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  • For TOEFL Speaking question 1 you have 15 seconds to prepare your answer and 45 seconds to give your answer.
  • Your preparation time begins as soon as you hear the prompt, and your answer time begins as soon as the 15 seconds finishes.
  • At 45 seconds, the recording STOPS. It cuts off. It ends. So be sure to include all the details you need before the 45 second mark.

General Strategies for TOEFL Speaking Question 1

TOEFL Speaking Question 1 is an open-ended and independent question.

What does this mean? 

  1. Your answer MUST be subjective. This means you must use the words “I”, “me” and “my”. I’ll give some examples below.
  2. You do NOT read or listen to any other materials before answering Question 1.
  3. You MUST tell a story for TOEFL Speaking question 1 – a personal story, that is TRUE, about an event that happened to you. Why is this? Because with personal stories, it’s very EASY to include several details. Story-telling is a natural skill for many humans.
  4. When you tell this story, avoid using the word “You”. This is a vague generalization, and you will get marked down if you use it (This is the first BIG challenge students face – to fix it, record yourself and listen for any ‘you’s’).

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Note-Taking Strategies for TOEFL Speaking Question 1

  1. You MUST write down your argument note map (G+TiC – see example below) BEFORE you read the prompt. Make it look like this
  2. Remember, you only have 15 seconds to prepare, so you must be QUICK with writing down notes.
  3. When asked a question in the prompt, write down the FIRST thing that comes to mind. You DON’T have time to go over 3 or 4 possibilities. This is the second biggest challenge students face.
  4. Write down 3 or 4 main details for the prompt. For example, if the prompt is “Your friend wants to visit a new city. What city do you recommend and why?” you could write down “New York”, “food”, “energy”, “excitement”, “Broadway.” The first two notes – food and energy – relate to WHY people travel. The second two notes – excitement and Broadway – relate to YOUR personal story. BOTH the general and specific are necessary.
  5. Leave out any FLUFF words. This means you do NOT write down prepositions (in, out, above), conjunctions (and, or), and articles (the, a, an). FOCUS on nouns and verbs, like the example above.

Here are some basic notes we would use for question 1, including the argument map:

  • Step 1
    • Read the prompt
      • Your friend wants to visit a new city. What city do you recommend and why?
  • Step 2
    • Develop ideas
      • I = New York
      • 1 = food, energy
      • 2 = hell’s kitchen, broadway

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After taking Paul’s TOEFL Speaking Evaluation, I knew the exact reasons why I wasn’ t getting 26 on TOEFL Speaking.”


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Homeira A. contacted me for a TOEFL Speaking Evaluation in order to understand why she had not earned 26 on TOEFL Speaking.

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Answer Strategies for TOEFL Speaking Question 1

  1. Spend 5 seconds on your introduction, 35 seconds on your story and last 5 seconds on conclusion
  2. Be enthusiastic with your response. TOEFL graders do NOT want to hear a bored robot. Inject some life into it!
  3. When giving an introduction sentence, use phrasing from the prompt. See my example below.
  4. REMEMBER to speak SUBJECTIVELY – I am writing this again because it’s VERY important. Use the words “I”, “me”, and “my” in your response.
  5. Lots of details! Lots and lots and lots of specific details! The more specific, the better.
  6. Again, do NOT use “you” in your response. Generalization = VERY bad.

Here is an example answer someone might give to the question: “Your friend wants to visit a new city. What city do you recommend and why?” 

  • Personally, I think New York would be a great city for my friend to visit.
  • The first reason is that New York has some great food. Last year, I went to Hell’s Kitchen while in New York City and there were a ton of restaurants. I really enjoyed them! The second reason is that the energy and excitement of New York are like no other city. When I went to New York, I went to two different Broadway shows and enjoyed both. I couldn’t believe the talent at the Broadway shows and how amazing it was!
  • For those reasons, I’d recommend my friend move to New York City.

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HOW to Practice for TOEFL Speaking Question 1

1. You MUST record yourself: I know it’s awkward. I know it’s strange. But it’s the ONLY way to really focus on your mistakes and correct them.

If you need more example prompts to practice with on your OWN time, check out our list of TOEFL Speaking Topics

2. Find a speaking partner: There are a number of websites and forums where you can find speaking partners to help correct your mistakes. One note, however: non-native speaking partners will only be able to fix the BIG problems. It will be VERY difficult for them to help fix pronunciation, grammar, and other problems that require a native speaker.

3. Hire a TOEFL Speaking Teacher: If FAST progress is important for you, or if you REALLY need to get a HIGH score, then I recommend hiring a TOEFL Speaking Teacher. I offer lessons. Please sign up for a 30 minute TOEFL Speaking Evaluation HERE (You won’t find a better deal on the internet)

If you want even more Speaking and Writing strategies for the TOEFL test, we highly recommend purchasing Bruce Stirling’s book: Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT

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