TOEFL Speaking 25 Example

The TOEFL Speaking 25 example in this blog post comes from one of my students. He is trying to score higher than 26, but on his last TOEFL exam he scored 25.  Frustrated that he hadn’t reached his goal, he had the speaking section re-scored. Sadly, two weeks later, he got his rescoring results back: 25/30 points.

TOEFL Speaking 25 Example

How does ETS calculate a score of 25 points on the speaking section?


I am familiar with the rubrics ETS uses to score each individual speaking task.  In fact, you can learn more about that in a TOEFL blog post I wrote a few months back: read more.  In additon, I know that ETS uses SpeechRater scoring engine to analyze the lingusitic features of your response: pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Furthermore, trained iBT human raters also listen and score your responses to make sure that you effectively addressed the requirements of the task. In a post I wrote last year, I explain how ETS mathematically calculates your score.  Read more here. However, I do not know exactly how ETS comes up with a score of 25 on the speaking section. In fact, before a year or so ago, ETS did not even have a score of 25.  It went as follows: 23. 24, 26…., so there was no option of a 25.

Please give me an example TOEFL speaking response from someone who just scored 25 pts. on the speaking section.

In the below video, you will hear a response from a student who received a score of 25 pts. on the TOEFL exam one week before he recorded the response that you will listen to.

Why do you think this student got 25 and not 26?

If I were a God or if I had a crystal ball, I could simple read the human raters’ minds and understand ETS’s special sauce that they use to come up with a score of 25 pts.  Since I am none of those things, I will simply explain some delivery, language-use, and topic development issues that the student can improve upon. If the student improves in these areas, then he will improve his overall speaking proficiency.  As he improves his speaking proficiency, he will improve his TOEFL speaking score, right?

  • First of all, the student has several instances in which he says that someone went to an “electric store” to buy a laptop computer.  However, using “electronics store” is a more common usage, so he has a language-use problem several times during his response.
  • Second of all, the student has some word stress shifts, most notably with the word conCERN. However, the student pronounces it as CONcern.
  • Lastly, the student needs to place a few more voice markers in his response so that he more clearly identifies his response as a summary.

Therefore, if the student avoids problems in these three areas, he will be able to improve his speaking score, right?

Michael Buckhoff
Michael Buckhoff









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