Although having an accent does not mean you will get a low speaking score—even perfect scorers usually have accents—pronunciation problems really can affect your TOEFL speaking score.

Check out: How TOEFL Tests Your Speaking Skills

Granted, the content of your answer is also important.. In fact, improving the structure and content of your answers is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to boost your marks on TOEFL speaking. But in the speaking section especially, articulation is extremely important. For example, you gave a set of poor answers on a TOEFL speaking test once, but yоu did so with perfect pronunciation, native grammar, and idiomatic vocabulary; you scored a 29. Sounding as similar to a native as possible will get you the highest TOEFL speaking scores. But if the listener doesn’t understand you on occasions, then you cannot get points for other aspects of your answer that are good. If your grammar is perfect, and your vocabulary is very advanced, that means nothing with poor pronunciation because the grader won’t even know what you said.

Pronunciation is one of the hardest facets to improve. It is hard if not impossible to change it within a few weeks. So this is not a good focus for you if you will be taking your TOEFL soon. But if you are studying for the more distant future, then you will definitely want to work on your pronunciation. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Clarity, not speed

Focus on speaking clearly, not quickly. During the TOEFL, you will have a clock that can be very stressful. Often, students react to the clock by speeding up. But the faster you speak, the harder you will be to understand. Speak at a natural, conversational pace. Focus on saying each word clearly.

Imitate native speakers

It may feel strange to do this, but that’s okay. Your mouth is in the habit of making sounds from your native language, and the way English speakers create sounds can feel wrong or awkward. But in order to improve pronunciation, you have to make awkward sounds at first. They feel more natural after more and more practice.

To do this exercise, first, listen to a native English speaker talk. After that, find a specific phrase or sentence that you want to repeat. Then listen again, and try to imitate the exact way the speaker says it. You want to sound exactly like them. Pretend you are an actor, and you will play the role of that person in a movie.

Record yourself speaking

While you imitate that native speaker, you should record yourself. There are a couple reasons why you should do this often:

You will be recorded on the actual TOEFL. Speaking into a microphone should be comfortable for you before then, and the best way to become comfortable is by experience.

Check out: How IELTS Tests Your Speaking Skills

You can listen again and compare yourself to the native speaker. Try to identify what exactly is different between the sounds you make and those the native speaker makes. Ideally, you will have somebody else to listen, too, and give some more advice, because it can be very hard to hear what’s different when listening to your own voice. But if you do this often, and listen carefully to the two recordings, you will start to identify aspects of your pronunciation that can be improved, and that helps you to focus your practice.