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TOEFL Tip #215: You’re a Storyteller, Not a Theorist

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 12, 2014

Let me give you two prompts. You decide which to answer:

1. Tell me a children’s story.


2. Tell me the general theory of relativity.


You have ten seconds to prepare . . .


Let me guess, you decided to answer the first prompt. Why? Because it is much easier to tell a story than to describe a theory or concept. And yet, most TOEFL takers do exactly that. When asked to respond to a relatively simple prompt or lecture, suddenly these test takers try to appear as Nobel laureates.

ETS is not judging how smart you are, but how well you can speak English. Period. But most TOEFL takers try to ‘wow’ the graders by showing their elaborate reasoning skills.


You are only given thirty seconds for your response and not even the smartest among us can create a good theoretical outline in that time.

So make it easier on yourself and the grader. Be a story teller.

The very first things we read as children is stories because they are easy to comprehend. We also create our own stories at a young age for that same reason. All of us, no matter the cultural background, know how to tell a story. You probably have shared one or two with a friend today.

Take all that training and use it to aid you in the TOEFL. This skill will most certainly help you in the first two speaking questions, and can often help you even in trickier lectures.

Here is an example:

TOEFL Speaking Question 1: For many people living in countries that have a natural coastline, laying and playing on the beach is a main past time. What is a main past time in your country and why? Use examples to aid in your response.Theorist:

People in my country of America like to go to shopping malls. I believe this is mainly due to…um….the high number of commercials shown on television. They…uh…watch television and then think about the products so much that they…uh… go to the mall because of their desire to own the products they…uh…have seen.

Story Teller:

People in my country love to go to malls. For example, when I was a small child growing up in Boston, my mother took me to the mall every Friday. During cold months, the mall was often very warm, and in warm months it had an air conditioner. So the mall was very comfortable for us. Moreover, it also let my mother and I have a great time together eating at the restaurants and playing in the video arcade.

See the difference? Even if you could construct that theory in fifteen seconds, you would be hard pressed to give it clearly. So next time, think like a storyteller, not a theorist.

Categories: Speaking,Uncategorized

2 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. Anh

    wrote on February 25, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Agree. Thanks.

  2. Luu, Kim

    wrote on June 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    This article is very useful I believe. This is really true because when i practice, I feel more comfortable to tell real stories than create stories. It takes more time to do both jobs, creating stories and speaking; specially English is our second language. Therefore, we often end up the answer in an half way.

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