TOEFL Speaking 26: Reaching the magical score

Some say it’s like hitting the lottery; others say it’s like lightning striking twice in the same spot. It’s kind of like getting a full house in a game of cards. Aside from a bit of luck, scoring 26/30 on the TOEFL iBT exam, says some students who have speaking practice for the TOEFL iBT exam, requires a combination of vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, reading, listening, note-taking, and speaking. On any given day, these seven language areas must be near-perfect in order for the test-taker to reach his/her magical score of 26.

Vocabulary, vocabulary, and vocabulary: What can a speaker do with a language without vocabulary? Scoring 26/30 on the TOEFL iBT speaking section of the exam requires a combination of basic and advanced vocabulary. For example, during the independent speaking task, test-takers are asked about familiar topics in which they must come up with specific details in response to the personal preference and pair-choice responses. Once test-takers see a question such as “Describe a place you visited as a child. Then explain a favorite memory you had while visiting that place.”, they will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. This type of question requires a lot of basic, specific, and telling vocabulary in oder to answer the question. Students must have had a lot of experience with English in order to answer this question satisfactorily.

Vocabulary is also important for the integrated speaking tasks of the TOEFL iBT. For example, let’s say test-takers listen to a lecture about glaciers and particularly how glaciers are formed. Test-takers, in an effort to avoid plagiarism, should paraphrase the ideas by using synonyms which re-explain the information they are listening to in the lecture or reading passage. Therefore, in this case, in addition to having a knowledge of basic vocabulary, test-takers also need more advanced vocabulary. Many students who score high on the speaking section claim that they spent countless hours studying and memorizing vocabulary before taking the TOEFL exam so that they could be prepared for the speaking section of the exam.

In addition to having good control of basic and advanced vocabulary, test-takers also need to have clear pronunciation. In order to speak clearly, test-takers must pronounce all vowel and consonant sounds clearly, they must be able to pronounce the syllables and grammatical word endings of each word, they must use correct sentence rhythm and intonation on all words and phrases, and they must clearly distinguish thought groups and blending. In other words, test-takers need to be intelligible so that iBT human raters do not have to make much of an effort to understand what the test-takers are saying during the iBT independent and integrated speaking tasks.

The next important part of getting 26 on the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT is to use both basic and advanced grammar accurately. In the case of the two independent speaking tasks, test-takers will create whatever grammar is most appropriate to the task, and, if test-takers have been speaking and have had contact with English on a regular basis, they will be able to use the most correct and accurate grammar suitable to the speaking task. Moreover, test-takers should use a combination of simple, compound and complex sentence styles. For example, test-takers should use shorter simpler sentences for emphasis and should combine less important ideas with main ideas in complex sentences. Furthermore, depending on what is most appropriate, the complex sentences will be used in the form of noun, adjective, and adverb clauses. When completing the integrated speaking tasks, test-takers may be tempted to use exactly the same grammar in the reading or listening passages, but this strategy is ill-advised. Paraphrasing, using roughly the number of words as the original sentence but different vocabulary and grammar, is a better choice since it avoids plagiarism and demonstrates test-takers broader range of academic language proficiency.

With respect to the integrated speaking tasks, test-takers should have good reading, listening, and note-taking abilities. For instance, test-takers need to identify the main and most important supporting points of the reading and listening passages and get these ideas down in note form using some sort of abbreviated note-taking system. More importantly, test-takers should organize the notes in a way that show the relationship between the main points in the listening passages to those in the reading passage. Therefore, if test-takers can understand the reading and listening passages and organize their notes accordingly, then they will have a good chance of being able to coherently respond to the tasks. In order to perform well on these types of speaking tasks, test-takers should maintain a regular routine of reading, listening, and note-taking practice. This type of practice should be done regularly several months prior to taking the TOEFL iBT exam.

Maybe it not as much as like hitting the lottery or getting lucky in some other way. Scoring 26/30 on the speaking section may be more about consistent vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, reading, listening, note-taking, and speaking practice over an extended period of time.

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