To get: free TOEFL Tips Emails, then Become a Free Member

TOEFL Tip #145: Describe The City You Live In

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 2, 2012

Warming up is a good way to maximize your chances for a strong score on the TOEFL Speaking section. Very often, people need to speak for a minute or two to clear their throats, adjust their breathing, and feel confident speaking into a microphone. For too many students, Speaking Task 1 functions as a warm-up, which might not receive as good a score as possible if the voice is hard to hear, etc.

So how can you warm up before the Speaking section?

On test day, you have a chance to test the microphone for the computer you’re taking the TOEFL on. This allows the system to automatically adjust the microphone’s input volume. To do so, you are given a “familiar topic” prompt to answer. It is always the same for every test: “Describe the city you live in.”

The test has you respond to this prompt twice. The first time is at the beginning of the entire exam, and then again at the start of the Speaking section. We at Strictly English think this is a great opportunity to warm up your voice and your TOEFL speaking persona (which will be the subject of next week’s blog post).

Sadly, though, many test centers tell their test takers to merely repeat the phrase, “Describe the city you live in” over and over. They ask the test takers to do this because they think of this exercise only as a microphone check. The proctors just care about verifying whether the microphone is working or not. And when some test takers try to respond to the prompt with a real answer, they take too long formulating their sentences so the computer, therefore, has no input with which to verify if the microphone is working correctly or not. So, by chanting “describe the city you live in” 10 times, the microphone is guaranteed to pick up your voice, even if you’re not saying anything that helps your performance.

But Strictly English really wants to encourage you to NOT chant “describe the city you live in” over and over. Instead, you must tell the proctor, politely, “I really need this time to practice my Speaking, so I can’t afford to repeatedly chant the prompt. I have to use this time to get comfortable speaking real English into the computer.” In fact, if TOEFL lets you replay your recording, we think it’s a great idea to listen to it carefully. This will help you determine if you’re remembering to do everything you’ve studied to do. If you think you sound bad, re-record and try again. Only after you feel comfortable giving your response to the microphone check prompt should you then go on to the actual Speaking section of the test.