TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies

These TOEFL independent speaking strategies,  updated for August 2019, will change your life by changing your TOEFL speaking score. Did you know that almost 90% of all test-takers, as you can learn here, never score 26 on the speaking section of the TOEFL? To help you avoid everlasting TOEFL Speaking Hell, I am going to help you reach this target score. Go through this lesson and practice everything that you are learning. I also highly suggest that you subscribe to my TOEFL Speaking and Writing Service as you practice what you are learning.  With the right feedback, as you can learn here, you will solve your speaking issues.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies
TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies

I do not care how many times you have taken the TOEFL exam, each time falling short of speaking 26. Learn about Manan’s story.   There is glory, indeed, in becoming one of the top 10% who reach this target subtotal score of 26. Never give up on your TOEFL 26 speaking dream score!

Table of Contents

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies = Analyze the Rubrics

One important TOEFL independent speaking strategy involves understanding how you are graded.  Focus on what you need to do to score perfectly, that is to score 5.0/5.0. Below is the official TOEFL  iBT rubric for the independent speaking task. To get a detailed analysis of the delivery part of the rubric, read this post.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Rubrics
TOEFL Independent Speaking Rubrics

Keep in mind that less than 5% of all test-takers score perfectly. To get detailed statistics about how students score on the TOEFL exam, read this article about TOEFL percentages.  According to the rubric, iBT human raters focus on four areas when scoring your speaking tasks: general description, delivery, language use, and topic development.

“General Description” TOEFL Speaking Category

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do generally for these personal experience speaking tasks:

TOEFL General Description Requirements to Score 4.0 Speaking Tasks 1-2
TOEFL General Description Requirements to Score 4.0 Speaking Tasks 1-2

In other words, you will need to completely answer all parts of the speaking task. However, you might leave out some minor details that are important to the task.  Furthermore, you need to speak very clearly. You should also make sure that there is a clear connection of ideas. Finally, your speech needs to be fluent without too many pauses and hesitations. Even a few pauses longer than one second during your response will affect your score negatively.

“Delivery” TOEFL Speaking Category

Now we need to examine what you need to do during TOEFL speaking tasks 1-2 as it relates to delivery. That way you can create TOEFL independent speaking strategies you need to score high.

TOEFL Delivery Requirements to Score 4.0 Speaking Tasks 1-2
TOEFL Delivery Requirements to Score 4.0 Speaking Tasks 1-2

According to this part of the rubric, your TOEFL independent speaking strategies are the following:

  • Speak quickly without too many pauses and hesitations.  Moreover, you should be linking words together within certain parts of your sentences.
  • You need to have clear speech.  This includes pronouncing vowel and consonant sounds correctly.
  • Any minor pronunciation or intonation problems that you have do not affect your intelligibility in any way.  For example, if you mispronouncing one or two key words in your response, you will not score 4.0/4.0.

Take advantage of these free TOEFL pronunciation resources to begin working on your accent reduction right now.  It can take you several months of practice before you will speak very clearly on the TOEFL iBT speaking section. Do NOT, therefore, procrastinate, your pronunciation practice.

“Language-use” TOEFL Speaking Category

In addition to understanding delivery requirements, other TOEFL independent speaking strategies require you to understand language use.  What language use competencies do you need to show in order to get the perfect score of 4.0/4.0?

TOEFL Language-Use Requirements to Score 4.0 on Speaking Tasks 1-2
TOEFL Language-Use Requirements to Score 4.0 on Speaking Tasks 1-2

Based on these topic development guidelines, you should consider these following TOEFL independent speaking strategies to help you score higher:

  • Avoid simple, generic, and imprecise vocabulary. The vocabulary you use should effectively help you to communicate your ideas. The words you use should sound natural and should fit the purpose of what you are trying to say. If you are limited with your vocabulary and cannot fully express your ideas, you will not score 4.0/4.0. If you feel that you have any vocabulary limitations, take advantage of these free TOEFL Vocabulary Resources.
  • Avoid using only simple grammar when you speak.  In some cases, you can use a short, simple sentence, as you can learn about here, during the speaking task. However, you should use not avoid longer and more complex sentences. For instance, as is needed, you should use sentences with noun, adjective, and adverb clauses. To help you improve your grammar control, these free TOEFL Grammar Resources will help you improve.
  • You can have some minor or patterned errors (i.e., “book” instead of “books” or “catched” instead of “caught”).  As long as these errors do not block your meaning.

“Topic Development” TOEFL Speaking Category

Finally, let’s look at the topic development aspect of the rubric? Are there any TOEFL independent speaking strategies that we can learn from this?

TOEFL Topic Development Requirements to Score 4.0 on Tasks 1-2
TOEFL Topic Development Requirements to Score 4.0 on Tasks 1-2

Yes, based on this part of the rubric, several TOEFL independent speaking strategies will help you score higher in this area:

  • Your response should answer the entire speaking prompt requirements. Do not leave any part of the speaking prompt unattended!
  • After your brief introduction, you should include 1-2 specific examples to illustrate your ideas.
  • Your response should be well-organized, and it should be easy for others to see that organization. That means you are using a number of cohesive techniques to connect ideas together. To learn more about how to organize your ideas effectively, CLICK HERE.
  • Begin your response with some reasons or general statements about the speaking prompt. Furthermore, as you move through your response, you should be using more specific details to illustrate the generalizations you mentioned in the introduction. This is what is called “progression of thought.”

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Decode the Task

You need to "unlock" the TOEFL speaking task.
You need to “unlock” the TOEFL speaking task.

Now you know how you will be graded.  In addition, you need to make sure you can recognize some common question types that you will see on the TOEFL exam for the independent speaking task. Before the test, you should practice writing out, speaking, and recording your voice at least ten times for each question type. Get a list of 100 speaking topics right now for free.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Task Question Types: 

The TOEFL independent speaking task asks you about your personal experience. Based on the topics that are appearing on the TOEFL right now, there are several types of questions that you might see: agree/disagree, preference, if/imaginary, description/explanation, and advantage and disadvantage.

Agree/Disagree Question Type 

Agree or disagree TOEFL question type
Agree or disagree TOEFL question type

You will see a statement. Then you are asked whether you agree or disagree with the statement. You will need to use your own experience or that of others. Furthermore, you must imagine or create some ideas if you cannot think of any real-life examples.

Example: Studying in a group is better than studying alone. Do you agree or disagree with this statement.

Following these TOEFL independent speaking strategies with this type of task:

  • Do NOT try to agree and disagree with the statement. You will not have enough time to defend both sides.
  • Immediately choose whether or you agree or disagree.  Keep in mind it does not matter which position you take. You can score high either way.
  • State two reasons why you agree or disagree.
  • Give one example to illustrate each reason.

Model Response

Studying alone helps me concentrate better, and I can prepare much faster. Therefore, I disagree that group study is better.

If I study alone, I can concentrate much better. For instance, last year I was preparing for an organic chemistry test. Without anyone else in my dorm, I went through the required chapters and created my study guide.  Then I began studying for the exam.  Because no one else was there to distract me, I was able to focus better on my studies.

Moreover, studying alone is simply much faster.  It took me about 3 hours to prepare my organic chemistry study guide. If I had been working with a group to prepare this study guide, it would have taken me at least 9 hours.

As a result, I almost always study alone when I am getting ready for upcoming exams, projects, and writing assignments.

Preference Question Type 

Preference TOEFL question type
Preference TOEFL question type

Similar to the “three questions type” that you saw in TOEFL task 1, this time you are choosing between two ideas. In other words, you are explaining which idea you prefer more and why.  Use real-life personal experience to support your argument.  Or, make up the reasons if you have no real-life examples from which to draw.

Example: Some people prefer to buy used cars, while others like to purchase new ones. Which type of car do you prefer and why?

These TOEFL independent speaking strategies will help you make the best use of your time so that you get the highest possible score.

  • Right away make your choice. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. In fact, just make sure you can think of some reasons for your choice.
  • Do not try to talk about the pros and cons of both positions. Your allotted time of 45 seconds do not give enough time to do that. You MUST limit your focus!
  • State two reasons for your choice.
  • Give one example for each reason.

Model Response

I prefer to buy used cars because the price of the car and insurance is much cheaper.

First, used cars are a lot cheaper than new cars.  In fact, last year I bought a 2012 Honda Civic with 55,000 miles for $9,000 US. Had I bought that car brand new, I would have paid $23,000. So, I was able to save $14,000. And my Honda Civic is in pristine condition.

Second, used cars, since their overall value is lower than new cars, cost less to insure.  For example, insuring my 2012 Honda Civic that I bought costs about $156 monthly. One of my friends who bought a new Honda Civic pays about $225 monthly for auto insurance. My friend and I are the same age and have no accidents or tickets on our records.

Thus, I always buy used cars since I can save a lot of money.

If/Imaginary Question Type

Imaginary TOEFL speaking question type
Imaginary TOEFL speaking question type

The “If/Imaginary question” is similar to the advice question type for TOEFL. You might be asked to talk about a present impossible condition. Or, you could be asked to explain a past impossible condition. If there is any question type that might appear on the TOEFL that could wreck your score, it is this one. You MUST practice this type of question many times. Make sure that you are controlling your verb tenses. Since this is an imaginary question, be creative. Most likely whatever the topic is in the prompt, you have NOT had any experience from which you can draw.  Therefore, you must imagine how you might react to the situation in the speaking prompt.

Present Impossible Imaginary Situation

Example: Imagine that you won a sum of 10 million dollars in the lottery.  In addition, you were required to donate 1/2 of those winnings to either a local hospital or a school. Which one would you donate the money to and why?

Follow these TOEFL independent speaking strategies to perform well if you see this type of question on the exam:

  • Quickly make your choice about which facility you would donate the money to. Remember it does not matter which one you talk about.  However, do not try to discuss the advantages of both. You do not have enough time to discuss both in 45 seconds.
  • Use the “If I had…, I would…” type structure as you answer the question. In addition, remember to use past tense verbs throughout your response.
  • Give two reasons for your choice.
  • Finally, use one example for each reason.

Model Response

My local school needs to give the teachers a raise, and the school needs to update its computer facilities. Therefore, if I won 10 million dollars, I would gladly donate half of the money to my local school.

More than 49 teachers at our local school are some of the lowest paid educators in the district. Some of the money I would donate could be used to give them a 20% raise, which would help the teachers have a fairer wage. 

In addition, the rest of the donated money could be used to replace the archaic computer facilities and technology at the school. In fact, there would probably be enough money so that students could get an iPad that they could use to help them learn what was being taught in their classes.

To sum up, if I donated 5 million dollars, my local school would be able to pay the teachers more and to improve the computer facilities.

Past Impossible Imaginary Situation

Example: If you had to make one change about your past, what would that change be? Explain how making that change would have affected your life.

This is a very tough question to answer. Pray to God that you never see this type of question on the TOEFL exam. However, if you do, follow these specific TOEFL independent speaking strategies:

  • Immediately think about something that you wish you had done differently.  
  • Give two reasons to show how this change would have affected you.
  • Give an example to illustrate each reason that you explain.
  • Use the “If I had changed this…., it would have…” structure since you are talking about about a past impossible condition. Consequently, you should be using past perfect tense verbs throughout this response.

Model Response

There is no way to change the past unfortunately. However, I wish that I would have never met my  ex-girlfriend, Cyndi Ellis.

If I had not met Cyndi, I would have better relationships with my family members right now. When I was dating Cyndi, she did not want me to spend time with my family. Instead, she preferred that I be with here almost every minute of the day, even on holidays and weekends. This ostracized me from my family members for more than two years.

In addition, if I had not met my ex-girlfriend, I would have a lot more money.  When I was dating her, she always wanted to do expensive things like watching plays in Los Angeles. She also liked me to take her to concerts. In fact, I spent more than $600 when she and I went to a Justin Beber concert in Anaheim.

Eventually, after two years, our explosive relationship ended. If I had never met her, my life would be much better right now. I hope that we never again cross paths, and I sure that she is wrecking someone else’s life right now. Good riddance! 

Description/Explanation Question Type

Describe and explain TOEFL question type
Describe and explain TOEFL question type

You might be asked to describe something or someone. Then you will need to explain telling details.  Or, you could be asked to choose something or someone. Then you will have to explain reasons for your choice.

Description/Explanation Task

Example: Describe a person you know. Then explain why he/she is important to you.

A lot of students who complete this type of question in my online TOEFL course skip the description part and move right into the explanation part. Do NOT do that. You need to answer both parts of this question type. Or, you will wreck your TOEFL speaking score.  Follow these TOEFL independent speaking strategies with this task:

  • In about 2-3 sentences, describe the person or thing using precise and telling vocabulary.
  • Then move to the explanation part and give one reason. Give one example for that reason.  You do not have enough time to provide more than one reason since you have already spent 15+ seconds in the description part of the task.

Model Response

My mom is the most important person I know. 

At 5’3″ inches tall, this grey-haired, slender woman has a lively personality. Typically, she wears casual clothes and has black horn-rimed prescription glasses framing her piercing brown eyes. My mom is caring and takes time to listen when family members and friends talk to her. She makes them feel like they are the most important people in the world.

On a personal level, she is important to me because she has always supported me with my schooling. Currently, I am almost finished with my pharmacy studies. During these five years, my mom has helped me pay for the expensive tuition. In addition, she calls me at least three times a week to see how I am doing. When I have difficulty, she offers me advice.

Therefore, I feel very lucky to have my mother in my life.

Explanation Task
Explain TOEFL speaking question type
Explain TOEFL speaking question type

Example: What is a hobby that you like to do when you have free time? Explain why you enjoy this hobby so much.

  • You are not being asked to describe anything. Thus, choose a hobby that you like quickly.
  • Give two reasons why you enjoy this hobby. 
  • Give one example to illustrate each reason.

Model Response

My favorite hobby is running since I like seeing nature and since I can burn calories.

Running is a good hobby because I can see nature. For instance, yesterday during my 8 km run, I watched the eastern horizon as the sun gradually rose. Orange, red, and yellow columns of sunlight streaked into the sky. Finally, the sun was in all its glory.  It was breathtaking to see every bit of this sunrise.

Furthermore, running burns calories quickly, which helps me have a healthy weight. To illustrate, two weeks ago, I ran 21 km with two other runners. During this two hour run, I burned more than 2,000 calories. Other forms of exercise such as walking and biking burn far fewer calories than running.

To sum up, running gets me outside with nature, and it helps me to maintain a healthy weight.  So, it is my favorite hobby. 

Advantage and Disadvantage Question Type

TOEFL advantage and disadvantage speaking question type
TOEFL advantage and disadvantage speaking question type 

Watch out for this type of question!  If you do NOT limit your focus, you will never finish. As a result, you will score lower. As the prompts states, you should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of something.

Example: Some people are making most of their friends online without ever meeting these individuals in person. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of social interaction?

Follow these TOEFL independent speaking strategies so that you have the focus that you need to fully address the task:

  • State one advantage of the idea. Then give an example to further support your assertion.
  • State one disadvantage of the idea. In addition, give one example to illustrate your point.

Everyone likes making friends. However, is it a good idea to makes friends online?

An advantage of making friends online is that it is safe. For instance, since I am not meeting face to face, I first see this person online. During this online interaction, as I get to know this person, I can decide whether or not I want to meet the person face to face.

A disadvantage of meeting friends online is that some people are not truthful.  To illustrate, I made friends with a girl at Facebook. She told me that she was 25 years old.  Since I was the same age, I started becoming friends. Eventually, we met in person, and I found out that she was actually 37 years old. She had lied about her age to make herself more attractive to others.

In conclusion, anyone should consider these pros and cons when becoming friends with people online.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Find your Natural Speaking Rhythm

Improve your pronunciation, and you will improve your TOEFL speaking score.
Improve your pronunciation, and you will improve your TOEFL speaking score.

1/3 of your speaking score focuses on how naturally and how clearly you speak. You should have the appropriate sentence rhythm, use a varied, natural sounding intonation, and have good pacing without too many pauses or hesitations.  Practice your pronunciation in exactly these three areas right now: CLICK HERE

To further help you  develop a natural, high-scoring speaking style, I have a TOEFL pronunciation resources web page to help you in the following areas:

  • Accent reduction
  • Advanced pronunciation practice
  • Consonant sounds practice
  • Vowel sounds practice
  • Pronunciation tips and tricks

Begin your free practice: CLICK HERE

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Use Appropriate Vocabulary

Improve your vocabulary and your TOEFL scores goes higher.
Improve your vocabulary and your TOEFL scores goes higher.

1/3 of your speaking score is based on language use. Part of language use involves using appropriate vocabulary. Keep in mind these tips.

Avoid Word Choice Errors.

  • Example: I have fewer homework assignments this quarter. Or, I have less homework this quarter.
  • Example: Among the three choices, I prefer to attend a smaller school. Or, the decision to postpone the exam was decided between the students and the professor.

Your TOEFL independent speaking strategies are to minimize any word choice errors.

Use Precise Vocabulary.

The more precise your vocabulary, the more telling your detail is. As a result, you will score higher. Avoid these generic vocabulary words:

1. Very: Avoid this word. There is no difference between “My mother is very caring.” and “My mother is caring.” “Very” is typically used as an overstatement, so it is not needed.

2. Of course:  Do not use this word since it implies that your listeners are not smart. Or, “Of course” may suggest you are not explaining your ideas sufficiently. Therefore, instead of saying “Of course, living in a dorm is a lot less expensive than living in an apartment.”, you could say, “Clearly, living in a dorm is a lot less expensive than living in an apartment.”  

3. Thing or stuff: Use either of these words in your speaking tasks, and the TOEFL iBT human raters’ heads will explode. Using  “thing” or “stuff” suggests that you do NOT know how to describe an object or some other phenomena.

  • I liked the thing my friend did. 
  • My friend’s helping me complete my homework showed her generous nature.

4. Always: “Always” typically overgeneralizes ideas in arguments. Therefore, do not use this negative adverb. 

  • My roommate always throws his clothes on the floor.
  • My roommate usually throws his clothes on the floor.

5.  Never: Similar to “always,” “never” creates an overgeneralization.  What person, place, or thing “never” does a certain action? 

  • My roommate never lost her temper because she was a good person.
  • Instilled in her that being angry was an unacceptable form of human expression, my roommate rarely lost her temper.

6. So: Similar to “very,” “so” is also an overstatement.

  • Our dorm was so hot. 
  • The stifling heat in our dorm made it difficult to breathe.

7. A lot: “A lot” does not specify exactly how much something or someone is. Use more exact numbers if possible.

  • I had a lot of ice cream.
  • I had two dinner-sized bowls of ice cream.

8. Good: Similar to “thing” or “stuff”, “good” does not appropriately describe a subject.

  • Therefore, I am glad that I had a good roommate.
  • Therefore, I am glad that I had a commendable roommate.

9. Nice: “Nice” is also unclear in meaning. Hence, choose a word that is more precise.

  • For these reasons, I have usually found my mother to be nice.
  • For these reasons, I have usually found my mother to be cordial.

10. Really:  Like “very,” “so,” and other types of intensifying adverbs, “really” adds almost no meaning to your ideas. Thus, “really” is not a precise word.

  • I told my friend that it was really important to talk to the professor if he had questions about his final term project.
  • I told my friend that it was distinctly important to talk to the professor if he had questions about his final term project

11. Anything: “Anything” can well be “anything,” so this word is not specific. Use more specific words instead.

  • I would do almost anything in order to live with a compatible roommate.
  • Interviewing several people before making my choice, requiring references, and making sure the chosen candidate gives me a $2,000 deposit will ensure that I can select the most qualified person to live with me.

12.  Find out:  Use a more advanced word than this.

  • I found out that I could apply to an international student scholarship which would finance most of my graduate studies.
  • I discovered that I could apply to an international student scholarship which would finance most of my graduate studies.

13.  Variety, various:  Instead of these two words, be more concrete in your description. For example, if you have a variety of hobbies, state specific hobbies you are interested in.

  • In my free time, I do a variety of hobbies.
  • Reading, writing in my journal, running, and hiking are activities that I like to do when I have free time.

Expand your Range of Vocabulary

If you have taken the TOEFL multiple times and have not reached 26, you may have some problems with using inaccurate, basic, imprecise, or generic vocabulary.  If you do not improve your vocabulary, you will get stuck.  As a result, you will keep getting similar TOEFL speaking scores. Then you enter into a cycle of TOEFL Hell.  To escape this vicious, frustrating, and seemingly endless cycle, you must improve your vocabulary.

I know how important vocabulary is to your TOEFL score, so I have a free TOEFL Vocabulary Resources web page. This web page contains TOEFL independent speaking strategies including the following:

  • A 261 page e-Book containing strategies for learning 1,700 college-level words
  • Strategies for learning vocabulary without using dictionaries
  • Vocabulary guessing strategies
  • Video practice with 100+ idiomatic expressions to help you improve your speaking

Follow the link to my TOEFL Vocabulary Resources web page: CLICK HERE

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Minimize Grammatical Errors

How well do you control your grammar when you speak?
How well do you control your grammar when you speak?

In addition to using basic and advanced vocabulary, you should also aim to use both basic and advanced grammar.  Your grammar usage is also part of your language-use score according to the TOEFL iBT speaking rubrics. During your TOEFL  independent speaking tasks, you should minimize grammatical errors.  Here are some common errors that many of my online TOEFL course students sometimes make as they are sending me speaking practice.

Ten Common Grammatical Errors during Independent Speaking Tasks

1. Incorrect Verb Tense

*I have finished my undergraduate studies in 2018.*

The simple past “finished” works better than the present perfect “have finished” since the speaker is talking about an action that has a clear beginning and end in the past.

2. Wrong Preposition

*I lived on Los Angeles for a few years before I started my pharmacy studies.*

The preposition “in” works better since the speaker is explaining a location but not the exact address, in which case the speaker would have used “at.”

3. Gerund, Infinitive, or Base Verb Problem

*I must to have a compatible roommate.

“Must,” a modal auxiliary verb, should be followed by the base form of the verb “have.”

*I enjoyed to see that movie last week.*

“Enjoyed” is a verb of emotion. In addition, the speaker is talking about a completed action. As a result, the gerund “seeing” works better than the infinitive.

4. Omitting Articles “A,” “An,” and “The”

*To help me finish research paper, I purchased writing handbook at bookstore.*

In this case, an article is needed before the singular count nouns “research paper,” “handbook,” and “bookstore.”  

Revised: To help me finish the research paper, I purchased a writing handbook at the bookstore.

5. Adjectives or Adverbs Misuse

*My roommate usually did not clean the kitchen good.*

Adverbs come after regular verbs, so the adjective “good” should be replaced with the adverb “well.”

6. Subject-Verb Agreement

*People doesn’t need support from the government.”

“People,” a plural noun, requires a plural verb. As a result, “doesn’t” should be changed to “don’t.”

7. Wrong Word Order

*Is finished the test?*

With yes/no questions, the correct word order is auxiliary verb + subject + main verb. As a result, the sentence should be changed to “Is the test finished?”

8. Incorrect Plural Nouns

*The childrens looked forward to Christmas vacation every year.*

“Child,” the singular form, changes to the plural form “children.”  Thus, “childrens” is incorrectly formed.

9. Problems Forming Comparatives 

*The exam in my physics class is more easier than the test I took last semester.*

“Easy,” like many two syllable adjectives, takes the inflectional -er ending in its comparative form.  However, “easier” is already comparative so there is no need to mark it twice by preceding the adjective with “more.”

10. Errors of Omission

*I studying chemistry at a university right now.*

Since “studying” is the main verb, it should be preceded by “am.”  In other words, you should not omit prepositions, articles, and nouns.

Eliminating Grammar Errors

Practice makes perfect, so you should speak English a lot, especially with native speakers. As you talk with native speakers, you will unconsciously begin self-correcting your speaking errors so that your speech more closely matches native speaker English.

In addition, consider using my TOEFL Speaking Service, as you can learn about here, in which you can begin sending me speaking practice tests every day. I will correct your grammatical errors and even suggest specific lessons to help you improve.

Finally, visit my free TOEFL Grammar Resources web page:

  • More than 25 basic and advanced grammar lessons
  • Diagnostic grammar pre-test to pinpoint errors in 22 specific areas
  • Extensive practice with sentence variety so you use both basic and advanced sentence structures

CLICK HERE

Using Advanced Grammar

Vary your sentence length in your TOEFL speaking tasks.
Vary your sentence length in your TOEFL speaking tasks.

In addition to eliminating errors when you speak, you want to make sure you are using a combination of basic and advanced grammar. In order to do this, follow these TOEFL independent speaking strategies.

Use both long and short simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex sentences.

Most importantly, avoid using a series of short simple (subject + verb) sentences during the TOEFL independent speaking tasks.  Instead, you should use a combination of shorter and longer sentences. If you follow this strategy, you will most likely be using simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex sentences. The key is that the sentences you use should sound natural should vary.

Example Speaking Response with too many short, simple sentences

What was your favorite course in high school?  Why did you enjoy it so much?

Mr. Thompson made American history real. He used an effective question/answer teaching style.  As a result, this was my favorite high school class.

First of all, my teacher made the history figures seem real. One day, Thompson came to class dressed as former President Abraham Lincoln. During the class, he read quotes from Lincoln and from his friends. It really helped me understand about Lincoln. It helped me understand the importance of this former president.

Second of all, Thompson usually asked questions to get our feedback. He wanted to find out our knowledge about history. For example, in one class, he asked us about the Civil War. We shared our thoughts.  After, he spent the rest of the class expanding on our ideas and answering further questions.

This history class was my most enjoyable high school class.

Lacking sentence variety, this response only uses simple sentences. As a result, it will score lower in the language-use category.  Practice your speaking responses many times so you do NOT speaking like this.

Example Speaking Response with both long and short simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex sentences

Mr. Thompson made American history real, and he used an effective question/answer teaching style, which is why it was my favorite high school class.

First of all, my teacher made the history figures he talked about real. One day, Thompson came to class dressed as former President Abraham Lincoln. During the class, he read quotes from Lincoln and from his friends. It really helped me understand who Lincoln was and why he was an important history figure.

Second of all, Thompson usually asked questions to get our feedback on what we already knew about the history he was teaching. For example, in one class, he asked us what we already knew about the Civil War. After we shared our thoughts, he spent the rest of the class expanding on our ideas and answering further questions that we had.

This history class was my most enjoyable high school class.

The above example response uses simple, complex, and compound/complex sentences.  Therefore, the response shows that the speaker knows simple and advanced grammar. In addition, this response will score higher than a response which uses only short, simple sentences.

Use Different Types of Subjects.

Using different types of subjects during your TOEFL independent speaking tasks will show the iBT human raters that you have control and range in your grammar use.  Here are different types of subjects that you can use.

  • Nouns: The students completed the research project in a timely manner.
  • Pronouns: They were surprised that the professor was lenient in how he scored their projects.
  • GerundsTutoring was one factor that helped the students to polish their essays before turning them in.
  • Gerund phrases: Getting high scores on these research projects made the students proud of what they had done.
  • Infinitives: To finish was the goal of all these students.
  • Infinitive phrases: To finish the course and to begin other assignments are two additional goals of this class.
  • Adjectives: The poor need assistance from the government in order to pay their bills and provide food for their hungry children.
  • Noun clauses: That most of the students finished the writing project satisfactorily made the professor proud.

As you do speaking practice, you will develop a speaking style that should draw from a variety of subjects that I just showed you.  Your main goal is not only to use nouns as subjects.

Vary your word order.

In addition to using a variety of subjects, you should also vary your word order. Varying your word order will add variety to your speaking and will show iBT human raters that you can use advanced grammar. Learning several different word order tricks will help you improve in this area. Notice how the subjects do not occur first in each of these sentences.

Comparisons:  Bill decided to attend the library research workshop, and so did Susan.

Negative/Almost negative adverbs:

  • Rarely did the professor ever come to class late (The professor usually came to class on time. Or, the professor usually  did not come to class late.)
  • Never did the professor come to class late. (The professor always came on time. Or, the professor did not come to class late ever.)

Placing almost negative and negative adverbs creates a stronger emphasis. Therefore, use these types of emphatic sentences sparingly.

Omitting “if” in conditional clauses:

  • Had I time, I would go to the game tonight.  (I cannot go to the game tonight because I am busy.)
  • Had I had time, I would have gone to the game tonight. (I could not go to the game because I was busy.)

Prepositional phrases of location: Next to the desk was a book worn from many years of use.

Use this type of sentence when “where” is more important than “what.”

Questions: Where are you going?

Quotations: “I am going to the movies,” said Tom.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Keep Organized

Keep your TOEFL speaking tasks organized.
Keep your TOEFL speaking tasks organized.

Having an organized response relates to the topic development category of the TOEFL independent speaking rubrics.  The more organized you are, the easier it will be for others to understand your ideas. Repeating and rephrasing key words, using transition words, using determiners and pronouns, and having grammatically parallel sentences will organize your speaking responses spectacularly. And that means you will improve your speaking score!

Repeating and rephrasing key words

In the first part, use some key words to frame your response. Then repeat or rephrase those key words as you move through your response. This technique will unify the introduction, body, and conclusion of your response. Observe in the example response how the speaker repeats key words from the speaking prompt and from the introduction.

Is the smartphone a useful educational tool? Give reasons and examples to support your opinion.

My smartphone has a TOEFL vocabulary and a Sirius app, so I definitely learn a lot from this handy device.

First of all, I downloaded a TOEFL vocabulary app onto my phone that is helping me learn more than 5,000 college-level words. Using my phone, I complete matching, sentence completion, audio, grammar, and listening exercises daily to learn the words.  As a result, my vocabulary has improved a lot for the last month since I started practicing.

Second of all, my smartphone has a Sirius app in which I can ask questions.  Then Sirius gives me the answer so that I can learn. For example, yesterday, I had a question about American history. Therefore, I asked Sirius, “What is the Civil War that occurred in the United States?” Sirius then explained to me the causes and effects of this bloody war.

For these reasons, my smartphone is an important gadget to improve my learning

Using transition words

Example TOEFL transition words
Example TOEFL transition words

Did you notice that I used ten transition words in the above model response:  “first of all,” “second of all,” “for these reasons,” “so,” “as a result,” “then,” “for example,” “therefore,” “then,” and “so that?” 

Using transition words help you to connect ideas together. Consequently, your ideas are easier to understand. Hence, generally speaking, make it a point in your speaking practice to use 8-15 transition words in each speaking practice test that you complete. Here are some additional resources to improve you use of transition words:

Using Determiners and Pronouns

Determiners (i.e., a, an, the, many, several) and pronouns (i.e. he, she, they) can be used to link old and new information together. Do not, however, use a pronoun during your independent speaking tasks if it does not refer to anything or anyone else beforehand.

Last week, in my Geology class I talked to a student. The student told me that he had found a meteorite.

The determiner in the noun phrase “the student” is used in the second sentence to connect back to the determiner in the noun phrase “a student” in the first sentence.

In addition, the pronoun “he” in the second sentence refers back to “student” in the first sentence.

Example of determiners
Example of determiners
Example of pronouns
Example of pronouns

Make sure you are comfortable using determiners and pronouns as you do your speaking practice.

Having Grammatically Parallel Sentences

Using several grammatically similar phrases within a sentence can unify the ideas. Moreover, using several grammatically similar sentences within your speaking response can also unify ideas.  In either case, you are making it easier for TOEFL iBT human raters to understand you.

Grammatically similar phrases within a sentence:  Shopping at malls, reading books in my free time, exercising at the gym, and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail are hobbies  of mine.

“Shopping…,” “reading books…,” exercising…,” and “hiking” are all gerund phrases. Using consecutive gerunds not only balances the grammar but also unifies all the ideas as examples of hobbies.

Grammatically similar sentences within a speaking response:  I get to give presents to others, and I spend a lot of time with my family, so Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year.

First of all, Christmas is a great time to give and receive gifts. For instance, last year I found out that my aging father needed a knee brace, but he could not afford to buy the medical item. Therefore, I bought the knee brace and gave it to him on Christmas Day.  I was so happy how much he liked his brace.

Lastly, Christmas is that time of the year in which I spend the most time with my family. When else can I see my brothers and sisters? When else can my parents, my siblings, and our extended family spend time together? When else do we have a dinner together?  Christmas is the only time of the year when we can be together.

Therefore, Christmas is without a doubt the best holiday of the year.

In the third paragraph, several interrogative sentences focus on why Christmas is such an important time for family. Since the three sentences are similar in grammar, listeners/readers will assume that the ideas are similar.

TOEFL Independent Speaking Strategies: Practice + Feedback = High Speaking Score

I will be your TOEFL speaking mentor. I will not stop until you score 26!
I will be your TOEFL speaking mentor. I will not stop until you score 26!

After going through this lesson, it is time to practice what you are learning, right? I am waiting right now to help you improve your TOEFL speaking score. You are trying to become one of the 10% of all test-takers to score 26 on the speaking section.  Most likely, you will NOT be able to reach this score without getting some professional TOEFL speaking mentoring. For as little as $45 monthly, you can begin sending me speaking practice tests recordings right to my e-mail. In fact, you can send me a speaking practice test every 24 hours while you are subscribed to my course.

After each practice test, I will e-mail you back 3-8 minutes of corrective feedback to help you monitor your progress.  If your speaking score is 22-23 points, I will be able to help correct your pronunciation, language use, and topic development problems so you can score 26+ in as few as 3 months. 

I almost forgot to mention that the first week of using my course is free.  Found out more about my speaking and writing service here:  CLICK HERE

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