Monday, September 9

KISS Rule for Independent Speaking Tasks

When developing responses for independent speaking tasks #1 and #2, many test-takers try and develop big topics, for example:

Prompt: What was the greatest invention of the twentieth century? Use examples and reasons to develop your argument.

Personally, I think the greatest invention of the twentieth century was penicillin. Why? Because penicillin is...It's good and...important...for life and medicine...and...

At this point, the test-taker blanks out. To blank out means to stop thinking because your brain is suddenly empty (blank). Why has this test-taker blanked out? Because she's trying to develop a topic that is too difficult. Why is it difficult? Because it's forcing her to use her passive vocabulary (see active v. passive vocab). The discovery of penicillin is a great topic. If you're a doctor, talk about it (it's part of your active vocabulary). A biologist? Talk about it. A nurse? A dentist? Talk about it. If not, do not touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Remember: The speaking raters don't care about your opinion or big topics. They simply want to know if you can develop and deliver a verbal argument in 45 seconds (with 15 seconds development time).

Look at the next response. Notice how I'm using my active vocabulary and talking about my own experience.

What is the greatest invention of the twentieth century? That's easy. Cutting-and-pasting. Why?

For example, I'm a TOEFL author. My new TOEFL book is 800-pages long. If I were using a typewriter - and I wanted to go back to page 10 and insert a graphic in the middle of the text - I'd have retype page 10 again. Then I'd have to glue the graphic between the text. What a pain! As a result, it'd take me forever finish my book. However, by using my computer's cut-and-paste function, all I have to do is cut the graphic from its page, then paste it wherever I wanted. Piece of cake.

As you can see, cutting-and-pasting is the greatest invention of the twentieth century. Have you ever wondered who invented cutting-and-pasting? I have. That person is a genius.

One of my TOEFL students said the greatest invention of the twentieth century was the hair dryer. It was a great response. Hilarious - and so true. But more importantly, she'd remembered the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Remember: Keep it simple by talking subjectively (about your own experience) and using your active vocabulary. By doing so, you will make fewer mistakes. Fewer mistakes = higher scores.

Want to learn more speaking strategies? It's all in the book.