Before learning about the various TOEFL Speaking Topics, make sure that you understand the basics of the TOEFL Speaking section. Our TOEFL Speaking infographic is a great place to start:
Now, on to the specifics …
What You’ll Learn in This Article
You’re probably here because you want to understand what concepts the TOEFL Speaking section tests, how it tests those concepts, and what types of questions you can expect to see on test day. And that’s exactly what you’ll find! The goal of this post is to introduce you to TOEFL Speaking on a high level, and then delve into specifics that will help you prepare for the exam.
When you get to the end of the post, be sure to sign up for Magoosh’s 1 Week Free Trial to get access to some Speaking lesson videos from our TOEFL Experts.
Here are the sections in case you’d like to jump ahead:
The Difference Between Integrated and Independent TOEFL Speaking Tasks
Similar to the TOEFL writing section, the TOEFL speaking section includes two types of questions—“independent” questions and “integrated” questions. In terms of topics, there’s a pretty clear divide between the two types: integrated TOEFL speaking topics are about academic topics while independent speaking topics are about personal experiences, opinions, and ideas.
The “integrated” topics are called that for a reason: they integrate reading and/or listening with speaking. That also means that integrated speaking topics are as varied as listening and reading topics, and answering them well mostly depends on how well you can find the most important ideas in a lecture or text.
In contrast, the independent tasks are only really about how well you can speak, rather than how well you digest incoming information. That means communicating clearly.
TOEFL Speaking Topic 1: Select One from Many
The subject of the first speaking task will be something very easy to relate to. It will be about a very broad topic which you will then give a personal answer to. For example, you might be asked about your favorite type of music.
Or you may be asked about family member, a hobby, or an accomplishment. Here’s a list of some very TOEFL-like questions for reference. If you started studying English as an adult, these questions might look familiar. They are the types of questions that beginner’s English text books often ask, because they rely almost completely on the present simple (e.g. “I love soccer”) or the past simple (e.g. “I played soccer”).
To answer these questions well, it’s important to choose a specific subject to speak about quickly. If the TOEFL asks you about a person who you admire, you should choose the first person you think of, and then immediately start thinking about why you admire them.
TOEFL Speaking Topic 2: Choose a Preference from Two
This speaking prompt will be very similar to many TOEFL essay prompts. It will ask you to make a choice between two things, then support that choice. For example, this topic is from the essay prompt list in Official Guide, but it could easily appear as the second speaking task: “Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in and why?
Note: ETS used to give a list of essay prompts for free on their website, but they deleted that page. Now, you need the official guide to see the list of essay prompts mentioned above.
Again, this is an exercise in choosing fast. You only have 30 seconds to answer, so you need to make a quick decision and then work on supporting it with a reason or two.
Cats or dogs?
Black or white?
Cold or hot?
And then there’s the most important part of the question: why?
ETS, which makes both the TOEFL and the GRE, likes to ask questions about education especially. So, in order to prepare for your TOEFL, it’s a good idea to practice speaking about your preferences in education. Where do you like to study? What types of teachers do you like? Do you like to work alone or in groups? What subjects are the most interesting? (If you’re going to take the GRE, that essay is very possibly going to be about education, too, so this might help in that preparation, too).
TOEFL Speaking Practice Topics for Tasks 1 and 2
1. Talk about a purchase you’ve made that you are happy with. Describe what you purchased and explain why you are happy about it.
2. Talk about a time when you found a task harder to accomplish than you expected. What were you trying to accomplish? Why did it become difficult?
3. What personality quality do you think is most important in a good friend? Explain why.
4. Talk about something friend a family member of yours did that you were proud of. Describe what they did, and explain why you were proud.
5. Choose a recent event in your country that people want to talk about. Why are people interested in the event? Explain with specific details and reasons.
6. Imagine the ways in which your country will change over the next five years. Talk about one way you expect it to change. Use details to explain your answer.
7. Choose a famous person who you think would be enjoyable to have a conversation with. Explain why you would like to talk with them, using specific details and reasons.
8. Choose a subject that students study in school but you think is not important. Explain why you feel it is not important to study. Use details and examples in your response.
9. What type of long-distance transportation do you think is most enjoyable? Explain why you like it with specific details and examples.
10. Think of a movie you have not seen but would like to see. Explain why you expect to like the movie. Give specific details and reasons in your response.
1. Some people prefer work that allows them move around outdoors. Others feel it is more pleasant to work in an office. Which do you prefer, and why?
2. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
Snakes should never be kept as pets.
3. Some people feel they perform better when they have to finish by a strict time. Others feel they do better work if they do not have time pressure. Which best describes you? Explain why.
4. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
Parents should buy for their children any books that the children choose to read.
5. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
Students should spend more time learning outside of classrooms than within classrooms.
6. In some areas, summer days are longer, so there is more daylight in the evening and early morning, but winter days are shorter. In other areas, summer and winter days are similar lengths throughout the year. Which do you prefer, and why?
7. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
Movies that are longer than three hours should be made shorter by removing less important scenes.
8. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
Parents who do not regularly exercise should start in order to be good role models for their children.
9. Some people prefer to respond to emails, phone calls, and other messages they receive immediately. Others take more time to respond. Which do you do, and why?
10. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use details and examples to explain your answer.
It’s better to reward employees with gifts and job perks, such as gym memberships or English classes, than it is to simply pay more.
TOEFL Speaking Slideshare
If you’re a visual learner, you can also view these practice questions in our SlideShare: 🙂
TOEFL Speaking Topics: What You'll Talk About on the TOEFL de Magoosh
Preparing for TOEFL Speaking
Between the first and second tasks, TOEFL speaking subjects have a very wide range. If you also factor in the integrated, academic tasks, that range is enormous. The most important thing for preparing isn’t learning all of the topics; it’s learning how to answer completely in a very short time and under pressure, and knowing the proper strategies to tackle each task. A great way to do this is by taking a TOEFL practice test and signing up for the free trial of our premium prep. I’ll elaborate more on this in later posts. 🙂
You might also download our free TOEFL speaking app for your iPhone or Android. The app simulates the real TOEFL speaking test with free practice speaking materials. You can even use it in offline mode any time you need more practice.
Here’s one more resource for you! You can take a full-length TOEFL speaking practice test by checking out our new video post, in which you’ll have the chance to respond to six TOEFL speaking questions, just as you will on test day!
Video: TOEFL Speaking Test
This video contains 6 TOEFL speaking practice questions designed to be just like the real TOEFL exam.
While the TOEFL is generally a very different type of test from the GRE, the GMAT, and the SAT, there are a few similarities, and the writing section is one of them. As with most standardized tests, the TOEFL asks you to write an essay. Well, it asks for two essays, actually—one is about a reading and a lecture (which you’ll summarize), and the second is more open-ended. Let’s look at the TOEFL writing topics that you might see for that second TOEFL essay, the “independent task.”
On one hand, there are a LOT of different TOEFL writing topics. You might be asked to write an essay about technology, education, media, family, or some other subject. But on the other hand, there are only a few different types of questions.
ETS does provide a list of TOEFL independent essay questions in the official guide, and it’s a good idea to look over those. But there’s an excess of information there—we want to know some more useful generalities! So let’s divide those subjects into types. (Click here to jump ahead to the first of those three types!)
A Note on Practicing TOEFL Writing Topics
If you practice writing the essay before test day (a good idea!), then you can use an essay prompt from the ETS list mentioned above. This is a great option.
For more customized practice, sign up for Magoosh’s 7-day free trial, select “Practice –> Custom Practice –> Writing Section”, and then try one of our premium TOEFL Writing prompts. You can also choose to only practice the independent task, if that’s what you want to focus on. The trial lasts 7 days and you don’t need a credit card to sign up.
Here’s what that looks like:
Let’s talk about the TOEFL “independent task” writing topic types I mentioned above!
TOEFL Writing Topic Type 1: Choose a Side
This is by far the most common type of independent writing question. These TOEFL prompts ask you to choose A or B then explain your decision. There are a couple of different approaches to writing this type of essay, but the simplest form is the “five paragraph essay.” Usually this is actually only four paragraphs, because you don’t have that much time—the test only gives you 30 minutes to complete your independent essay.
So if you choose A, you might write an essay that looks like this:
- Body 1
- Reason 1 and examples of why A is better
- Short contrast with B
- Body 2
- Reason 2 and examples of why A is better
- Short contrast with B
- Why this is significant in the real world
Of course, there are other ways to write an essay, but it’s a good idea to use a relatively simple structure for clarity. This is more true for the TOEFL than it is for essays on other tests, like the GRE, because the TOEFL is really a test of communication and how well you can write in English.
Here are some examples of the “choose a side” writing topics:
“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
“Some people like to travel with a companion. Other people prefer to travel alone. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your choice.”
“Some people believe that the Earth is being harmed (damaged) by human activity. Others feel that human activity makes the Earth a better place to live. What is your opinion? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
“It has recently been announced that a large shopping center may be built in your neighborhood. Do you support or oppose this plan? Why? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer”
There are a few common phrases which you will see in these essay topics, so they’re easy to spot — those phrases are bold in the examples above.
You might also get a slightly more complicated version of the “choose a side” prompt that asks you to compare sides, like this one:
“When people move to another country, some of them decide to follow the customs of the new country. Others prefer to keep their own customs. Compare these two choices. Which one do you prefer? Support your answer with specific details.”
In that case, you could still use the structure I showed above, but you would emphasize the contrasts with “B” and write a bit more about them.
Writing Topic Type 2: View Both Sides
This is actually very similar to the “choose a side” type of essay subject, but it’s a little bit more complicated because you have to think from two different standpoints. Thankfully, it’s also not as common.
Here are a few examples:
“The government has announced that it plans to build a new university. Some people think that your community would be a good place to locate the university. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a new university in your community. Use specific details in your discussion.”
“Some young children spend a great amount of their time practicing sports. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.”
There are a couple of different ways you might structure an essay like, but the simplest one may be the best.
- General statements about issue
- Body 1
- Body 2
- Disadvantages and examples
- Why this is significant in the real world
Writing Topic Type 3: Describe or Explain
In a way, this is the most difficult type of independent essay question because it doesn’t give you an A or B situation. Instead, you have to think of your own subject from a very big pool of possibilities.
“What discovery in the last 100 years has been most beneficial for people in your country? Use specific reasons and examples to support your choice.”
“The 21st century has begun. What changes do you think this new century will bring? Use examples and details in your answer.”
“What change would make your hometown more appealing to people your age? Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.”
“If you could study a subject that you have never had the opportunity to study, what would you choose? Explain your choice, using specific reasons and details.”
“If you could invent something new, what product would you develop? Use specific details to explain why this invention is needed.”
Because these writing topics don’t give you a yes–no or A–B choice, it’s easy to get stuck in the planning phase. (By the way, planning is incredibly important for writing any standardized test essay; don’t skip it!)
The structure doesn’t have to be very different, though. Here’s a rough idea of how you might organize a descriptive essay:
- Body 1
- Body 2
- Body 3
- Why this is significant in the real world
Notice I added one more body paragraph. Because there’s no “other side” to deal with, you have more time to explain the one topic you chose. So why not use that time for another paragraph!
This Is Only Half of TOEFL Writing
Remember that the independent essay is only half of the TOEFL writing section. There’s also the integrated task. We’ll look at the topics of integrated tasks in another post!
Ready For Some Practice?
If you’re ready to try out writing the independent task for yourself, try a customized practice session in Magoosh TOEFL’s free trial or take a look at our full-length TOEFL Writing test, which will also introduce you to the integrated task: