Advice Speaking123: Basic Information Onboarding

IELTS Speaking: Basic Information

The IELTS Speaking Test is the final part of the exam. Your test will be at some time between 1.30pm and 5.00pm. You can take only your ID document into the exam room.

The test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. You will be interviewed by an examiner who will record your conversation. Timing is strictly controlled by the examiner, so don’t be surprised if he or she interrupts you during an answer.

There are 3 parts to the Speaking Test:

  1. Introduction/ interview: around 10 questions in 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Short presentation: talk for 2 minutes with 1 minute to prepare.
  3. Discussion: around 5 questions in 4 to 5 minutes.

Preparation is the key to a good score in IELTS Speaking. Different skills are tested in each part, so you need to know exactly what to do.

We can predict the kinds of questions that the examiner will ask. We’ll prepare ideas, possible answers and good vocabulary for each part of the test.

IELTS Speaking: informal expressions

Yesterday I wrote about ‘an event’ for IELTS Speaking Part 2. Some of the expressions I used were informal:

  • we chatted (talked)
  • to get together with (meet)
  • to catch up with (talk to someone you haven’t seen for a while)
  • what my friends had been up to (had been doing)
  • to wind down (relax after something tiring)

The examiner would consider these phrases to be “less common vocabulary”. In other words, a few phrasal verbs or informal expressions can help you to get a high score in IELTS Speaking.

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IELTS Speaking: linking phrases don’t impress

A student asked me a really useful (and common) question the other day.

Student’s question:

I’ve gone through your speaking answers, and I rarely found linking phrases like “I suppose I should begin by highlighting the fact that…” or “the point I’d like to begin with is that…”. Don’t you think such phrases are the sign of a high score?

Here’s my answer:

Good question. No, I don’t use those phrases because examiners are not impressed by them. Even a beginner can learn linking phrases, and if it were that easy, everyone would get band 9. The sign of a high score is ‘real content’ (topic-specific vocabulary), not memorised phrases.

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IELTS Speaking: use real examples!

To improve your IELTS speaking score, use good examples to extend your answers. Real examples or stories about yourself are the best.

Use examples in part 2 when you need to make your presentation longer. Use them in part 3 to support your opinions.

Here’s an example that helps me to extend a part 2 presentation about my mobile phone:

“For example, yesterday I used my phone to call some friends to arrange a get-together this weekend. Some of them didn’t answer, so I either left a message in their voicemail or I sent them a text. I also replied to a few emails while I was waiting in a queue at the bank.”

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IELTS Speaking Advice: record, transcribe, analyse

Here are some steps that you could follow when practising for the speaking test:

  1. Choose a real speaking test from one of the Cambridge books.
  2. Record yourself answering one or all of the parts of the test.
  3. Listen to the recording and transcribe it (write down everything you said).
  4. Analyse the transcript. How could your answers be improved?
  5. Take some time to prepare better answers for the same questions.
  6. Try the same questions again! Record yourself, transcribe and analyse.
  7. Repeat the process a few times until you are happy.

Imagine if you did this kind of hard work every day for a month. I’m sure you’d be more confident and better prepared than you are now.

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IELTS Speaking: the examiner’s attitude

I sometimes hear from students who are worried that their examiner seemed rude or angry in the speaking exam. Maybe the examiner didn’t smile or make much eye contact, interrupted a lot, or kept looking at his/her watch. Does this mean that you will get a low score, or that you should complain?

The answer is no! Don’t worry, and don’t think that you need to complain. The examiner’s attitude is not important at all, and you should ignore all of the things I mentioned above. Focus only on answering the examiner’s questions as well as you can.

Remember: it’s possible to have a very nice, smiling examiner who gives you a low score. On the other hand, an examiner who seems impolite or disinterested might give you a higher score than you expected!

IELTS Speaking: add detail

Many students worry too much about grammar. For speaking parts 2 and 3, it’s more important to worry about the quality of your answers. The best way to improve the quality of your answers is by adding detail.

Example:
Describe your best friend. Say when you met him/her.

Short answer about when we met:
I met my best friend at school when I was 11 years old.

Detailed answer about when we met:
I met my best friend at school when I was 11 years old, so we’ve known each other for … years. I remember we sat next to each other in my first science lesson at secondary school, and we had to work together to do an experiment. We got on straight away, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Notice that by adding more information I’ve also used more/better vocabulary and grammar.

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IELTS Speaking: how to feel more confident

Here are some tips to help you feel more confident when you go for your IELTS speaking test:

  • Be prepared: you should know exactly what to expect in the 3 parts of the speaking test, and you should have read the suggestions on this website about how to answer.
  • Lots of practice: a student who has practised answering all of the questions in all eight Cambridge books, as well as the questions on this site, will feel much more confident than a student who hasn’t.
  • Write it down: when studying at home, you have time to prepare ‘perfect’ answers to practice questions; write your answers down, and ask someone to help you check and improve them.
  • Speak aloud: start by reading the answers you wrote down (like an actor uses a script), then gradually stop using the script.
  • Record yourself: this allows you to analyse the quality of your answers, as well as your pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
  • Focus on ideas: it’s difficult to think about grammar when you are speaking, so I advise students to stop worrying about grammatical structures, and focus on expressing good ideas (which means good vocabulary).
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IELTS Speaking: part 1, 2 or 3?

It’s important to know exactly what to expect in each part of the exam.

The following questions come from part 1, part 2 and part 3 of the speaking test.
Can you tell which part each question is from?

  1. How often do you watch television?
  2. How have television programmes changed since you were a child?
  3. Describe a television programme that you enjoyed.
  4. Which TV channel or channels do you prefer to watch? Why?
  5. Do you think governments should control what TV programmes show?
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IELTS Speaking: useful expressions

In this lesson I want to draw your attention to a few useful expressions that I used in last week’s answers. Maybe you could try using them in your own answers.

1. An alternative way to say “and”:

  • Just as individuals can learn from their mistakes, societies can (also)…
  • Just as we need to exercise the body, we also need to exercise the mind.

2. A nice way to introduce a personal example or opinion:

  • From what I’ve read in the newspapers,…
  • From what I’ve heard / seen / experienced,…

3. Giving an opinion when you’re not sure:

  • If I had to guess what might happen in the future, I’d like to think that…
  • If I had to give my opinion, I’d say…

IELTS Speaking: a preparation technique

A good way to prepare for IELTS speaking is to take one topic area and practise possible questions for all 3 parts. Here are some examples:

‘Home’ topic

Part 1 - give short answers

  1. Do you live in a house or a flat?
  2. What’s your favourite room in your home? Why?
  3. What would you like to change about your home? Why?
  4. Would you like to move house in the future?

Part 2 - speak for 2 minutes
Describe an interesting home that you have visited.

Part 3 - give longer answers

  1. What factors do you think are important when choosing where to live?
  2. Compare life in a city with life in the countryside.
  3. How do you think the design of homes will change in the future?
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IELTS Speaking: if you don’t know the answer

How do you answer a question when you don’t know anything about the topic?
There are 2 things you can do:

  1. Be honest and explain why you don’t know
  2. Guess, and tell the examiner that you are guessing

Example question:

How has technology affected the kinds of music that young people listen to?

My answer, using both tips above:

(1) To be honest I don’t really know the answer to that because I’m completely out of touch with what young people are listening to, and I’m not a fan of pop music.
(2) However, I suppose that technology must have affected music. Maybe young people are listening to music that has been made using computer software instead of real musical instruments like the piano or guitar.

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IELTS Speaking: prepare by writing your answers

Although this is a speaking test, a good way to prepare and practise is by writing your answers down. Here’s a quick example:

Describe a recent journey.

I’m going to talk about a recent journey to London. It was a couple of weekends ago, and I decided to visit the capital with some friends. I had never been before, so I wanted to go there to do some sightseeing. I don’t have a car, but my friend does, so he volunteered to drive. He had done the trip a few times before, so he knew the way. Maybe it was a bad idea to travel by car because the traffic between Manchester and London was terrible. We spent a lot of time sitting in traffic jams, which were due to roadworks and minor accidents, and it took us the best part of an afternoon to get there…

Note:
The description above is easy to understand, but it contains enough ‘less common vocabulary’ (underlined) to impress the examiner.

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IELTS Speaking: avoid these phrases

In the speaking test, examiners don’t like it when students use phrases like:

  • That’s a very interesting question…
  • It is my personal opinion that…
  • Personally, I would have to say that…
  • I am of the opinion that it depends on…
  • To be honest, I personally believe that…

These phrases sound unnatural, and it is obvious to the examiner that the student has memorised them.

So what should you do instead? My advice: just answer the question directly. Stop using memorised phrases, and just get straight to the point.

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IELTS Speaking Advice: get to the point

Yesterday I wrote that you should avoid using long phrases to begin your answers. So what should you use instead? Native speakers say things like:

  • I think…
  • I guess…
  • Well,…

These words/phrases might seem less impressive, but you have to remember that examiners are not impressed by the long phrases either! The important thing is to get to the point of your answer.

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IELTS Speaking: full test

Here’s what a full test looks like. All of the questions below come from recent tests and have been shared by students here or on my Facebook page.

PART 1

What is your full name? Can I see your ID? (this is not part of the test)

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Do you like the place where you live?
  3. Do you work or are you a student?
  4. What job do you do?
  5. Do you like walking?
  6. Do you think walking is important?
  7. Do you think walking in the countryside is better than walking in the city?
  8. What could be done to improve the experience of walking in cities?

PART 2

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 13.52.19

PART 3

  1. In your country, how do people treat visitors?
  2. Do you think hospitality is less important than it was in the past?
  3. What are the benefits of staying with a friend when visiting a new place?
  4. What are the advantages of staying in a hotel instead?

IELTS Speaking: if you don’t know what to say

In Sunday’s lesson I suggested answering in the following way if you don’t know what to say:

“Well, I don’t really know much about… because…, but I suppose…”

In other words, you admit that you don’t really know what to say, you explain why, then you invent an answer anyway. Let’s try using the formula above with an example.

Question:
What kinds of jobs might stop when the season changes?

Answer:
Well, I don’t really know much about seasonal jobs because everyone works all year round where I live, but I suppose that some jobs related to tourism must stop at the end of the summer holiday period.

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Students’ questions about IELTS speaking

Here are my answers to some questions that people have asked me recently.

1. In this lesson, the advice for speaking part 3 was that it’s fine to ask for help. Is it still possible to get band 7 or higher if you do this?

Yes, it’s definitely still possible to get band 7 or higher if your answers are really good. It’s not a big problem if you ask for one question to be explained in part 3.

2. In the speaking test, what should I do if I understand the question but I have no idea what to say in my answer?

You could use this formula: “Well, I don’t really know much about… because…, but I suppose…” In other words, you admit that you don’t really know what to say, you explain why, then you invent an answer anyway.

3. Is it ok if my pronunciation is a mix of British and American English?

Yes, that’s fine. Just focus on speaking clearly.

4. In speaking part 2, can I ask for a different cue card?

No, I’m afraid you can’t.

5. My teacher told me to avoid using the word “you” in the speaking test. Is this advice correct?

No, that advice is wrong. It’s completely normal to use “you” in the speaking test. Look at answer 3 in this lesson.

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IELTS Speaking: which part is the most important?

Do the 3 parts of the speaking test carry equal weighting when your score is calculated, or is one part more important?

The simple answer is that the 3 parts are not scored separately; the examiner rates the student’s performance as a whole. In this sense, neither part is more important.

However, it’s useful to think about the 3 parts like this:

  • Part 1 is supposed to be quite easy (like a warm-up), so you won’t get a high score if you only do well in this part.
  • Part 2 is when the examiner really gets a chance to assess how good you are. He/she will now have an idea of what scores to give you.
  • During part 3, the examiner is making his/her final decision. A good performance here can boost your score.
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IELTS Speaking: complex structures?

Students often worry that they need to use “complex structures” in the speaking test. But what is a complex structure?

This website explains the difference between simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences. You’ll notice that compound and complex sentences are much easier than they sound! I’m sure you use them all the time without realising it.

Here’s my advice: stop worrying about the need for “complex” grammar. Instead, focus on expressing your ideas well. As you explain your ideas in detail, you will naturally produce longer sentences which contain a variety of grammatical features.

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