I am Michael Buckhoff, the founder, owner, and materials writer of an Online TOEFL Course that I took more than 7 years to develop.
“How long before I get 26 on speaking?” is often a question I get from my students that I teach online. Part of the answer to this question depends on how fluent a student is. Furthermore, fluency depends on pronunciation and language-use abilities, both of which represent categories in rubrics that iBT human raters will use when grading independent and integrated speaking tasks.
Before a test-taker can score higher than 26 points on the speaking section, he/she will need to deliver responses that are easily understood, with the speaker’s accent not, in any way, distracting listeners from what is being said. Of course, this means that the speaker is able to correctly pronounce all the vowel and consonant sounds of English. In addition, the speaker will also need to develop near-native speaker competency in the following areas: syllable division and grammatical word endings, word stress, sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups and blending.
In addition to having a very clear delivery during the independent and integrated speaking practice tests, test-takers need to be to demonstrate control with their language use. In one sense, controlling language use means that test-takers have few problems with word choice and that they use precise words to explain their ideas. In another sense, controlling language use means that test-takers are using a combination of basic and advanced grammar during their responses to the two independent and four integrated speaking tasks.
To sum up, the following video describes to one of my students what she will need to do so that she can reach her target speaking subtotals: