TOEFL Rhythm in Speaking Section

Having good TOEFL rhythm will help you speak naturally. The more natural you speak, the more SpeechRater and iBT human raters will like your response.  The more ETS’s artificial scoring engine likes your response, the higher your score will be.

TOEFL Sentence Rhythm


What is TOEFL Rhythm?

Simply put TOEFL sentence rhythm is the combination of stress and unstress words when you speak. Just like multi-syllabic words which have a primary stressed syllable that is longer, louder, clearer, and higher pitched, sentences also have more stress on certain types of words.

Which words receive less stress?

Auxiliary verbs (is, are, was, were, have, had, has) modals (can, could, must, will, may, might), determiners (this, that, a, an, the, many, several) and prepositions (to, under, over, beneath) typically receive less stress when you speak. These types of words are referred to as function words:

  • They serve more of a grammar function within the sentences they occur in.
  • These words carry very little meaning.
  • These grammar words should not receive stress unless they are negative or unless there is special emphasis.

Which words receive more stress?

Nouns (car, speaker, passage, electricity), adjectives (happy, eager, intelligent, endearing), adverbs (very, sadly, westward, too) and verbs (activate, am, eat, use) usually receive more stress in the sentences that you speak. These types of words are referred to as content words.

  • These words carry meaning in the sentences that they are used in.
  • Content words should receive more stress.

How are auxiliary verbs different from main verbs?

Auxiliary verbs often occur before their main verbs that they are connected to.  Main verbs either occur alone or are the last verb in a verb string.

  • An auxiliary verb occurring before another verb: The speaker in the lecture is explaining the process of photosynthesis.
  • A main verb occurring last in a verb string: John will have finished his university studies by next March.
  • A main verb occurring alone: The reading passage defines two important economic concepts: inflation and deflation.

How are modals similar to auxiliary verbs?

Like auxiliary verbs, modals occur before any other words in a verb string. In fact, these function words are often called modal auxiliary verbs.

  • A modal before a main verb: My friend could attend the party last week.

How do I improve TOEFL Sentence Rhythm?

Generally, make every effort to improve your overall speaking fluency. Therefore, you should be getting as much exposure to English as you can. By improving your overall speaking fluency, you will be improving your TOEFL sentence rhythm.

Nevertheless, consider doing some specific things to help you pay more attention to your TOEFL sentence rhythm:

  • First, get some lists of content and function words so that you can become more familiar with stress and unstress words in the English language. Study these words so that you can recognize them at a glance.
  • Second, in the same manner, familiarize yourself with content words.
  • Third, write out a few of your speaking responses so that you can identify which words are stress and which ones are function words.
  • Finally, as you practice reading your scripts, remember not to put too much stress on the auxiliary verbs, modals, determiners, and prepositions.

TOEFL Sentence Rhythm Quiz: Identifying Stress Words in Sentences

How many stress words do you see in the below sentences?  Click to see the answer. Then read the sentences out loud.

  1. The professor defines the concept of scope creep and gives two examples to further illustrate the issue.
  2. 7
  3. 8
  4. 11
  5. 3

  1. My friends give me better advice, so I prefer to hang out with them more than with my parents.
  2. 7
  3. 11
  4. 15
  5. 6


  1. Most scientists believe, asserts the speaker, that climate change will cause the oceans to rise 3-4 meters over the next 50 years.
  2. 14
  3. 9
  4. 22
  5. 18


  1. The plane will be landing in Dallas, Texas in about 45 minutes.
  2. 6
  3. 12
  4. 9
  5. 3

  1. The students went on a geological field trip to observe a recently crashed crater in the Mojave Desert.
  2. 7
  3. 3
  4. 18
  5. 11

  1. That the moon appears larger on the horizon than it does overhead is merely an optical illusion.
  2. 17
  3. 7
  4. 9
  5. 15

  1. All the students who completed the TOEFL exam at the test center last Saturday scored over 100.
  2. 16
  3. 8
  4. 10
  5. 7

  1. Recently, many residents have been installing solar panels on their roofs so that they have a cleaner, more sustainable form of energy.
  2. 20
  3. 15
  4. 12
  5. 9

  1. When the engines on the left side quit working, the plane crashed in the middle of the South Pacific ocean.
  2. 20
  3. 11
  4. 7
  5. 15

  1. Eating raw fish can be dangerous, especially if the fish being eaten has some deadly bacteria on it.
  2. 12
  3. 15
  4. 9
  5. 18


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