The journey of improving from 19 to 26+ on TOEFL speaking


Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a student who had taken the TOEFL exam two times. On the first exam, the student scored 19/30 pts on the speaking section of the test. On the second exam, improving a little, the student scored 21/30 pts.  Unfortunately, the student missed his mark of 26, a requirement he will have to meet to clear the TOEFL to become a pharmacist in the United States. Frustrated, he asked me a simple question: “How do I improve my TOEFL score from 19 to 26+ on the speaking section?”

Of course, my answer is a bit more complicated than his question. Here is what I said:

That you scored 19 to 21 on the speaking section of the TOEFL exam tells me four things: 1) Your problems with intonation and pacing such as frequent pauses and hesitations are making it difficult for others to understand you. 2) You have some limitations with your grammar and vocabulary, mainly in the sense that you using basic grammar and vocabulary. 3) Because of your grammar and vocabulary limitations, you typically express basic ideas with limited details and support. 4) It is difficult to understand how your ideas are connected.

To improve your speaking score from 19 to 21 to 26 to 30 involves a rigorous study routine over the next few months.

1) Until you see 26/30 opts on the speaking section on your TOEFL score report, you need to triple your exposure to English right now by watching 45-60 minutes of television daily with a focus on history, documentary, science, and news programs. Similarly, spend about 45 minutes daily reading newspapers, magazines, and books. While doing your reading and listening practice, get in the habit of writing down the main and most important points supporting points, and then practice speaking about the passages. Try to complete at least five 60-second oral responses weekly so that you get more used to explaining other people’s ideas.

2) To address your language-use limitations, complete my TOEFL Vocabulary lessons 3-6, all of which will help you to increase your vocabulary range to 1,700 words. I also recommend that you download the audio files to these words to your electronic device so that you can get more familiar with these words.

3) Complete the pronunciation pre-test in my Online TOEFL Course so that I can pinpoint the problems you are having with vowels, consonants, syllable division and grammatical word endings, word stress, sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups and blending. I will refer you some of my 48 pronunciation video lessons that you should review after you complete the two pronunciation pre-tests.

4) Once you join my course, start completing independent and integrated speaking practice tests. To be honest, you may have to post more than 100 speaking practice tests before you will have solved the pronunciation, language use, and topic development issues that you need to solve to reach the TOEFL speaking 26 threshold. But each time you complete a speaking practice test, I will tell you what your problems are, what your score is, and which lessons in my Online TOEFL Course should you study to address those issues.

As you get feedback from me concerning your TOEFL speaking, consider keeping a journal so that you can become more familiar with your issues. Divide your speaking journal into three categories: pronunciation, language use, and topic development feedback. Review the feedback I give you, and review what lessons I recommend for you to improve your speaking.

You will be able to reach your goal, and I will make it my mission to help you improve your speaking.

Good luck to you!

Michael Buckhoff,