeteria menu.

Student 2: What do you mean?

Student 1: Well, I’m a vegetarian myself, and what I usually did was to grab those plates that didn’t have any meat in them. I´ve been doing this since last year when they started to let us pick the items we wanted.

Student 2: Oh, I see what you mean, you already had the liberty of choosing a vegetarian or vegan menu.

Student 1: My point exactly, and building a second kitchen in the already small cafeteria seems like a bad idea. 

Student 2: Yeah, it does get pretty tight in there. That´s why I prefer eating early.

Student 1: Me too. And what´s the point with not contaminating the different menus? I mean, I´ve never had that issue and haven’t heard anyone who´s had it?

Student 2: Well, I guess that´s to keep meat produce and vegetables separate, even during the cooking process.

Student 1: I see what you´re saying, but they could just use a better system within the same kitchen. I mean, they´ll spend thousands of dollars to make and staff a new kitchen when they know that vegetables are going to be consumed in both, so it seems like a waste of money.

Student 2: Ah yes, now that you mention it, I always take vegetables in my meals, and the logistics of moving them from one place to another for students to choose seems strange.

Student 1: Exactly! So I feel that in the end, it will be more work.

After we have heard the audio, we will be presented with the question.

Here is the prompt question:

The student expresses his opinion about the new modification. Express the student´s opinion and the reasons he gives for having that opinion.

Right after we finish reading this question, we will be given those 30 seconds to prepare. The best thing we can do is take advantage of them.

Get your paper and pencil and start brainstorming some ideas from the notes we have taken from the text and the audio.

Tip: In this question, you are not being asked your opinion, so do NOT say anything related to your thoughts. Only summarize the information given.

So, from the text, we understand that the university will increase the fee by $4 in order to fund a new kitchen in the cafeteria that will benefit students who are vegan and vegetarian. This addition will be good as it will keep the menus separate.

So we must split this information into arguments. 

Here are the ones from the text.

  • There is a tuition fee
  • Many students will be benefited
  • The food will be prepared in separate places to avoid contamination.

And here are the ones from the audio.

  • This is the fourth tuition in the year.
  • Students were already being benefited since last year.
  • Many ingredients, need to be in both places. A small organizational change can be better.

We will bearly be able to jot this down in the allotted 30 seconds, but they will be able to help us dearly when we have to speak. At this point, we already know what we need to speak about, and have our ideas organized.

Let´s check out this prompt answer to see how we could give a high-level response to this question.

Sample answer:

The text talks about a modification within the cafeteria, as a new kitchen will be added to accommodate student preferences, specifically, vegetarian and vegan diets.

The man disagrees with this addition as it will have an increase in the tuition of the university, which is the fourth one this year.

He expresses that it may be an unnecessary addition as the cafeteria already let the students choose what they wanted to eat, and as a vegetarian himself, he had already been doing so.

He mentions that the cafeteria is already small, and taking out space for an extra kitchen will make it even smaller. In addition, he says that many of the ingredients will be used in both kitchens, so the logistics will be very complicated to keep.

He believes that they should just adapt their old system to avoid unlikely contamination and to better suit the meal preferences of the students.

It should take us about 50 or 60 seconds to read this text at a normal pace. If we´re doing it faster, and see that we will have more than 10 seconds of silence, then we can say something like:

And those are the reasons he has for having that opinion.

This will help us do a small conclusion, and not have those uncomfortable moments of silence.

Here we are tackling the main arguments the student used to express his rejection towards this new addition to the university cafeteria.

We try to attack every point mentioned making sure that we express the ideas the student mentioned and do not include our own opinion.

Keep in mind that there are many ways in which we can respond this question and still get a high score.

In the next and final part, we will work with the final two questions of the Speaking section of the TOEFL-iBT, which are:

  • Question 3. Integrated 2
  • Question 4. Summary

Make sure to stay tuned and check it out.

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