Monday, April 8, 2013

Sample Speaking Answers to Topics 1 and 2 on the TOEFL

Yesterday a student told me that on a recent TOEFL the first two speaking questions were: 

1) Do you prefer to listen to lectures or do you prefer to self-study?  
2) Which place would be more difficult to work in: a hospital, an office or a police station?

Here are sample answers to these topics using the method I developed:

Reason #1
Example #1
Reason #2
Example #2
Conclusion (beginning with "Although")

1. Self-study or lecture?

I would prefer self-study for two basic reasons. First, active learning is more effective than passive learning. For example, when I sit in a classroom and listen to lectures, I have a hard time remembering things. But when I am motivated to learn, I remember almost everything. Second, with self-study I can move at my own pace. I tend to learn quickly and lectures bore me. I've noticed that I tend to learn faster and cover more material when I study by myself. Although I understand that the professor is an expert and that I would be wise to attend and listen to lectures which are offered, I still feel that I need to learn actively and can learn faster by doing this.

2.  More difficult: hospital, office or police station?

Of these three locations, I would say working at a hospital would be most difficult for two basic reasons. First, when we see people suffer, we are affected by this. For example, even if I did not know a patient well, just seeing him/her in pain would make me feel a great amount of empathy and sadness. At a hospital this might be my daily experience.  Second, doctors, nurses and administrators all seem to work extra long hours. For example, my roommate is a nurse and she regularly works 12 hour long shifts.  So, even though (or although) office workers and police officers work overtime and face challenges, I do not think these challenges match seeing people suffering  and dying on a daily basis coupled with the constant overtime.

50 Practice Speaking Topic 1 and 2 Questions (To Use with Your Tutor Or Language Exchange Partner)

Here are some (sometimes strange) TOEFL speaking questions for type 1 and type 2 questions.  I hope practicing with these will help you. (It's good to answer strange questions because you never know what will be asked on the test...)

For low-cost TOEFL speaking and writing help, please e-mail me at (free initial meeting over the internet).

1)  Should a person shower the night before work or in the morning?
2)  When a man takes a woman to dinner, should he pay or should they go "dutch"? (Each pays for him/herself.)
3)  Do you prefer reading e-books or real books?
4)  Describe something you do during your favorite season.
5)  Which is better to lose weight: dieting or exercising?
6)  Which is better for a history class: online or classroom learning?
7)  Which is the best month for a holiday?
8)  What is good advice for a person who is having trouble falling asleep?
9)  Now that you are in America, should you keep your foreign name or adopt an American name?
10) When you are in a Chinese restaurant, do you use chopsticks or a fork? Why?
11)  Which is better for you, texting someone or calling him/her?
12)  Some people think there should be a tax on soda to encourage people to stop drinking it.  Agree or disagree?
13)  Do you agree:  You should always give a waitress a tip even if her service is bad?
14)  In an airport do you prefer to go through the body scanner or to be "frisked"? (The security guard runs his/her hands over your body.)
15) What's the worst place to take a tourist in your current city?
16)  What's the most stupid holiday you can think of?
17)  What was the most important time in your life?
18)  If you were in Spain and someone gave you tickets to a bullfight, would you go?
19)  Do you think it is important to use capital letters in e-mail messages or is it OK to just use small letters?
20)  Should cell phones be prohibited in schools?
21)  Should bullying be a crime?
22)  Should you give money to people begging in the street or on the subway?
23)  Should we have shorter work weeks and longer hours (i.e. 4 days at 10 hours each day)?
24)  Would you prefer to go to an art museum or a movie?
25)  If you were convicted of a murder, would you prefer the death sentence or life in prison?
26)  Is it better to save your money or to spend it as soon as you get it?
27)  Do you prefer the white meat of a chicken or the dark meat?
28)  Should people be of the same religion when they get married?
29)  Is it better to wake up early in the morning or later in the day?
30)  Do you believe pet animals should be cloned?
31)  Should parents be allowed to choose the sex of their child ahead of time?
32)  Should marijuana be legalized?
33)  Do you think zoos are generally good or bad?
34)  In Mexico there are "pink" taxis, only for women driven by women.  Is this good or bad?
35)  Should really fat (obese) people have to pay more for their plane tickets because they use up more fuel?
36)  An airline had a somewhat abstract painting by Picasso of a nude woman on a wall at an airport and some people complained that it should be taken down.  What do you think?
37)  Describe the worst teacher you ever had.
38)  Describe your morning routine.
39)  Are you more like your mother or father in personality?
40)  Describe the last fashionable piece of clothing you bought.
41)  Is it good or bad that English is becoming the world language?
42) Are tourists generally good or bad for a city?
43) What should you do if your roommate is very noisy and keeps you up at night?
44) What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a smart phone?
45) What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of studying literature as a major in college?
46) What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning English in the USA?
47) What are the advantages and disadvantages of attending a US graduate program?
48) What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing volunteer work?
49) What are the advantages and disadvantages of owning a dog?
50)  What are the advantages and disadvantages of just having one very close friend?

OK, there are 50 good and sometimes weird TOEFL questions!!!!!!  Good luck!!!!!

More questions:

More questions:

Please look at other links in this blog - there are many good pieces of advice and examples of how to do well on the speaking section. :)

Oh!  Please buy my e-book!  New York City Sucks But You'll Wanna Live Here Anyway!  It has 22 chapters of really good stories of life in New York City with a huge number of new vocabulary words and grammar reminders.  It's amazing!  Read about it here:

By the way, some students in Asia can't seem to buy the book from  If this is the case, just send me email at and I'll try to send you a free copy of the book via email attachment.  :)  I'm a teacher, not a businessman. :P

A Sample Essay for The Independent Writing Section

Here is a sample essay for the writing section.

Basically, in your intro address the nature of the question, make an argument or a thesis statement and then support it briefly with three reasons.  Use the body paragraphs to explain the reasons.  In your conclusion address the alternative argument and reject it.

Question:  If you had to take a university history class, would you prefer to take it online or in a classroom?  (Let's assume you are from Vietnam.)


Although Vietnam is known as a 'developing' country, more and more people are getting hooked up to the internet every year.  This has introduced an interesting question into the field of education.  Should we adopt online learning programs for students, and, if so, how extensive should they be?  I actually believe Vietnam should do this and, for instance, if I had to take a history class, I would want to take it online for 3 reasons: 1) online learning can be more interesting than classroom learning, 2) it would encourage and develop students' abilities to study by themselves and 3) it would provide flexibility for students. 

Body paragraph 1:

We have all had the experience of buying huge textbooks and studying poorly designed texts from these books for hours at a time.  Online learning can be interactive and can present colorful and exciting features.  For example, if I am studying about the French Revolution, I can watch video documentary clips, go to research libraries online, post questions in forums, watch dramas about this era and even engage in chatroom discussions with fellow students.  There is no longer any need for textbooks.  Everything a student might need is online in various formats.

Body paragraph 2:

Furthermore, textbook learning is passive learning.  Everything you need to learn is within one book and some expert has chosen everything for you and you are often absorbing his/her ideas and prejudices instead of developing your own concepts.  With online learning you are free to go in whichever direction you choose and the student learns that the more effort he/she makes, the more interesting things become.  The teacher is more of a coach or guide and the student becomes a true learner.

Body paragraph 3:

Finally,  online learning provides flexibility for students.  Tuition is so high that many students are forced to work part-time or full-time.  With an online learning program you can fit your class around your schedule and not vice versa.  You can study when you feel like it and school now becomes something manageable which can fit into your day.  For example, if you have an emergency, you will not have to miss class.  You can just go online later.  Your attendance will always be perfect!


It is true that there are some significant problems with online learning.  For example, it is easily possible that students will cheat by hiring tutors to write papers.  This possibility often exists in real classrooms, however, as well.  Another problem is that the real value of a good teacher is lost in that the "Socratic" classroom method cannot be employed.  This "question and answer" method has been very useful in literature classes in helping students really understand deeper meanings of literary works. Yet, in a history class, there might not be such a need for the Socratic method.  Therefore, I think the benefits of online learning outweigh the disadvantages and I would definitely take a history class online.

How to Handle The "Advantages/Disadvantages" Topic

Last month a student told me that one of the first two speaking topics was a bit different from the normal or traditional TOEFL format. 

Lately ETS has sometimes been asking a question like: What are the advantages and disadvantages of universities allowing students to park on campus?  

Or: What are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning or living on campus or getting married later in life etc.

This type of question is easy to answer. :)  Just list two advantages and two disadvantages with an example for each.  You are probably not going to have time to have a fancy intro or conclusion.  Just mention two advantages with examples (if you have enough time) and two disadvantages with examples (if you have enough time).

Here's how to do it:

Well, the first advantage of letting students drive their cars to campus is that they can stay later at school.  For example, some buses stop running at 10 or 11pm in some cities.  The second advantage is convenience. Obviously if I have a car I can get to school faster and easier at all times and in all types of weather.  A disadvantage is that everyone will want to drive to school and there might not be enough parking spaces.  A student might actually be late for class because he/she has to drive around looking for a spot.  Also, taking public transportation is better for the environment.  The university should discourage students from driving so that they can help protect the environment from the carbon emissions of so many cars.

TOEFL Speaking Topics 1 and 2

TOEFL Speaking Topics 1 and 2:

Usually they ask you to speak for 45 seconds describing something.  Then they ask you to speak for 45 seconds explaining why you like one thing over another.

Lately, however, students have been telling me that they now sometimes ask you to write about "advantages and disadvantages" of something. 

Yet, I recently met someone who took the test in Manhattan and she told me the first 45 second question was something like: Do you prefer to listen to lectures or do you prefer to self-study?   She then said the second was something like: Would it be more difficult to work in a hospital, office or police station?  So this was, basically, the traditional "preference" and "description" format.

What's the best format with which to answer these first two types of questions?

Use the Gauss method :P

Reason #1
Example #1
Reason #2
Example #2
Conclusion (beginning with the word 'although')

Question Number 1:

Example:  Which do you prefer coffee or tea?

You only have 45 seconds, so come up with brief sentences for each part of the format.

Intro: I always wake up to a good cup of green tea in the morning.  I can't live without it.  So I'd pick tea for two reasons.

Reason #1: Green tea is good for a person's health.

Example #1: For example, I read in the NY Times that if a person drinks 4 cups of green tea per day, his risk of getting a heart attack will be decreased by 45%.

Reason #2: Second of all, I like the way tea tastes.

Example #2:  For instance, coffee has a very strong and bitter taste. If I put a little honey into my green tea, however, it tastes absolutely delicious.  

Conclusion (using 'although'): Although most people wake up to coffee because it has a stronger amount of caffeine and can really wake you up fast, I usually get a good night's sleep so I am more concerned about my health and the taste of my morning drink.

Isn't that a good format?  Practice the althoughs!!!!!!  If you can give your answer a nice tight ending, you'll impress the grader.

But, what if they ask you to describe something? You can use the same format.

Question Number 2:

Example: Describe your favorite building in your hometown.

Intro:  I love older, classic architecture, and so Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street is my favorite building for two reasons.

Reason #1: First of all, it has an amazing cemetery surrounding it.

Example #1: The cemetery has graves and tombstones going back to the 1600s.  The tombstones are actually quite scary, with skulls and cross bones and written warnings about living a good life.  The tomb of Alexander Hamilton is also there.

Reason #2:  Second of all, the church looks beautiful in contrast to the surrounding buildings.

Example #2:  Almost every building surrounding Trinity is an office building or skyscraper and most of these buildings are gray or silver.  Trinity is a delicious brown chocolate color and with its neo-Gothic architecture it really stands out!

Conclusion: So although most people think about the Empire State Building or some other tourist attraction when they think of favorite buildings, I like Trinity for its old cemetery and architectural design and color.

Isn't this a great format!!!!!!?