Personalized Feedback Lessons - Based on your Essays and Speech

Here is an example. One of our students (Diego) sent us an audio file answering the following TOEFL® iBT question:

Audio Transcript:


“I don’t want sit home when I retire, because everybody needs to do something; people want to be busy all the time. They always want to do something, even when they retire. I’ve read it somewhere that busy people are the happiest and I think it’s the truth. So, I want to stay busy instead of do nothing all day. I don’t want to be bored or get depressed or to be a grumpy old man.

When I retire, I can do things I didn’t have time for when I had to work; I can do sports, start a business, or travel the world. I really want to go hiking in Southeast Asia and other places. I think I will also read a lot of books and maybe try playing golf.”

Based on the errors in Diego’s response, one of our TOEFL® tutors and a professional voice actor created this feedback lesson and audio:

REAL PAST TOEFL® iBT Test Questions:


This section measures your ability to speak in English about a variety of topics.

There are six questions in this section. For each question, you will be given a short time to prepare your response. When the preparaton time is up, answer the question as completely a possible in the time indicated for that question. You should record your responses so that a teacher can review and score them them for you later.

1) Independent Speaking Task / Personal Preference (“Free-Choice Task”):

What do you miss most about your home when you are away? Use specific details in your explanation. (Preparation time: 15 seconds / Response time: 45 seconds)

2) Independent Speaking Task / Choice (“Paired-Choice Task”):

You will now be asked to give your opinion about a familiar topic. Give yourself 15 seconds to prepare your response. Then record yourself speaking for 45 seconds.

Many universities now offer academic courses over the Internet. However, some people still prefer learning in traditional classrooms. Which do you think is better? Explain why.

(Preparation time: 15 seconds / Response time: 45 seconds)

3) Integrated Speaking Task / Campus Situation Topic (“Fit and Explain”)

You will now read a short passage and listen to a conversation on the same topic. You will then be asked a question about them. After you hear the question, give yourself 30 seconds to prepare your response. Then record yourself speaking for 60 seconds.

Read the passage. Take notes on the main points of the reading passage. (Reading time: 45 seconds)

Evening Computer Classes May Be Added

The computer department is considering offering evening classes in the fall. The proposal to add the classes is a response to student complaints that day-time computer classes have become increasingly overcrowded and there are no longer enough computers available. The department has decided that despite some added expense, the most cost-effective way of addressing this problem is by adding computer classes in the evening. It is hoped that this change will decrease the number of students enrolled in day classes and thus guarantee individual access to computers for all students in computer classes.

Now listen to two students discussing the article. On a piece of paper, take notes of the main points of the listening passage.


(male student) I just don’t think this will work.

(female student) Why not?

(male student) Because it’s not going to solve the problem. Students are busy at night. …I mean, we have jobs, families, clubs, social events. Most of us already have something to do every single night of the week.

(female student) I see your point. I sure couldn’t fit anything into my schedule during the week. I’ve got swimming practice most nights.

(male student) Right. And as far as expense goes, I think they’re going about it the wrong way. I mean, it costs money to hire more teachers and keep the academic building open later. Which is a lot more expensive than just simply buying more computers.

(female student) More computers?

(male student) That’s right. Computer prices have come way down the past few years, so the department won’t have to spend as much now as they did in the past. Besides, the computer department classrooms, you know, the rooms themselves, they’re actually very big. …there’s plenty of space to add more computers.

The man expresses his opinion about the proposal described in the article. Briefly summarize the proposal. Then state his opinion about the proposal and explain the reasons he gives for holding that opinion. (Preparation time: 30 seconds / Response time: 60 seconds)

4) Integrated Speaking Task / Academic Course Topic (General / Specific):

You will now read a short passage and listen to a lecture on the same topic. You will then be asked a question about them. After you hear the question, give yourself 30 seconds to prepare your response. Then record yourself speaking for 60 seconds.

Read the passage. Take notes on the main points of the reading passage. (Reading time: 45 seconds)

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

When we speak to other people face-to-face, the nonverbal signals we give – our facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements, and tone of voice – often communicate as much, or more than, the words we utter. When our nonverbal signals, which we often produce unconsciously, agree with our verbal message, the verbal message is enhanced and supported, made more convincing. But when they conflict with the verbal message, we may be communicating an entirely different and more accurate message than what we intend.

Now listen to part of a lecture on this topic in a psychology course. On a piece of paper, take notes of the main points of the listening passage.


(Professor) Last month my favorite uncle paid me a surprise visit. I hadn’t seen him in many years. …The doorbell rang, I opened the door, and there was Uncle Pete. Now, I’m sure when I saw him I said something like: “Uncle Pete! What a surprise! How nice to see you!” Anyway, my wife was standing next to me and according to her – I wasn’t really aware of this – my eyes got really wide and I broke into a huge big smile. She said I was actually jumping up and down, like a little boy. Well, anyway, later that evening Uncle Pete told me how very good he felt when he saw how happy I was to see him.

But compare that with this: my daughter. …she’s six. …We were building a birdhouse together last week. And I was showing her how to use a hammer and nail. And of course, stupid me, I wasn’t being very careful and I smashed my thumb with the hammer. Boy, did it hurt! I almost felt like screaming, but I didn’t want to upset my daughter, so I said, “Don’t worry, honey. It’s nothing.” Meanwhile, I was shaking my hand, as if it that would stop my thumb from hurting, and my face was contorted in pain. My voice was trembling too. So even though I told my daughter I was OK, I’m sure she didn’t believe me. Because she kept asking me if I was OK.

Explain how the examples from the professor’s lecture illustrate the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication. (Preparation time: 30 Seconds / Response time: 60 Seconds)

5) Integrated Speaking Task / Campus Situation Topic (Problem / Solution):

You will now listen to part of a conversation. You will then be asked a question about it. After you hear the question, give yourself 20 seconds to prepare your response. Then record yourself speaking for 60 seconds.

Listen to a conversation between two students on campus.


(male student) Hi. Good morning. Could you help me with something?

(female student) Um. Maybe. What’s up?

(male student) Well, I’m a first-year student.

(female student) Everything going OK?

(male student) Actually, no. Um, this is a little embarrassing – I think I left my class schedule back at my dorm.

(female student) Hmm. Not a good thing to do on the first day of classes.

(male student) Yeah. So, I’m not sure where my class is. I think I remember it was supposed to be here in Smith Hall.

(female student) There’s a computer for student use in the student center. You could go over there, look it up and check the room number. But you’d have to hurry.

(male student) Hmmm. …That’s not a bad idea. …I could check my schedule for the whole rest of the day at the same time. …I don’t know where any of my other classes are either. But I don’t want to be late. …make a bad impression with the professor on the first day. It’s actually my very first class – introduction to psychology…

(female student) Psychology? Oh, OK. You’re definitely in the right building. And if it’s introduction to psychology, it’s going to be a big class, in which case it probably meets in a big lecture hall. There are only three lecture halls in the building – one on every floor. Just check each floor till you find yours. There’s an elevator, so you should be able to move fast.

(male student) Yeah, but I don’t know what the professor looks like or anything. How will I know whether it’s my class or not? It’d be sort of embarrassing – sticking my head into each lecture hall asking if I was in the right place.

(female student) Well, you might luck out and find it the first time.

Briefly summarize the problem the speakers are discussing. Then state which of the two solutions from the conversation you would recommend. Explain the reasons for your recommendation. (Preparation time: 20 Seconds / Response time: 60 Seconds)

6) Integrated Speaking Task / Academic Course Topic (Summary):

You will now listen to part of a lecture. You will then be asked a question about it. After you hear the question, give yourself 20 seconds to prepare your response. Then record yourself speaking for 60 seconds.


Listen to part of a talk in an art appreciation class.

(Professor) In order for art to communicate – to appeal to the emotions or the intellect – it has to combine various visual elements to express meaning, or emotion. It’s really the visual components of the work – things like color, texture, shape, lines – and how these elements work together that tell us something about the work. Artists combine and manipulate these visual elements to express a message or to create a mood.

Think about how a painter might use color, for example. You all know from experience that different colors appeal in different ways to the senses and can convey different meanings. An artist chooses certain colors to evoke a particular mood and make powerful statements. The color red, for example, is a strong color and can conjure up strong emotions, such as extreme joy, or excitement, or even anger. Blue, on the other hand, is considered a cool color. Blue colors tend to have a calming effect on viewers.

Another visual element important to art is texture. By texture, I mean the surface quality or “feel” of the work. …its smoothness, or roughness, or softness. …Now, of course, in some types of art, the texture is physical – it can actually be touched by the fingers. But in painting, for example, texture can be visible. The way an artist paints certain areas of a painting can create the illusion of texture. …an object’s smoothness, or roughness, or softness. A rough texture can evoke stronger emotions and strength while a smooth texture is more calming and less emotional.

As I said earlier, artists often combine elements to convey a message about the work. Take a painting that, say, uses a lot of strong colors like reds and oranges, and uses brushstrokes that are broad – wide, sweeping brushstrokes that suggest a rough texture. Well, these elements together can convey a wilder, more chaotic emotion in the viewer than, more than in, say… …a painting with tiny, smooth brushstrokes and soft or pale colors. Artists use these visual effects and the senses they arouse to give meaning to their work.

Using points and examples from the lecture, explain the importance of visual elements in painting. (Preparation time: 20 Seconds / Response time: 60 Seconds)


This section measures your ability to write in English to communicate in an academic environment.

There are two writing questions in this section.

For question 1, you will read a passage and listen to a lecture about the same topic. You may take notes while you read and listen. Then you will write a response to a question based on what you have read and heard. You may look back at the passage when answering the question. You have 20 minutes to plan and write your response.

For question 2, you will write an essay based on your knowledge and experience. You have 30 minutes to planand complete your essay.

7) Integrated Writing Task / Academic Course Topic (Compare and Contrast):

Read the passage. Take notes on the main points of the reading passage. (Reading time: 3 minutes)

Endotherms are animals such as modern birds and mammals that keep their body temperatures constant. For instance, humans are endotherms and maintain an internal temperature of 37℃, no matter whether the environment is warm or cold. Because dinosaurs were reptiles, and modern reptiles are not endotherms, it was long assumed that dinosaurs were not endotherms. However, dinosaurs differ in many ways from modern reptiles, and there is now considerable evidence that dinosaurs were, in fact, endotherms.

Polar dinosaurs

One reason for believing that dinosaurs were endotherms is that dinosaur fossils have been discovered in polar regions. Only animals that can maintain a temperature well above that of the surrounding environment could be active in such cold climates.

Leg position and movement

There's is a connection between endothermy and the position and movement of the legs. The physiology of endothermy allows sustained physical activity, such as running. But running is efficient only if an animal’s legs are positioned underneath its body, not at the body’s side, as they are for crocodiles and many lizards. The legs of all modern endotherms are underneath the body, and so were the legs of dinosaurs. This strongly suggests that dinosaurs were endotherms.

Haversian canals

There a connection between endothermy and bone structure. The bones of endotherms usually include structures called Haversian canals. These canals house nerves and blood vessels that allow the living animal to grow quickly, and rapid body growth is in fact a characteristic of endothermy. The presence of Haversian canals in bone is a strong indicator that the animal s an endotherm, and fossilized bones of dinosaurs are usually dense with Haversian canals.

Now listen to part of a lecture on the topic you just read about.


(Professor) Many scientists have problems with the arguments you read in the passage. They don’t think those arguments prove that dinosaurs were endotherms. Take the polar dinosaur argument. When dinosaurs lived, even the polar regions where dinosaur fossils have been found were much warmer than today. – warm enough during part of the year for animals that were not endotherms to live. And during the months when the polar regions were cold, the so-called polar dinosaurs could have migrated to warmer areas or hibernated like many modern reptiles do. So the presence of dinosaur fossils in polar regions doesn’t prove the dinosaurs were endotherms.

Well, what about the fact that dinosaurs had their legs placed under their bodies, not out to the side, like a crocodile’s? That doesn’t necessarily mean dinosaurs were high-energy endotherms built for running. There’s another explanation for having legs under the body: this body structure supports more weight. So with the legs under their bodies, dinosaurs could grow to a very large size. Being large had advantages for dinosaurs, so we don’t need the idea of endothermy and running to explain why dinosaurs evolved to have their legs under their bodies.

OK, so how about bone structure? Many dinosaur bones do have Haversian canals, that’s true, but dinosaur bones also have growth rings. Growth rings are a thickening of the bone that indicates periods of time when the dinosaurs weren’t rapidly growing.  These growth rings are evidence that dinosaurs stopped growing or grew more slowly during cooler periods. This pattern of periodic growth or slow growth and then rapid growth again – is characteristic of animals that are not endotherms. Animals that maintain a constant body temperature year round, as true endotherms do, grow rapidly even when the environment becomes cool.

Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they challenge the specific points made in the reading passage. (You have 20 minutes to plan and write your response. Your response will be judged on the basis of the quality of your writing and on how well your response presents the points in the lecture and their relationship to the reading passage. Typically, an effective response will be 150 to 225 words.)

8) Independent Writing Task / Choice:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

In twenty years there will be fewer cars in use than there are today. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. (You have 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise your essay. Typically, an effective essay will contain a minimum of 300 words.) (Response time: 30 minutes)