The two sections that many TOEFL test-takers find the most unpredictable are the speaking and writing sections. Among the four sections, the speaking section has the most variables for something to go wrong.

So, what are these “variables?” Well, let’s say that there’s someone taking the speaking test beside you and they are talking in a very loud voice. Then this would be a “variable” as your speaking answer may not be recorded clearly, which could lead to deductions in points. Similarly, if you catch the cold right before the test and have a sore throat, it will affect your scores as well. However, there is one thing that many test-takers fail to see: There are more possibilities for point deduction because of your habits instead of the external variables I’ve mentioned above.

When I grade TestGlider users’ speaking answers, I come across many “unfortunate” situations. I always think ‘If this person fixes this in their speaking answer, their score will increase’ or ‘Does this person know that what they are doing is actually bad?’ So, I’m here to explain to you guys one important tip that will help you increase your speaking scores and that is…


The Internet defines fillers as:
An apparently meaningless word, phrase, or sound that marks a pause or hesitation in speech.

The point I’d like to focus on here is the adjective “meaningless.” In other words, fillers are words and sounds that merely have no meaning but rather interfere with the speech. Let’s take a look at two example answers of an independent task.

Example 1: In my opinion, I believe that homework should be mandatory for students. This is due to the fact that many students can do extra classwork at home, which will umm… eventually help them to keep up with the class.

Example 2: In my opinion, I believe that… um… homework should be mandatory for students. This is… like… due to the fact that… you know… like… many students can do extra classwork at home, and umm… you know… this will… I mean… umm… by doing this… students will be able to like… umm… keep up in class.

These are two answers to the same question. The speaker in Example 2 included a lot of meaningless sounds and words in his/her answer whereas the speaker of Example 1 didn’t. Then who do you think will get a higher grade than the other? The speaker of Example 1 of course! This is because the speaking section is graded based on what the listener can hear. So, if your answer has a lot of fillers – to the point which makes it incredibly difficult for the listener to hear the main topics in your answer – the probability of point deduction will increase. Let’s take a look at the category called “delivery” in the official TOEFL Speaking scoring rubric.

3-point explanation in the “delivery” category of the integrated rubric:

“Speech is generally clear, with some fluidity of expression, but it exhibits minor difficulties with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing and may require some listener effort at times. However, overall intelligibility remains good.”

2-point explanation in the “delivery” category of the integrated rubric:

“Speech is clear at times, though it exhibits problems with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing and so may require significant listener effort. Speech may not be sustained at a consistent level throughout. Problems with intelligibility may obscure meaning in places (but not throughout).”

(The explanations are similar with the independent rubrics)

What these two explanations are trying to assess is the quality of the speaker’s delivery. If the grader (listener) has to listen with significant effort, you might get 2 points for delivery.

Then why do speakers (test-takers) include these meaningless sounds and words? It’s due to habit. Because many people don’t realize that they speak using a lot of fillers like in Example 2, they are really surprised when they find out that they actually do speak like that. When they hear their own answers, they say “that’s not me” or “do I really talk like that?”

By now, many of you would think that fillers are really bad and that your answer shouldn’t have any of them. However, fillers negatively affect your answer only when it starts to make it difficult for the grader to listen to your answer.

Your question right now will be “How do I reduce fillers in my TOEFL Speaking response?” The most efficient way to fix this habit is by listening to your speaking answers again. All of the TOEFL speaking answers you’ve submitted in TestGlider are saved so that you can listen to them in the “Scoreboard” again and again whenever you want! By reviewing your speaking answers, you can figure out if your speaking habit is causing you to get a low score. If you find out that you include a lot of fillers in your speech, try being conscious about it the next time you take the speaking test. It will be difficult to get rid of this habit right away. The key here is repetition. You’ll get better if you practice continuously.

Tim from TestGlider’s Content Team

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