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 usually describes two ways that something is done or two ways that a natural process is carried out.
  • Next, you will be asked to summarize the lecture.
  • You will be given 20 seconds to prepare, and 60 seconds to speak.

Sample Question Four

You can see a sample question right here.

The Listening

The lecture is usually 1.5 minutes to 2 minutes long. It generally explains two ways something is done, or two ways some process is carried out. It usually includes two examples. Sometimes it has 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 looks 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 two ways businesses cope with unexpected customer complaints.
  • Using the examples of sharks and jellyfish, explain two ways animals cooperate with each other.
  • Using the points and examples from the lecture, explain two ways that trees benefit from forest fires.

Answer Template

You can always use the same template to organize your answer for TOEFL speaking question 4.  Try using this one:


Stating the Lecture Subject (10 seconds)

  • “The lecturer explains two ways/things/effects/etc _______”

First Thing (25 seconds)

  • “First of all…”
  • “To be specific…”

Second Things (25 seconds)

  • “Secondly…”
  • “The professor says…”

General Strategies

  • Try to use transitional phrases like “as a result,” “consequently,” “moreover,” “for example” and “therefore.”
  • Focus mostly on the examples. Those are most important!
  • Use a mix of simple and compound sentences.
  • You don’t need a conclusion.

Note-Taking Strategies

  • Before the lecture begins, divide your paper into two columns – one for each “thing”
  • Start by making a note of what is being described 
  • Use short forms to take notes faster.
  • Use “x” to indicate negatives (don’t, can’t, won’t, never)


Sample Answer

(this is based on a question from this page)


State the Subject of the Lecture

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

State the First Example 

  • First, she describes how the spookfish uses tube-shaped eyes to hunt its prey. To be specific, 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 

  • Secondly, she describes how the lanternfish is able to produce its own light to both catch prey and escape from predators. The professor 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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