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TOEFL & IELTS Speaking: How to Get a Perfect Score [Study Guide]

“Study hard and be consistent. Remember who you want to become . . . you can make your dreams a reality if you consistently work hard toward that dream.”

By Benjamin Dent


Are you preparing to take the TOEFL or IELTS exam in the next few weeks or months?

If you are like me, you have probably procrastinated, or in other words, waited until the last minute. If you are not a procrastinator, then I applaud you for your discipline.

Whatever the case may be, I am here to help you ace the speaking part! Just keep reading below. My job is to help make your dreams come true.


Both the TOEFL and IELTS assess your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills in English. The TOEFL is taken on a computer, whereas the IELTS is taken in person with pen and paper.

Would you rather speak into a microphone or speak face-to-face? It all boils down to your level of confidence and if you feel a real-life situation will help or hurt you.

Two young guys and one girl hiding behind a desk that are nervous to take an English speaking exam like the TOEFL or IELTS exam

Be prepared to focus for 3-4 hours! The IELTS exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes and the TOEFL is 4 hours; however, the speaking section of the TOEFL takes 20 minutes with 6 tasks compared to 11-14 minutes with 3 tasks for the IELTS.

The best way to prepare for a timed test is to build up your ability to focus for a set amount of time.

Start with a reasonable goal and then add more time until you are comfortable with 4 hours of test taking. I know it sucks, but it will pay off.

If you are struggling to motivate yourself, just remember why you want to learn English and think of the opportunities you will have. The world is in your hands. You got this!

Stages of personal growth and belief in yourself that you can learn and speak English

For more information about the differences between the TOEFL or IELTS, check out this blog that PrepScholar wrote.

TOEFL format

  • The TOEFL speaking section consists of six questions. Below is a simple breakdown of each question in an attempt to reduce that feeling of test anxiety that is making you sweat.

Question 1 & 2 (Independent topics)

You will be asked to speak about something that is familiar to you. This is opinion based and you will be given 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to respond.

  • Do you think it’s better to eat at home or eat out? Use reasons and details in your explanations.
  • What is your idea of a perfect vacation? Use reasons and details in your explanation.

Question 3 (Integrated speaking portion)

You will read a short passage about a campus-related topic. Then, you will listen to a response about that topic. Explain how the person’s opinion relates to the issues spoken about in the reading passage.You will have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak your response. 

  • Do you think it’s better to eat at home or eat out? Use reasons and details in your explanations.
  • What is your idea of a perfect vacation? Use reasons and details in your explanation.

Question 4 (Integrated speaking portion)

You will read about an academic subject. Next, you will listen to a recorded lecture on that same subject. Your response should start with explaining the subject and then how the recorded lecture relates to or explains the subject in the passage. You will have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond.

  • For example, the passage could be about the psychological effects of stress from a textbook. The recorded lecture will talk about examples relating to stress. Your job is to discuss the points illustrated in the recorded lecture and then relate it back to the passage you read.

Question 5 (Integrated speaking portion)

You will listen to a passage about a campus problem and one or more solutions. You will need to describe the problem and support your opinions for the solution. You will have 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond.

  • For example, the problem could be about the safety issues of students riding their bikes and longboards through campus. Crashes and injuries can happen. What would you recommend and why?

Question 6 (Integrated speaking portion)

You will listen to an recording from an academic lecture about a single topic. Your job is to give a summary and explain the main points discussed in the recording as it relates to the topic. You will have 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond. 

For more information, I always recommend going to the website of the test maker. In this case, visit ETS TOEFL.

I would also recommend going to the TOEFL video library where you can find the questions and example responses in video and text/transcript format. They will be located under Speaking Questions.

IELTS format

As mentioned before, the IELTS speaking section is administered in person and is recorded. You will be speaking to another person when you give your response. Here is a breakdown of the speaking section.

Part 1

  • You will be asked by the examiner general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics.
  • These topics could be social life, family life, work, school, hobbies and interests. This lasts between four and five minutes.

Part 2

  • You will be given a topic to speak about with one minute to prepare and up to two minutes to give your response. 
  • The examiner will ask one or two questions about the same topic and you will have to answer.

Part 3

  • This part is a continuation from part 2 where you will be asked more questions about the topic you were given. This part allows you to talk about more abstract ideas and issues.  
  • Abstract basically refers to topics that are more theoretical by nature, that don’t have a physical existence. For example, explaining what a tree looks like would be objective and physical, whereas explaining a topic like fairness is more about thought as fairness does not take on a specific physical form or shape.

Check out the IELTS website for a deeper dive into the test format.

Also, IELTS Advantage makes some killer content to help you prepare for and ace the speaking interview.

Grading and scoring of the TOEFL

Each section of the TOEFL is scored out of 30 points, making a total of 120 possible points. 

Scores are good for 2 years and you can take the test as many times as you want as long as 12 days have passed from when you took the exam.

The TOEFL is scored by both human raters and automated scoring methods to ensure the most accurate results. For the speaking section specifically, multiple raters will score your response to minimize bias. 

This is good for the test taker!

All six responses are scored on a scale of 0 – 4. Raters will be looking for three main things:

  • Delivery – Clear and fluid speech, good pronunciation, natural pace and good intonation
  • Language use – Use of grammar and vocabulary to express your ideas
  • Topic development – How fully you answer, how clearly you express your ideas and how you connect ideas
TOEFL scoring rubric for independent speaking section
TOEFL scoring rubric for integrated speaking section

Still have questions? Click here for more information on TOEFL scoring.

Grading and scoring of the IELTS

Similar to the TOEFL, your IELTS test score is good for 2 years. You can retake it as many times as you wish, but it is advised you wait 2 months before retaking it.

Furthermore, tests are graded by experienced and licensed examiners who are overseen by other senior examiners. This is done to reduce bias and make sure you get the most accurate score.

IELTS results are intended to be simple and easy to understand. They are reported as band scores on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest). 

Each section is given a score. For the speaking section, the assessment criteria below is used to award a band score for each of the four criteria:

  • Fluency and coherence

  • Lexical resource 

  • Grammatical range and accuracy

  • Pronunciation

For more information, visit the IELTS scoring page.

IELTS band score rubric showing a score of a 6,7,8,9

So what should you do next?

Start practicing now! Practice makes perfect. 

The more you can train your ear and brain to think in English, the better you become at speaking and understanding.

Trust me on this one. I know you may think you need to memorize more words and phrases before you can start speaking.

While that is partly true, what is even more important is practicing what you are learning and putting it all into context.

This is how your brain learns. Memorizing is not enough. Acting on and practicing what you have memorized is.

  • Suggestion – Try finding a partner to help you speak and practice your English. 
Chinese girl learning and speaking English on the HaLLo app on her mobile phone with another person on video chat,call

This is one of the reasons why we created Hallo! 

You can find Hallo on the Google play store. Our app allows you to connect with others that are learning english and to practice through live video, audio and text.

And it’s free!

Game plan [Study guide]

Now it’s game time! 

Don’t freak out about what you may have heard about these two tests. People love spreading rumors and that will always be the case. 

In fact, check out this article that debunks 10 myths about the IELTS. The same concepts, where applicable, can be applied to the TOEFL.

So you are probably overwhelmed at this point. I am surprised you have made it this far on my blog post!

stressed woman with her hands on her head struggling to learn language

As promised, here are some tips to help you prepare for and ACE the speaking section of the TOEFL and IELTS.

1) Practice with native speakers

Failure is ok. Fear of failure is not. You learn the quickest from recognizing mistakes and trying again, again and again.

Many non-native speakers fear that others will make fun of them because of their accent. This is simply not true. 

In fact, having an accent makes you stand out and is actually kind of cool!

Just look at Jackie Chan. Everyone loves Jackie, especially Americans.

Jackie Chan bowing with two golden retrievers

Do everything you can to practice and listen to native speakers.

YouTube is your best friend for this. You can listen to pretty much anything and it’s free.

Also, it mimics the same format as the TOEFL and IELTS where a passage or audio recording is chosen and you need to summarize it and discuss relevant points or opinions.

If you have money to spend, my next recommendation would be FluentU.

They find the best videos from native speakers in all languages that are funny, entertaining and enjoyable to watch. They have many tools to help you learn English and many other languages.

This can help you understand words in real-world context. Sadly, they only have an iPhone/iPad app. Android is coming soon.

Another creative way you can practice speaking is by using Skype!

Make a few international phone calls to english speaking countries and practice a situation over the phone.

For example, you can try booking a hotel or ordering food. 

Just get creative. Plus, you will never see or talk to these people again so why worry? 

2) Talk with a friend about what you did yesterday or are doing this weekend 

I am a big fan of this because it is like a study group. You can learn from each other and teach each other in a fun and fearless environment. Also, this is very similar to what you will be doing in the TOEFL or IELTS.

I promise you that doing this will be a wise use of your time. The reason is because you are applying what you are learning and you are forcing your brain to think and to create new connections which translates into new knowledge.

There is my free neuroscience lesson for ya!

neuroscience of two brains making connections learning
  • Study Tip – if you are talking about what you did yesterday, remember to use the past tense. If you are going to talk about what you plan to do this weekend, use the future tense.

Furthermore, copy the format of the TOEFL and IELTS. Take 30 seconds to prepare, and 60 seconds to speak your response.

I would recommend you also write your response, because that is forming a new connecting in your brain making you one step closer to becoming fluent.

3) Explain pictures

This may sound strange, but it can be helpful to get you to start thinking in different ways. Just like speaking into a microphone or to a camera may feel awkward, it takes time to get used to new ways of doing things.

This will help you learn an important skill: thinking on your feet. This means you need to think and act quickly. No time for ums, ahs and buts. This specific skill is what many tests measure in different forms.

4) Practice making recommendations

This is something both exams require, especially the TOEFL. Copy the same format in the TOEFL exam when you are practicing so you become familiar and comfortable with this.

5) Don’t memorize

Don’t memorize full responses!

Memorizing phrases and transition words makes sense; however, there will be no need to “memorize” a few words before the exam if you are practicing consistently. 

The words will come to you if you have practiced sufficiently.

This brings up an effective learning strategy: learning in different environments and contexts.

This is how your brain recalls the things you have learned. 

Does it make sense? 

The more variety you have in learning, the smarter you become because you have more connections formed in your brain. You have more to choose from!

6) Use transition words

Before, after, also, first, second, third, finally, lastly, in summary, in addition, therefore, whereas, on the other hand, in contrast, hence, likewise and similar to.

These words are super helpful in speaking and writing. They help create flow and continuity in speech which is something you will be graded on.

  • New phrase – try learning how to use “former” and “latter” in sentences when you are explaining the difference between two things. This is a phrase commonly used in academic speech that will make you look smart and know what you are talking about. Learn it now on grammarly

7) Take every practice test you can find!

Find all the free practice exams you can and take them in an environment similar to that of the TOEFL or IELTS. This will help you prepare and become comfortable when you are taking the real test.

For example, set a timer for 20 minutes (that is the time limit for the TOEFL). This will train you to think fast and prepare you to successfully ace the exam.

The best test takers understand the tests they are taking inside and out. 

This is huge! 

So become familiar, ask questions and continue to learn until you find answers to those questions. Get that perfect score!

person taking an english exam like in the TOEFL or ILETS

8) Write down your thoughts

This is an effective strategy for test taking. Write down keywords or phrases that summarize important topics, arguments and opinions. 

This is very relevant in the TOEFL exam where you will be asked to summarize a passage and recorded lecture.

  • Study tip – Don’t write too much. Listening is still the most important activity happening in this situation. Just write down important topics and points made.

9) Download apps to help you learn

Besides the official websites of the TOEFL or IELTS, try some apps that are specifically designed to help you prep for these exams. Here are some of the best apps on the market:


  • IELTS Prep App – TakeIELTS.org (rating – 4.4) Apple | Android
  • Vocabulary Flashcards – IELTS (rating – 4.8) Apple | Android


  • Flashcards – TOEFL Vocabulary (rating – 4.8) Apple | Android

English resources

  • Hallo’s curriculum – choose between beginner, intermediate and advanced curriculum. Our curriculum is focused on being practical and similar to real-life situations. It is best suited for studying with a friend. Come find a language learning friend on Hallo! 
  • All Ears English (AEE) (rating 4.7) – this is the COOLEST podcast and app I have seen in a while. AEE provides motivation, inspiration and real-life English with access to 600+ podcasts, IELTS prep material and much more. They will teach you about American culture and how to communicate naturally and easily in English. Download the app on Apple or podcast on Apple, Android or web player.

Keep calm. You got this!

Although I mainly spoke about the speaking section of both exams and how to successfully prepare for it, the study guide and tips apply to all forms of learning as you become more fluent in English.

Getting a competitive score on the TOEFL or IELTS is a big deal.

It will open up many doors that will bring wonderful opportunities to you. Study hard and be consistent.

Remember what you want to become and where you want to be in 2 years, 5 years, 20 years from now.

You can make your dreams a reality if you consistently work hard toward that dream.

I believe in you.

Let me know below what questions you have, what topics you would like me to discuss or blog about, or even vlog.

We will start vlogging shortly so keep an eye out for a YouTube video dropping soon! Let us know what you want to see and hear.

Cheers –

Ben from Hallo

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