About TOEFL Speaking Question Three

Here’s how TOEFL speaking question 3 works:

  • First, you will read a short (100 words) article on an academic topic. You will have 45 seconds to read it.
  • Next, you will hear a short lecture about the same topic.  The lecture will illustrate it using either one or two examples. 
  • Finally, you will be asked to summarize the reading and lecture.
  • You will be given 30 seconds to prepare, and 60 seconds to speak.

Note that this is the same as question four on the old version of the TOEFL.


The Reading

The reading is usually about a specific term or concept. It usually has a clear title and about five sentences that define the term and give some basic details. When I surveyed 500 students in 2019, they said the most common topics were:

  • Biology/Animals – 60%
  • Business/Marketing – 20%
  • Psychology/Learning – 10%
  • Art/History/Literature – 10%


The Listening

The lecture is usually 1.5 minutes or 2 minutes long.  It is about the same term or idea from the reading. Most of it will consist of one or two examples that demonstrate the term or idea.  It could be an example from the personal life of the speaker. If there is just one example, listen for two parts (like cause/effect or before/after).


The Question Prompt

The question will look something like one of these:

  • Describe what _____ is, and how the professor’s example illustrates this idea.
  • Describe how the example of the ____ illustrates the concept of ____.
  • Explain the concept of _____ using the examples of ____ and ____ given in the lecture.
  • Using the examples from the lecture, explain the concept of ______.


Answer Templates

The good news is that you can always use the same template to organize your answer to TOEFL speaking question three.  Try using this one:


Stating the Term or Idea

  • “The reading is about (TERM/CONCEPT)”

Give a Small Amount of Detail from the Reading

  • “It states that…”


  • “The professor elaborates on this by providing an example.”
  • “The professor elaborates on this by providing two examples.”

First Example/First Part

  • “To begin with, he/she mentions that…”

Second Example/Second Part

  • “Next, he/she says that…”


Tips and Tricks

  • Try to use transitional phrases like “as a result,” “consequently,” “moreover,” and “therefore.”
  • Spend about 10-13 seconds summarizing the reading… at most. Remember that most of your score is based on the listening summary.
  • If you are a slow speaker, omit the “small amount of detail” part of the template.
  • Use a mix of simple and compound sentences if possible.
  • Paraphrase.  Don’t just copy the sources word for word.


Sample Answer

(this is based on a question from the official ETS practice set)


State the Term or Idea

  • The reading is about revealing coloration.

Give a Small amount of Detail from the Reading

  • It states that this is a strategy used by certain animals to protect themselves. By suddenly revealing colorful parts of their body they can confuse predators and escape.


  • The professor elaborates on this by providing two examples.

State the First Example or First Part

  • To begin with, he mentions that while the front wings of the peanut bug blend in with its environment, its back wings have very colorful spots. These back wings are usually closed, but when it is attacked by a predator it can quickly open them and reveal the colors. As a result, it is able to escape to safety.

State the Second Example or Second Part

  • Next, he says that hidden parts of the morpho butterfly’s wings are very shiny and can reflect sunlight. When a bird approaches the butterfly it suddenly flaps its wings to reflect light and confuse it.  The bird can only see the light reflected from the wings, and therefore the butterfly is able to evade capture.

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