Advice Speaking Part 2

IELTS Speaking Part 2: choose your topic quickly!

One of the most important things to practise for IELTS speaking part 2 is choosing your topic quickly. Take this question for example:

Describe a situation in which you were very polite. You should explain

  • where the situation took place
  • how you showed that you were polite
  • and why you needed to be so polite.

It would be easy to waste your one-minute preparation time worrying about what situation to choose. If you still haven’t decided what to talk about when the examiner asks you to start speaking, you’ll be in real trouble!

Give yourself just 10 seconds to choose your polite situation. It doesn’t really matter what situation you choose; the key is to give yourself enough time to prepare some ideas.

IELTS Speaking Part 3: ‘politeness’ topic

Two weeks ago I showed you a part 2 question about a situation in which you were polite. Let’s have a look at some related questions for part 3 of the test:

In your country’s culture, how do you show that you are being polite?

We really value politeness and good manners in the UK, and there are many types of polite behaviour. One of the first things we learn as children is to say “please” and “thank you”. As adults, I think we are careful not to be too direct in the language we use. For example, we would never say “Bring me the bill” in a restaurant because this kind of direct instruction would sound rude. It would be much more polite to say “Could we have the bill, please?”.

Are we less polite with members of our families than with people we don’t know?

I suppose it’s normal to be a bit more relaxed about politeness with family members. Most people tend to speak in a more informal way at home; in the UK, we still say “please” and “thanks”, but it’s fine to use colloquial language and things like nicknames that you would never use with someone you didn’t know.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: use what you know

Don’t worry if you get a question that you haven’t prepared for. You can usually use ideas that you prepared for a different topic. For example:

Describe a piece of advice that you gave (or that someone gave you)

Why not say that you advised your friend to visit London? Then you could use all the good vocabulary from this lesson. Or you could use this lesson to talk about advice that your father gave you. For example, say that your father told you to work hard. Then you could use great vocabulary such as ‘major influence’, ‘hard-working’, ‘role model’, ‘set a good example’, ‘positive outlook on life’.

Think quickly during the one-minute preparation time: What can I use that I’ve already prepared?

IELTS Speaking Part 2: main topics

For part 2 of IELTS speaking, I encourage my students in Manchester to prepare ideas for 6 main topic areas:

  1. Describe an object (a gift, something you use etc.)
  2. Describe a person (someone you admire, a family member etc.)
  3. Describe an event (a festival, celebration etc.)
  4. Describe an activity (e.g. a hobby)
  5. Describe a place (somewhere you visited, a holiday etc.)
  6. Describe your favourite (book/film/advertisement/website)

Most questions fit into one of these topics. For example, "Describe a river, lake or sea which you like" is number 5 - you could describe a holiday by the sea, or a city with a river.

Don’t take the test without preparing some ideas for these topics first!

IELTS Advice: preparing speaking topics

On Friday I suggested preparing six main topics for IELTS Speaking Part 2. But how should you prepare these topics? Where can you find good ideas?

I recommend doing two things. First, have a look through the speaking lessons on this site. Second, use the Internet to do some further research. For example, if you want a good description of a famous person, look him/her up on Wikipedia and note down the best vocabulary ideas.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: ‘difficult’ questions

Students tend to worry about ‘difficult questions’, but questions are often much easier than they seem. For example:

Describe a law in your country.

Many students think they don’t know anything about laws. However, there are some easy examples that they could choose:

  1. In many countries it is now illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. You could start by talking about the popularity and benefits of mobile phones, and explain that people want to be able to answer calls wherever they are. Then you could explain the dangers of being distracted while driving; this law could reduce the number of road accidents, and therefore save lives.
  2. If you feel confident talking about the ‘education’ topic, you could choose the ‘compulsory education’ law. This is the legal requirement that children up to a certain age must attend school. In the UK, for example, children are required by law to continue in education until they are 16 years old. This is a good topic because you can talk about the benefits of education.

Of course, you could choose a more obvious law (it is illegal to steal, carry a gun etc.) but you might have more ideas and good vocabulary if you choose a typical IELTS topic like number 2 above.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: recent topics

New question topics are added every now and then. Here are two recent examples that students have asked me about:

  • Describe a picnic or a meal that you ate outdoors.
  • Describe a situation when you were late.

Here are 2 tips to deal with new questions:

  1. Try to adapt a topic that you have already prepared. For the ‘picnic’ topic, we could use ideas from the birthday topic or the meal topic.
  2. Choose something that you know a lot about (e.g. your job, your studies). For the ‘late’ topic, you could describe arriving late for work or for a lesson.

IELTS Speaking: using the 1-minute preparation time

Martin asked a great question: “What’s the best way to use the 1-minute preparation time in part 2 of the speaking test?”

I must admit, I don’t have a good answer to this question (yet). I’m going to try some different approaches with my students this week - hopefully I’ll find some answers.

If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to share them in the “comments” area. I’ll share my ideas on Friday.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: 1-minute preparation

This week I’ve been thinking about different ways to use the 1-minute preparation time. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  1. One minute is a very short amount of time! I found it just as difficult as my students did.
  2. A simple list is probably faster and easier than a diagram or mind map.
  3. You need to decide on your topic as quickly as possible. Then spend most of your time making notes.
  4. Try to write at least one key idea for each part of the question.
  5. Don’t write sentences, and don’t waste time erasing “mistakes”.
  6. Try to use a topic you have already prepared.
  7. Forget about grammar. Focus on answering the question.
  8. Finally, fast preparation is a skill that you can practise. Why not train yourself by making notes for a few different questions every day?

The following photo shows a part 2 question with my notes below. As you can see, I couldn’t write much in 1 minute, but I followed the advice above.


IELTS Speaking Part 2: choosing a ‘strong topic’

IELTS Speaking Part 2: choosing a ‘strong topic’

Most people are good at talking about their studies, work, hobbies, health etc. I call these “strong topics”.

For the question below you can choose any topic you want, so choose something that you find easy to talk about.

Describe something that was recently reported in the news.
You should say:

  • what happened
  • who was involved
  • and why you found this news interesting

Example topic choices for the question above:

  1. My strong topic could be “education”, so I’d say that I read a news article about universities using the Internet. Click here to see a recent article about this topic.
  2. If you like football, you could talk about the news that Barcelona won the Champions League.
  3. If you have studied the “health” topic for IELTS writing, you could talk about schools banning junk food. I did a quick search and found this article about schools in Dubai.

*Model Essay by IELTS Simon - Corpus Text input for research purposes and labeling in AI Training. Check the accompanied mindmaps, tags and annotations for a further breakdown of this essay, as well as to view alternative and student-submitted versions.*

IELTS Speaking Part 2: easier than you think

Sometimes a question seems difficult, but you might be able to turn it into a different topic. Take these questions for example:

  1. Describe a photo that you like.
  2. Describe an important letter you received.

Many students panic when I ask them these two questions, but they are much easier than you think. Here are some ideas:

  1. You could describe a photo of your family on a special occasion (e.g. a birthday party). This would allow you to talk about the members of your family and tell the story of what happened at the party when the photo was taken. Alternatively, you could describe a holiday photo of a place you visited. Then you can talk about the place and what you did there.
  2. If you have a job, you could describe the letter you received telling you that you got the job. You could talk about the job interview, how you felt when you received the letter, and what you now do in your job. On the other hand, if you are a student, you could say that you received a letter confirming your place on your degree course.

IELTS Speaking: how to talk for 2 minutes

Students often ask whether it’s necessary to speak for the full 2 minutes in part 2 of the speaking test. The instruction is: speak for between 1 and 2 minutes, so it’s not strictly necessary to speak for the full 2 minutes. However, my advice is that you should try to keep speaking until the examiner stops you.

Here are some tips to help you keep talking:

  1. Go through the bullet points on the task card in order.
  2. Try to develop each point, even easy ones. For example, if the first bullet point for the topic “describe a person” is “who is it?”, don’t just say “I’m going to describe my father”. Add more information, such as your father’s name, age, what he looks like, where he is now, how often you speak to him…
  3. Give examples and tell stories (click here for more advice about this).

IELTS Speaking Part 2: which tense?

  • Can you use the past tense when describing a person who is still alive?
  • Which tense should you use when describing a person?

The answer to the first question is yes. You can say: “My father was always a good role model for me when I was growing up.” This doesn’t mean that your father is no longer alive; it just means that you are no longer growing up!

The answer to the second question is it depends. As we saw above, you can use the past tense, but it would also be easy to add the present and/or future tense: “My father was always kind to me when I was a child, and he still helps me whenever I need something. I’m sure he will always be there for me.”

IELTS Speaking Part 2: three tips

Here are three quick tips for IELTS speaking part 2 (the short speech):

1. Use the 1 minute preparation time well
Think about how you would answer the question in your own language, then write down as many ideas as possible in English.

2. Give real examples
Say what you really think, talk about your real life, and give real examples. Examples are really important; whenever you don’t know what to say, give an example from your own experience.

3. Don’t worry about grammar
You haven’t got time to think about passives or conditionals. Focus on answering the question - ideas and vocabulary.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: take ideas from other topics

Describe a time when you received some money as a gift. You should say:

  • who gave it to you
  • what the occasion was
  • how you felt
  • and explain what you did with the money.

If you think about some of the topics we have already prepared, the question above should be quite easy.

Some ideas:

  1. You could say that you received money for your birthday and took your friends out for a meal. Take some ideas from this lesson.
  2. You could say that you bought yourself a new phone (see this lesson).
  3. You could say that you used the money to pay for a holiday or trip, and use ideas from this lesson.

I’m not recommending that you learn my answers word-for-word. Just try to take some of my ideas and adapt them to your own answers.



IELTS Speaking Part 2: formula phrases

A student asked me whether the following formula is useful for speaking part 2:

  • I guess I could begin by saying something about (point 1) and I think I would have to choose…
  • Going on to my next point which is (point 2), I really need to emphasise that (explain point 2).
  • And now with reference to (point 3), the point I want to make here is that (explain point 3).
  • And so finally, if I have time, in answer to the question of (point 4), really I should mention that…

So, are these ‘formula phrases’ a good idea? My answer is no!

As an English speaker and ex-examiner, I find these phrases annoying. It’s obvious that they are memorised, and they do not address the question topic. Please don’t expect the examiner to be impressed by this kind of thing.

There are a couple of benefits to learning a formula: it gives your answer some structure, and it might make you feel more confident during the test. However, the disadvantages are greater:

  1. Your focus is on the phrases you have memorised, when it should be on answering the question with relevant ideas.
  2. The examiner thinks that you are using memorised phrases because you are unable to produce good language spontaneously. In other words, your use of long formula phrases suggests that your level of English is lower.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: using ‘old’ ideas

You can often use ‘old’ ideas from a topic that you have already prepared to answer a new question. Take this question for example:


We haven’t prepared for this question before, but I can think of a few previous topics that might help us. Maybe you could describe a visit from a family member during a festival, or you could talk about a visit from a friend who is interested in the same hobby as you. Can you think of any other previous topics that we could use for ideas?

IELTS Speaking Part 2: memorise and adapt

Memorising can be a good strategy for speaking part 2 because the same topics are often repeated. Click here to see the six main topic areas that I tell my students to prepare first.

But memorising can be a risky strategy unless you are able to adapt your answers to the specific question. For example, if you prepared a description of a holiday, would you be able to adapt it for this question about a positive experience you had as a teenager?

The smart way to study for part 2 is to prepare a few key topics, then spend lots of time practising ways to adapt what you prepared to other questions.

IELTS Speaking: it’s ok to lie!

Students often ask me whether it’s ok to lie or invent an answer in the speaking test. My advice is that it’s usually easier to tell the truth; however, sometimes your only option is to make something up (to lie). Take this part 2 question for example:

"Describe a team project that you worked on"

If your job involves working in a team, this might be an easy question. But if you’re still a student, or you work alone, you might be stuck for ideas. You might need to invent something!

Here’s how you could adapt to the question above:

  • Talk about a project or piece of work that you did alone, and pretend that other people were involved.
  • Go back to your school days and talk about something you studied, pretending that it was a group project.
  • Talk about an English lesson - most English teachers put their students in groups from time to time.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: use and adapt main topics

I’ve written before about the six main topic areas that I think you should prepare:

  1. Describe a person (family member, famous person…)
  2. Describe a place (city, holiday…)
  3. Describe an object (something you use, a gift…)
  4. Describe an event (festival, celebration…)
  5. Describe an activity (hobby, game, sport…)
  6. Describe your favourite (book, film, website…)

You should also be prepared to talk about your job and/or your studies.

After preparing one main description for these seven or eight topics, you should then practise adapting your descriptions to as many questions as you can.

Let’s take the “disagreement” question in this lesson as an example. Can we use one of the main topics above as our answer? Perhaps we could say that we had a family disagreement about where to go on holiday, which gift to buy someone, or which film to see at the cinema. Which topic would you use and adapt for the “disagreement” question?