About Speaking Question Four

Here’s how TOEFL speaking question 4 works:

  • First, you will listen to a lecture that is 1.5 to 2 minutes long. It is usually about how something is done or how some natural process is carried out.
  • After that, you will be asked a specific question that requires you to mostly summarize the lecture.
  • You will be given 20 seconds to prepare, and 60 seconds to speak.

The Listening

The lecture is usually 1.5 minutes to 2 minutes long. It generally explains how something is done, or how some process is carried out. This is usually illustrated using two examples. In some cases it could have just one example.

The lecture starts with a short introduction that states and defines the subject (3-5 sentences).  After the introduction the example(s) are given.

A survey of 600 students in October 2019 suggests the most common topics in TOEFL speaking question 4 are:

  • Biology/Animals – 60%
  • Business/Marketing – 17%
  • Psychology/Learning – 17%
  • Art/History/Literature – 6%

The Question Prompt

The question will look something like these:

  • Using the examples of hawks and eagles, explain two ways birds hunt for food.
  • Using points and examples from the lecture, explain how businesses cope with unexpected customer complaints.
  • Using the examples of sharks and jellyfish, explain how animals cooperate with each other.
  • Using the points and examples from the lecture, explain two ways that trees benefit from forest fires.


Answer Template

The good news is that you can always use the same template to organize your answer for TOEFL speaking question 4.  Try using this one:


Stating the Lecture Subject

  • “The lecturer explains how _______.”

First Example (3-5 sentences)

  • “First, she describes how [mini summary]” + “She notes that [details].”

Second Example (3-5 sentences)

  • “Second, she describes how [mini summary] + “She says that [details].”


Tips and Tricks

  • Try to use transitional phrases like “as a result,” “consequently,” “moreover,” “for example” and “therefore.”
  • Focus mostly on the examples. Those should be about 50 seconds long.
  • Use a mix of simple and compound sentences.
  • You don’t need a conclusion.


Sample Answer

(this is based on a question from this page)


State the Subject of the Lecture

  • The lecturer explains how two animals survive in environments without much light.

State the First Example 

  • To begin with, she describes how the spookfish uses tube-shaped eyes to hunt its prey. She notes that it lives in almost total darkness. However, its eyes always point upwards, so it can spot the faint outlines of fish swimming above it. When this happens, it quickly swims upwards to catch and eat the fish. Its eyes are quite large, so it is able to notice even very small prey.

State the Second Example 

  • Second, she describes how the lanternfish is able to produce its own light to both catch prey and escape from predators. She says that it has tiny organs throughout its body that produce light through a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. As a result, it can attract the attention of other fish, which it eats. In addition, it uses the light for protection. By matching the intensity of light sources above it, it can disguise itself from potential predators.

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