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Getting Ready for the Speaking Section on the New TOEFL

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble. This week on Wordmaster: more about the redesigned Test of English as a Foreign Language from the Educational Testing Service. Over the coming year, the new "TOEFL iBT" -- or Internet-based test -- will replace the existing computer and paper versions at testing centers around the world.

RS: The four-hour test now includes a speaking section, in addition to reading, writing and listening. Eileen Tyson at the Educational Testing Service says E.T.S. has trained a large group of English language professors and teachers to grade the speaking section.

EILEEN TYSON: "Those speaking responses come back to E.T.S. via the Internet, and then they're broken apart and they're sent out through our online scoring network. And they're sent to different raters, so that each student will have input from between three to six raters for their speaking responses."

RS: "Do you expect that this test is going to be easier for some students than others?"

EILEEN TYSON: "Well, I think that students who have been taught English in a way that emphasizes using English, this will not be a surprise to them. But for students who have thought of English only in terms of sentence structure, nouns and verbs and grammar, well all those aspects are important, but the reason one learns English is to use it for communication. So this test will represent a change, and it will measure that aspect of English."

RS: "So it's a change in philosophy, really."

EILEEN TYSON: "It really is. We've spent about 10 years developing the test, and we've changed the theoretical underpinning of the test itself."

AA: "So now on the test day, they listen to some material, and then they have about 30 seconds or so to gather their thoughts, and then they have one minute to present their thoughts, that's kind of frightening actually even for a native speaker. I mean, are some students going to be at a disadvantage?"

EILEEN TYSON: "Well, I think universities know that the addition of speaking is brand-new. And I think during this first year or two years, universities are going to know that students are unfamiliar with speaking. And I think they're going to be giving that sort of leeway initially in speaking."

RS: "How would you suggest students prepare for this test?"

EILEEN TYSON: "The first step a student should take is go to our Web site. And students can take, free of charge, a practice test and receive a score for the reading, writing and listening sections. And what they'll see is exactly the same thing as the test. They'll see the same kind of integrated skills, the same kinds of questions."

RS: "But now there's a spoken component. How can they prepare for that?"

EILEEN TYSON: "We have a publication called 'TOEFL iBT Tips' and it's really got lots and lots of tips. It's on our Web site. It gives lots of suggestions on how to improve and how to become familiar with the test."

RS: "Could you just highlight some of the top tips?"

EILEEN TYSON: "Well, for example, students, for the integrated speaking, if they can find reading and listening materials on the same topic -- for example, if they can listen to something on a news program, and then take notes on the material, and then find something in reading (say, in a newspaper) on the same topic, and then take notes on that as well, and then orally combine the information in the reading and listening materials and explain how they relate to each other.

"It's especially helpful if one source takes an opposite point of view. For example, one of the types of questions we have involves taking a stance, and in one particular case, the reading says 'working with groups is great,' and it lists lot of reasons why working in groups is terrific. Then the professor's lecture says 'You know, despite what the reading says, there are problems with working with groups.' And then they describe a different a different point of view. So comparing different points of view from different source materials is very helpful. It's very good training.

"Two of the six questions in the speaking section ask a student something related to their opinion or their experience. For example: 'Some universities allow students to live off campus in their first year. Do you think this is a good idea?' So, for practice, students can make a list of topics that are familiar and then state an opinion and provide clear reasons that can support their view."

AA: Eileen Tyson is associate director of the TOEFL program at the Educational Testing Service. The TOEFL Web site is ... T-O-E-F-L. We'll post a link at our site,, where you can also find the first part of our interview with Eileen Tyson. Our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.