A turquoise pause button sits on a bright pink background to symbolise that in the IELTS speaking exam you should try to paraphrase rather than pause.

Imagine this. It’s part two of the speaking test. You have been given a cue card that asks you to describe a memorable journey, and you are talking about a road trip you took with some friends across Europe. 🚗 It’s a good story. You have lots to say, and are about to get to the best part of the story – the bit that describes how you got stopped by the police because you ran over a traffic cone….. 🚓But then you realise, you don’t know the word for “traffic cone” in English…….

What do you do?

Well, based on my experience, 80% of you would panic. You would stop speaking. You would turn your head to one side while you frantically tried to remember……. And then you would probably say “I don’t know the word, but anyway…” and then continue your story (feeling flustered and upset that you didn’t remember the term traffic cone, and worried that now your story doesn’t make sense)

I always feel so sad when this happens in a test. 😓 One of the most common misbeliefs about IELTS speaking is that you have to know EVERY English word to get a high Lexical Resource score – YOU DON’T!!!!

Being able to communicate at a high level means that you are able to KEEP GOING when you don’t know a word by using PARAPHRASING. In fact, to achieve a high Lexical Resource score you SHOULD show the examiner that you are able to paraphrase. Look at the band descriptors for an 8.0:

• uses a wide vocabulary resource readily and flexibly to convey precise meaning
• uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skillfully, with occasional inaccuracies
• uses paraphrase effectively as required   

So, next time you are practicing speaking and you realise that you don’t have the particular word you need to convey your message precisely, DON’T PANIC and think you have a problem – smile because you have the opportunity to PARAPHRASE! In my example, all the student had to say was:

so we were driving on the motorway and suddenly we saw a …. oh, I’m not sure what you call them in English, but they are the orange and white triangular pieces of plastic that the police use to close a road… anyway, one of these was in the middle of the road ……

Now, not only has the student NOT stopped (so their Fluency and Coherence score is undamaged) but they have also shown that they are able to PARAPHRASE EFFECTIVELY, which as actually ADDED to their Lexical Resource score.


So, my top-tip for the speaking exam is always DON’T PAUSE, PARAPHRASE! Remember, forgetting a word is an opportunity to show the examiner that you are capable of paraphrasing! Good luck

If you would like to know more about how to paraphrase in Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2, you can find out more in my full IELTS writing course ⚡

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