Preparation for the TOEFL test ibt TOEFL Speaking Section.
TOEFL Speaking Questions and Answers
TOEFL Speaking Work Sample
The TOEFL Speaking test is designed to evaluate the English speaking proficiency of students whose native language is not English but who want to pursue undergraduate or graduate study in an English-speaking context. The Speaking test is one of four sections of the TOEFL test. In the TOEFL Speaking section, examinees are asked to speak in response to material that they hear or read (or both).
During the Summer Institute, Speaking interns research academic topics and write various kinds of scripts used in the Speaking test. The Speaking interns might also continue after the Summer Institute in a freelance capacity as off-site writers of Speaking items. Note: Applicants should indicate within their work sample documents whether they are interested in and available for such freelance work after the Summer Institute.
Applicants for the TOEFL test ibt Speaking Summer Institute are asked to write two samples of Speaking items like those that appear in the Speaking section of the TOEFL test. A complete item consists of a stimulus, which is the material the examinee hears or reads; a prompt, which is the instruction that indicates the kind of spoken response the examinee is to make to the stimulus; and the key points, which are used by scorers as guides to the kinds of responses a high-ability examinee should make. The work samples are described as follows.
Work Sample Part I: A Listening/Speaking Item
The listening/speaking stimulus you are asked to write consists of a self-contained excerpt from a lecture. The stimulus is roughly 230 to 280 words in length. Examinees listen to the lecture stimulus and are then directed to give a spoken summary of the main points of the lecture. The listening/speaking item evaluates an examinee’s ability to speak about the content of an academic lecture.
In a lecture, the professor does the following.
- Introduces a concept or claim
- Elaborates the concept or claim by presenting two aspects, perspectives, parts, or stages that help further characterize or explain the concept or claim
- Illustrates each of the two differentiating aspects, perspectives, parts, or stages with a concrete, vivid example
Example of a Listening/Speaking Item
The following lecture script is an example of a listening/speaking academic item. The lecture takes place in a biology class. In the script, underlining indicates spoken emphasis. The scripts are recorded by professional readers.
|Lecture/ stimulus (script)||Human beings aren’t the only animals that use tools. It’s generally recognized that other animals use tools as well . . . use them naturally, in the wild, without any human instruction. But when can we say that an object is a tool? Well, it depends on your definition of a tool. And in fact, there are two competing definitions—a narrow definition and a broad one.|
The narrow definition says that a tool is an object that’s used to perform a specific task . . . but not just any object. To be a tool, according to the narrow definition, the object’s gotta be purposefully changed or shaped by the animal, or human, so that it can be used that way. It’s an object that’s made. Wild chimpanzees use sticks to dig insects out of their nests . . . but most sticks lying around won’t do the job . . . they might be too thick, for example. So the sticks have to be sharpened so they’ll fit into the hole in an ant hill or the insect nest. The chimp pulls off the leaves and chews the stick and trims it down that way until it’s the right size. The chimp doesn’t just find the stick . . . it . . . you could say it makes it in a way.
But the broad definition says an object doesn’t have to be modified to be considered a tool. The broad definition says a tool is any object that’s used to perform a specific task. For example, an elephant will sometimes use a stick to scratch its back . . . it just picks up a stick from the ground and scratches its back with it . . . . It doesn’t modify the stick, it uses it just as it’s found. And it’s a tool, under the broad definition; but under the narrow definition it’s not because, well, the elephant doesn’t change it in any way.
|Prompt||Using points and examples from the talk, describe the two different definitions of tools given by the professor.|
|Key points||Narrow definition of tool: an object that has been purposefully changed or shaped or somehow made by an animal or human in order to perform a specific task. For example, when chimps use sticks to find insects, they first modify the sticks by pulling off leaves and sharpening them. They cannot use just any stick.|
Broad definition of tool: any object that is used to perform a specific task. It does not have to be modified (it can be used as found). For example, elephants use sticks to scratch their backs, but they use those objects just as they find them and do not modify them. Such sticks are not tools under the narrow definition.
Additional Example of a Listening/Speaking Academic Item.
The following lecture is another example of a listening/speaking item. The lecture takes place in an education class. In a script, italicized words in brackets indicate recording directions for the professional reader.
|One of the hardest parts of teaching is keeping your students’ attention. Now, the key to doing this is understanding the concept of attention. Basically, there are two types of attention.|
The first type is active. Active attention is voluntary—it’s when you intentionally make yourself focus on something. And since it requires effort, it’s hard to keep up for a long time. OK, so um, let’s say you’re teaching a—a biology class. And today’s topic is frogs. Alright, you’re standing at the front of the room and lecturing: [in a boring, robotic voice—“a” is pronounced “ay”] “A frog is a type of animal known as an amphibian . . . .” Well, this isn’t necessarily going to keep the students’ interest. But most of them will force themselves to pay active attention to your lecture . . . but it’s only a matter of time before they get distracted.
Now, the other type of attention is passive attention—when it’s involuntary. Passive attention requires no effort, because it happens naturally. If something’s really interesting, students don’t have to force themselves to pay attention to it—they do it without even thinking about it. So back to our biology lecture. You start talking about frogs, and then you pull a live frog out of your briefcase. You’re describing it while you hold it up . . . show the students how long its legs are and how they’re used for jumping, for example. Then maybe you even let the frog jump around a bit on the desk or the floor. In this case, by doing something unexpected . . . something more engaging, you can tap into their passive attention. And it can last much longer than active attention; as long as the frog’s still there, your students will be interested.
|Prompt||Using points and examples from the talk, explain the difference between active and passive attention.|
|Key points||Active attention is voluntary; it occurs when people force themselves to pay attention to something. A dry, boring lecture about frogs will require students to pay active attention, but they will not be able to maintain their attention for long.|
Passive attention is involuntary; it occurs when people are naturally interested in the material at hand, and it requires no effort. If a teacher pulls out a live frog, the students’ passive attention can be maintained.
Work Sample Assignment for the Listening/Speaking Item
Use the accompanying source material on socialization to construct a listening/speaking academic item of your own. The item should include a stimulus, a prompt, and a sample response. Do not attempt an exhaustive synthesis of the sources. Rather, the task is to find material within the source that meets the requirements of the item. The illuminating examples may be partially informed by your imagination.
In writing your lecture, keep the following in mind.
- The examinee will hear the lecture only once and will not see the script. Unnecessary details should therefore be kept to a minimum so as not to tax a test taker’s memory.
- The purpose of the item is to determine how well test takers can speak, not to test their listening proficiency (a separate section of the TOEFL test ibt ). Consequently, the structure and exposition of the lecture need to be very clear. The main idea or topic, the two elaborated aspects, and their respective exemplifications need to be transparent on a single hearing. The lecture should be kept simple, should stay focused, and should be memorable.
- The lecture’s style and syntax should reflect spoken academic language. For example, there can be hesitations or filler words (“um,” “uh,” etc.), contractions, and even false starts. However, be careful that such aspects do not interfere with communicating the lecture.
- The central topic should be clearly identified, and the relationship between the main topic and its two aspects, perspectives, parts, and stages should also be presented clearly.
- The two examples should be concrete and vivid.
Before submitting your writing sample, you might find it helpful to test your lecture by asking someone to record a response to it.
Format for Submitting your Response.
Create a separate Word document. To name your document, please use the convention
TOEFL_Speaking_your last name_your first name.doc.
For example, TOEFL_Speaking_Doe_Jane.doc.
Work Sample Part II: A Reading, or, Listening, or, Speaking Item.
The reading/listening/speaking item you are asked to write consists of a reading passage about a campus-related issue and a listening stimulus in which speakers comment on the issue presented in the reading. The examinee reads the passage, listens to the commentary, and finally, in accordance with the prompt, provides a spoken response.
The reading passage is a short passage of 75 to 100 words that can be read and processed within 45 seconds. It can be an announcement, a memo, the opening paragraph of an editorial or news article from a campus newspaper, and the like.
The reading passage briefly sets forth a campus-related issue by describing a proposed or intended course of action along with the rationale for it, the way the example below about a campus bus service does.
The reading passage should be focused, making only two points in support of the course of action. The situations and rationales or opinions presented in the reading should not be so outlandish or extreme that the arguments against them are obvious before one has even heard the commentary of the listening stimulus.
The course of action and supporting rationale should be accessible to an international audience and not presume familiarity with North American university parlance or procedures. Additionally, the course of action should be sensitive to the customs and beliefs of an international audience. For instance, do not include references to romantic relationships, the consumption of alcohol/drugs, campus parties, campus security issues, or religious holidays.
The listening stimulus is a response to the reading passage in the form of a conversation between two people (one man and one woman). One of the two interlocutors is the primary speaker, and the other serves mainly as a foil to draw out the primary speaker’s opinions. The language should be in the form of spontaneous, non academic conversation.
Relationship between content of the reading passage and the conversation.
The purpose of the reading, listening, speaking item is to see how well the test taker integrates in spoken English certain information from two different sources. Therefore, the listening stimulus of the item should be constructed in such a way that the test taker cannot derive the full answer from the listening stimulus without incorporating material from the reading passage. Neither speaker in the listening passage should restate the points made in the reading. In effect, each of the speakers in the conversation assumes that the other is familiar with the content of the reading. Thus, in order to follow the conversation and respond according to the prompt, the examinee will need to integrate the content of the reading passage with that of the conversation.
In the conversation you write, the primary speaker should disagree with the proposal or opinion in the reading passage. The primary speaker should engage the rationale of the reading by making two concise points that directly address the two reasons given in the reading the way the male speaker does in the example that follows. The speaker may also introduce new information, but the new material must serve to directly undermine the position or rationale of the reading passage.
Example of a Reading/Listening/Speaking Campus-based Item
(an article from a university newspaper)
|Bus Service Elimination Planned.|
The university has decided to discontinue its free bus service for students. The reasons given for this decision are that few students ride the buses and the buses are expensive to operate. Currently, the buses run from the center of campus past university buildings and through some of the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The money saved by eliminating the bus service will be used to expand the overcrowded student parking lots.
|Listening stimulus. (script of a conversation between two students discussing the article)||(Man) I don’t like the university’s plan.|
(Woman) Really? I’ve ridden those buses, and sometimes there were only a few people on the bus. It did seem like kind of a waste.
(Man) I see your point. But I think the problem is that the route’s out of date. It only goes through the neighborhoods that’ve gotten too expensive for students to live in. It’s ridiculous that they haven’t already changed the route—you know, so it goes where most off-campus students live now. I bet if they did that, they’d get plenty of students riding those buses.
(Woman) OK, but at least what they’d do with the money they’d save is a good thing. Sometimes it’s really tough to find a space in the student lots . . . .
(Man) That’s the other part I don’t like, actually, because it’s just gonna encourage more students to drive on campus.
(Woman) Because there’ll be more parking?
(Man) Yeah, and that’ll just add to the noise around campus and create more traffic . . . and that’ll increase the need for more parking spaces . . . .
(Woman) Yeah, I guess I can see your point. There are a lot of cars on campus already.
(Man) Right. And this would just make it worse. It’s noisy enough as it is now.
|Prompt||The man expresses his opinion of the university’s plan. Briefly summarize the plan. Then state his opinion about the plan and explain the reasons he gives for holding that opinion.|
|Key points||The man disagrees with the university’s plan to discontinue its free bus service.|
He thinks the current route is responsible for there not being many riders on the bus (a reason the university gives for discontinuing the service), and rerouting the bus through neighborhoods where students live would likely increase the number of riders.
He also thinks that building more parking lots will encourage more people to drive on campus and increase traffic/noise (and will create the need for more parking spaces).
Work Sample Assignment for the Reading, Listening, Speaking Item.
Write a reading, listening, speaking item of the type described. Include a reading passage, a listening stimulus. (conversation), a prompt, and a sample response. You may find it helpful to read through university campus newspapers or to check university Web pages for ideas for a campus-related issue that could be used as a source for your reading passage.
As you write, keep in mind the following considerations.
- Setting. Is the context clear and plausible? Is the scenario realistic and nontrivial? Is the language in the listening passage characteristic of spoken English?
- Content. Are the reasons provided in the reading passage logical and sensible? Is the reaction in the listening passage plausible?
- Integration. Is integration of the reading and listening passages necessary to answer the prompt, or is the item answerable only by summarizing the listening?
- Accessibility. Is the information presented accessible to an international student?
Before submitting your writing sample, you might find it helpful to try it out by asking a native speaker of English to give a spoken response to your prompt after reading your reading passage. (within 45 seconds). and after listening to a dramatization of your listening script.
Format for Submitting your Response.
Include this assignment as part of the same document that you created for the listening/speaking item assignment. Insert a page break between the two assignments.
Exam Questions for the TOEFL Test ibt.
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