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TOEFL Tip #113: Content not as Important as Pronunciation & Grammar on TOEFL Speaking

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 5, 2011

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the results of Strictly English’s research on the TOEFL exam, conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Speaking section.

Because Strictly English fully respects ETS’s copyright protection, the examples below have been fabricated in order to illustrate the issues we’d like to discuss from our research. This material is not quoted from the TOEFL exam.

In the Speaking section, our research has identified a surprising, perhaps even shocking, result. The information we have gathered indicates that content plays a far less important role than we initially thought it did. Strictly English test-takers said that they only briefly addressed the prompt’s content before abandoning that topic and instead, rambled on about something else that was only tangentially connected.

For example, if Task One asked the test taker to describe your favorite season, our researcher responded as follows: “I love summer because that’s when I get to visit my mother in Florida. I love Florida because I like watching the tourists who come from all around the world to enjoy our warm ocean water and terrific beaches. I also enjoy freshly squeezed juice made from oranges that grow in my mother’s back yard. Finally, I like the excitement of DisneyWorld and Epcot Center.” Notice how most of her answer says nothing about summer, the speaker’s favorite season. In fact, these reasons to like Florida are not seasonal at all; they are available year-round in Florida. Our researcher–an American and native speaker of English–spoke in perfect English with no grammar mistakes and no pronunciation errors. She scored a 30. This indicates that talking about the prompt’s topic might not really be as important as everyone thinks.

Another researcher reported that he spoke with virtually no details for any of the tasks. In fact, he stated in his answer that he didn’t understand everything in the announcement. This test-taker also started his response by spending 20 seconds reading the prompt aloud, and then said, “hmmmmmm….. I didn’t understand the announcement very well, but I know it was talking about a school dorm. I’m not quite sure about the details, but I know that the woman is not happy.” This was his complete answer. Notice that he didn’t summarize any details from the announcement (for example, that the dorm was closing, or that it was closing early to have lead paint removed). He just referred to “dorm.” He also said nothing about the woman’s opinion, except that she is unhappy. This test-taker stretched out this paltry content for the full 60 seconds, and still received a 26. Again, he spoke with perfect English.

What is the lesson to take from this research? The scores for the Speaking section seem to be all about having perfect intermediate level English and no accent. Please note: we are not encouraging test takers to entirely ignore content and speak about topics completely unrelated to the exam questions. Instead, we are encouraging you to be less anxious about the content. Instead, you need to worry a lot more about speaking clearly with correct grammar.


Categories: Pronunciation,Speaking,TOEFL for Pharmacy

6 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » Understand the Logic Behind TOEFL Reading Questions

    wrote on August 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    [...] conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Reading section. Be sure to check out our post on the Speaking [...]

  2. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » Listen Carefully

    wrote on August 19, 2011 at 8:01 am

    [...] this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Listening section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking and Reading [...]

  3. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » Vary Your Vocabulary

    wrote on August 29, 2011 at 4:05 am

    [...] this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Writing section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking, Reading, and Listening [...]

  4. chi

    wrote on September 26, 2011 at 8:14 am

    is this really for real? can anybody further support this claim?

  5. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » The Year In Review

    wrote on December 31, 2011 at 10:18 am

    [...] of our posts are about the four sections of the TOEFL exam. In particular, a four part series on speaking, reading, listening, and writing discussed Strictly English’s recent research and experience on [...]

  6. Luu, Kim

    wrote on July 2, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    This article may show my problem. When I was practicing with my friends, they told me that my content was good. However, when I took the test, I could not get a high score. Now, I believe that the reason is my heavy accent and grammar mistake. I try to work on these problems. Hopefully, in the next exam, I will get scores I need.

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