“Sometimes I cannot create a flow in my thinking to answer TOEFL speaking tasks.”

Here is a question I got from one of my Online TOEFL Course students:

Hi Mr. Michael Buckhoff,

Last time, you advised me about my tone, thank you.

And I would like to talk with you about the difficult I have met while I am speaking. Because each question of the TOEFL speaking section only gives one shot, I sometimes cannot create a flow in my thinking to answer it. Also I cannot go back to change my word order and vocabulary use. It is very unlike the writing part.

How can I create this flow in a limited time and make it correctly at once?

Today I continue to practice the lesson 20, please let me know your comment.

Have a nice weekend.


Based on her question, I wrote the following article:

When students complete the speaking section of the TOEFL exam, they may encounter difficulties, especially since they only have one chance to complete each of the six tasks during a 20 minute duration. Because these test-takers are seeing the independent and integrated speaking tasks for the first time, and, of course, because they are reading and listening to the passages for the first time, they may have difficulty creating a coherent flow in their responses. To compound the problem even more, unlike the writing section, these test-takers are unable to retrace their steps to make corrections in grammar, word order, pronunciation, and vocabulary usage. Therefore, how do these test-takers create a coherent flow in their speaking responses and make everything correct in their first and only attempts to respond to these six speaking tasks?


First of all, students need to have strong deliveries during the speaking section of the TOEFL exam; that is, if they want to score higher than 26/30 points. These students should concentrate on increasing their exposure to the English language through movies, television programs, and radio broadcasts. In addition, these students should find ample opportunities to speak English with native speakers. If they live in the United States, these students can volunteer at local homeless shelters, libraries, thrift stores, elementary schools, and high schools. For example, if a non-native speaker volunteers at a local library, he/she could interact 5-15 hours a week with other native speakers of American English, and that is a lot of English practice over 1-2 months.

In addition to getting a lot of general exposure to English, students wanting to improve their deliveries can hire a TOEFL iBT pronunciation and speaking specialist. For example, in my Online TOEFL Course “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT,” students  complete three pronunciation tests: a pre-test focusing on the vowel and consonant sounds of American English; a pre-test centering on syllable division, grammatical word endings, word stress, sentence rhythm, intonation, thought groups, and blending; and a final post-test to see whether or not my students have mastered all the pronunciation lessons in my course. After each of the pre-tests, I pinpoint the specific intelligibility problems that my students have and recommend specific lessons that these students review. Then, these students review the recommended lessons and complete specific voice recording exercises on which I can comment. After listening to and evaluating these voice recordings, I sent the students audio messages telling them whether or not they have mastered the pronunciation exercises that they are practicing. Hence, many of my students are able to reduce their non-native speaker accents and to speak more clearly.

Language Use

Second of all, to speak coherently during the TOEFL speaking section means that students need to be comfortable using a combination of both basic and advanced vocabulary and grammar.  To help students with both basic and advanced vocabulary, I created the vocabulary section of my Online TOEFL Course to help them in lesson 3 address their basic vocabulary needs and in lesson 4-6 address their advanced vocabulary needs.  In all, my students aim to acquire approximately 2,000 vocabulary words as they complete the vocabulary lessons in my course.  In addition, as my Online TOEFL Students complete the pronunciation, grammar, listening, reading, writing, and speaking sections of my course, they will again see the vocabulary words that they learned.  The more that these students see and hear the vocabulary words that they are studying, the more likely that they will retain them for future use.

Another strategy to help students improve their language use, which in turn will help them to speak more coherently and fluently, involves students listening to and reading academic passages on a daily basis. As the TOEFLers  practice with these passages, they should take notes on the main and most important support points. Then these students use their notes to prepare and give 60-second oral responses summarizing the main and most important supporting points of the passages. In addition, these students should also use their notes to write 250 word summaries of the reading and listening passages. Speaking and writing about what these TOEFLers are reading and listening to will reinforce the new vocabulary and grammar that they are seeing. Doing this type of practice (reading, listening, note-taking, speaking, and writing) over time will give these students a strong command of English.

Students can further improve their language use by developing a strong command of both basic and advanced grammar, which is exactly why I include a specific grammar section in my Online TOEFL Course.  While completing the grammar part of my course, I suggest that students complete the grammar pre-test first so that they can see which areas that they should focus more on.   As these students complete these lessons, they should practice writing down the new grammar structures that they are learning and should make sure that they are comfortable writing and speaking simple, compound, and complex sentences.

Topic Development

Third of all, of course, as students improve their deliveries and language use, they are more likely to be able to demonstrate superior topic development by being able to organize and then develop their independent and integrated speaking practice tests.  These students will need to master four techniques to help them more cohesively connect their ideas together: using transition words, repeating and rephrasing key ideas, using pronouns and determiners to link old and new information together, and using parallel structures to highlight certain ideas at key junctures of the speaking responses. Understanding these four techniques takes practice and a whole lot of patience, but, if TOEFLers are able to use these cohesive devices in their speaking, iBT human raters will be able to see how their ideas are connected.

Another aspect of topic development focuses on whether or not TOEFLers can include specific details to support their ideas during the independent speaking tasks 1-2 and whether or not these students are effectively able to paraphrase the main and most important points of the reading and listening passages during integrated speaking tasks 3-6.  The key word for integrated speaking is “paraphrase,” which means TOEFLers need to be comfortable using their own vocabulary and grammar to re-explain the main points of the reading and listening passages. The need to be able to paraphrase highlights the importance of vocabulary, which is also why the first section of my Online TOEFL Course is vocabulary.

Final Comments

Practicing writing down and then delivering independent and integrated speaking practice tests taking as much time as is needed to deliver a response that has good delivery, accurate grammar and vocabulary usage, and a coherent organization with adequate development is one of the things I recommend that TOEFLers do to develop better control over their deliveries, language use, and topic development. Even if this process requires 30-40 minutes to complete, I still recommend that students do this in their INITIAL speaking practice routine. For example, some of my Online TOEFL Course students will take 1/3 their speaking practice tests that they send me to listen to, evaluate, correct, and grade and will write out their response first.  Then they will practice it several times, even checking to see if the vocabulary and grammar is correct. These students will also check to see if they have organized their responses well and if they have provided adequate supporting details for their responses. Finally, they send it to me to comment on. If fact, one of my students spent about an hour writing out and practicing her speaking responses before sending them to me to grade and 2.5 months later, she took the TOEFL exam and scored 28/30 on the speaking section.

Therefore, speaking naturally, coherently, and fluently may be challenging, but students are able to overcome these obstacles by scoring 26+ on the speaking section, and you can too.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com