Understanding the Rubric for the Independent Speaking Tasks

If you're preparing for the TOEFL, the speaking section can be particularly tricky. The first two speaking tasks are independent speaking questions and if you're getting ready to take the TOEFL, you might be struggling to answer these questions sufficiently.

First of all, you should know what the TOEFL raters are looking for. Let's take a look at the specific descriptions from the ETS rubric for the independent speaking task to learn what a perfect score of 4/4 requires:

DELIVERY: According to the ETS rubric, in term of delivery, an answer should have "generally well-paced flow (fluid expression). Speech is clear. It may include minor lapses, or minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation patterns, which do not affect overall intelligibility. "

WHAT THIS MEANS: You should be able to speak at a good pace without long pauses. You should not stammer or stutter, and your voice should be clear and understandable.

LANGUAGE USE: In terms of language use, "the response demonstrates effective use of grammar and vocabulary. It exhibits a fairly high degree of automaticity with good control of basic and complex structures (as appropriate). Some minor (or systematic) errors are noticeable but do not obscure meaning."

WHAT THIS MEANS: You need to be able to use different grammatical structures accurately and include appropriate vocabulary. You should have only minor errors.

TOPIC DEVELOPMENT: Response is sustained and sufficient to the task. It is generally well developed and coherent; relationships between ideas are clear (or clear progression of ideas).

WHAT THIS MEANS: You can speak about this topic comfortably without significant pauses. You have structured your answer and the content is clearly understandable. Your ideas flow well.

Now, let's move on to two sample questions.

Take 15 seconds to prepare your answer and 45 seconds to speak. Be sure to record your answer.


Talk about a time when you successfully accomplished something you thought was impossible.


Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

Stress affects people's ability to make good decisions.

Give reasons and details for your explanation.

When you are done recording your answers, play them back and listen to them.

Think about your delivery, language use, and topic development.

Analyze your answers according to these three categories. Then, think and take notes on how you can improve your answer.

In the next blog posting, I will cover 2 sample answers for these questions. Want feedback on your answers for these two questions? Then book a free consultation and one of our instructors will evaluate your answers and give you recommendations on how to get a better score!

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