Sunday, January 26, 2014

Advice for TOEFL speaking question #3

Lately my students and I have devised what we feel is a pretty good 'format' for answering the third type of speaking question.

Initially we decided that about 20 seconds should be devoted to the brief reading passage and about 40 seconds to the listening section.  We felt this was necessary because it shows you understood the reading section and it shows good organizational skills.

It also shows you can transition from talking about the reading section to talking about the listening section.

However, we have revised this format and made it a little more precise.

Now, my students are trying to, basically, speak about the reading section in just 3 sentences.

First sentence: In general, what is happening?
Second sentence: Specifically, what is happening?
Third sentence: Why is this happening?

For example, let's say the reading passage is about a change in university policy.  

"Previously professors provided 'incomplete' grades to students who could not finish a class, and this decision was made by the professor, based on the professor's own judgment of a student's situation.  The university has discovered, however, that too many students are not finishing their courses on time and this is causing problems for the students, who have extra work to do during the next term, and professors, who also have extra administrative work to do due to this situation.  From now on students who receive an "incomplete" grade must first provide a written explanation for why they are not able to complete the class on time and they must provide a specific date by which they will submit all final materials to the professor or the date on which they will take their final exam.  Failure to comply with this new policy will mean a grade of "F" in the class.  This written and signed document must be submitted to the professor and approved by his department chairperson." 

So if you want to speak about this reading passage briefly before speaking about the listening section, here's what you can say:

1) A university has decided to change its policy concerning 'incomplete' grades.  2) Specifically, now a student must submit a written and signed document to his/her professor asking for an incomplete grade, and this must be approved by the department chairperson.  3) The university is doing this because too many students have been requesting incomplete grades and this causes problems for the students and their professors.

Now comes the transition.  Usually in the listening passage a student will not like the new policy change.  (Let's say in the listening passage the student provides two reasons against this new policy - you can read the two reasons below in my sample answer.) So your transition can be:

However, in the listening section we learn that a student has very strong reasons for not liking this new policy.

Now comes the body of your answer:

First of all, the student feels that if you don't have enough time to prepare for the final test or hand in a final paper, how will you have time to complete a formal written request to get an incomplete grade?  The student points out that students who need an incomplete grade are already under immense stress and should not have to worry about extra paperwork.  Getting an incomplete grade should not be so formal.

Second of all, the student feels that the old policy is not being abused.  He points out that he has only asked for one incomplete grade in 3 years and that was due to an unusual combination of events.  Most students definitely do not want to take an incomplete grade because it just extends the stress of a class into a new semester.  Most students will do almost everything they can to finish a class on time.

Your conclusion can be something like: So although the university feels that this new policy is necessary, we can see that not every student is happy about it.  Indeed, according to this student the new policy causes more stress and is not even necessary.