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TOEFL Speaking task 1: ETS -graded responses

 Sample lecture: 25+ TOEFL Speaking course

Speaking task 1

In this task, you will be presented with a statement or issue and asked to express your opinion on it. You will need to provide clear and persuasive reasons to support your position. Before developing our own strategies, let’s first examine what the ETS rater is looking for when they are assessing your response. 


ETS-graded responses

We have three questions that have students’ responses accompanied by ETS raters’ comments. Let's listen to the responses and read the raters’ assessments.

learning from mistakes

Score 4 response

Transcript of High-level Sample Response:

The statement if one of the best ways to learn, uh, by making mistakes, it’s, can be, um, can be discussed controversially but I personally think that the statement is complicate because, um, it is definitely one of the best ways to learn if you do mistakes yourself. I personally, uh, tried, uh, to, um, apply once for a consulting job and, uh, I made the mistake to not inform myself about the company and so I came to, um, to the assessment center and didn’t know anything so it was a great mistake, uh, performed by me and so afterwards I wouldn’t do this mistake again. So if I apply the next time, I will be, uh, prepared in a, in a correct manner.

Rater Comments:

This is an example of a high-level response. The speaker gives a full, clear response after struggling at the beginning. His first sentence is confusing, but he is then able to provide a solid response. He makes a couple of grammatical and word choice errors (“the statement is complicate” instead of “the statement is complicated” and “I wouldn’t do this mistake again” instead of “I wouldn’t make this mistake again”), but the message is clear and these minor errors do not interfere with his meaning. Because the speaker states his stance about the statement and provides a clear personal example, this response is easy to understand and the speaker’s stance is well justified. His delivery is also very clear, and no words or phrases are difficult to understand.

Score 2.5 response

Transcript of Mid-level Sample Response:

In my opinion, I totally agree with this statement. That learning by making mistakes is the one of the best ways, because a couple of reasons. For instance, when I was a high school students, uh, I always try to get a high degree in my math class. But at that time I really didn’t know about to how to resolve the every questions. So I tried the several ways even though I mistakes a lot of the time and I had to spend a lot of time to get the correct answer but after doing that, I, right now I couldn’t find the correct way and very easy and fast and the study guidelines so I can get the grade, the high grade.

Rater Comments:

This is an example of a mid-level response. The speaker has a rather strong accent, but is for the most part still relatively easy to understand, and he provides a sustained response. He starts off strong by stating his opinion (that he agrees with the statement), and attempting to provide an example of a personal experience in order to explain why he agrees. The example is somewhat unclear, however, and it isn’t obvious how making mistakes helped him learn math. Near the end of the explanation, he says, “right now I couldn’t find the correct way,” which is confusing since it sounded like he was talking about how he learned to improve in math (a listener would expect him to say something like, “Now I can always find the correct way to solve a problem.”). The response has some grammatical and vocabulary issues as well, such as extra articles (“how to resolve the every questions” and “I tried the several ways” instead of “I tried several ways”) and some confusing sentences (“I always try to get a high degree in my math class” instead of “I always tried to do well/get a high grade in math classes”). 

favorite type of books 

Score 4 response

Transcript of Response:

I like reading biography books the most, there’re two reasons for it. First, uh, we can learn some pretty good productivity hacks from these books. Like I have read about Jerry Seinfeld where he uses the Seinfeld strategy, which is to at least write something daily, be it good, bad, but he used to write daily. Uh, second reason would be, you can find the right motivation. Um, like, as in the case when things are going down south for you, you can keep pushing for your dreams, you can keep on pursuing it, and, things will do go right, like in the case of Google founders, um, Larry Page and Sergey Brin—they were rejected by Yahoo, uh, but now they are successful. Google is a very successful company.

Rater Comments:

This is an example of a high-level response. In the beginning of the response, Sarthak clearly states his preference for biographies, and then goes on to explain why he likes biographies so much. His first reason is that you can learn from biographies by seeing how other people do things. His second reason is that biographies can provide their readers with motivation. He explains that the founders of Google were successful even after facing rejection, though it is not completely clear how this has motivated Sarthak (or if he learned about it in a biography). This response would be even more full and complete if Sarthak provided a clearer explanation of how biographies personally motivate him. In terms of the delivery of the response, Sarthak has a noticeable accent, but he speaks clearly and his accent does not make it difficult for listeners to understand him. He effectively uses some idiomatic phrases, such as, “productivity hacks” and “when things are going down south for you.” While there are some minor errors (“second reason would be,” instead of “the second reason would be,” and “things will do go right,” instead of “things will go all right”), the response is overall very clear and mostly complete.

Score 2 response

I think adventure books more enjoyable than other books, because, uh, other books generally based on, uh, only one topic or only one event, but adventure books has lots of events and topics, uh, so I think adventure books more fluently and enjoyable than other books when I, uh, reading, uh, adventure books, uh, I can’t understand how I spent my time. Uh, it is so fast for me.

Rater Comments:

Nihal O.’s response is mid-level. She does a good job of clearly stating which type of books she enjoys the most (adventure books) and starts to explain why she likes these books, but parts of her explanation are somewhat unclear. For example, when talking about how enjoyable these books are, she says, “when I, uh, reading, uh, adventure books, uh, I can’t understand how I spent my time. Uh, it is so fast for me.” A more effective way of expressing this idea would be to say, “When I’m reading adventure books, time goes by so quickly. I’m so focused on what I’m reading that I lose track of time.” Grammatically, this response has room for improvement, such as changing “adventure books more enjoyable than other books,” to “adventure books are more enjoyable than other books,” or saying “adventure books have lots of events” instead of “adventure books has lots of events.” Nihal speaks with some hesitations and pauses, but her pronunciation is mostly clear. To improve this response, she could provide clearer explanations for her ideas and try to pause less frequently in between words and phrases.  

online classes

Score 4 response

ETS Rater comments
  • well-developed reasons for it. 

  • clear and easy to understand. 

  • not perfect. The major weakness is the imprecise vocabulary and minor grammatical errors. She makes several minor errors of word choice, word form, verb tenses, prepositions, and so on. However, these errors seldom obscure meaning for the listener. For example, she said, “...they can talk about whatever they like if they face a computer...” but she should have said, “they can say whatever they like if they are facing a computer...” In her last sentence, she struggled to communicate the idea that the professor “could give comments on assignments by email.”