Why did the IELTS examiner keep on interrupting me in the Speaking Test?
This is a question that I see time and time again in Facebook groups. Well, actually, it’s not usually a question, but a complaint. An angry complaint that accuses the examiner of ruining the student’s speaking performance.
The examiner wouldn’t let me finish my pre-prepared responses! 😤
The examiner wouldn’t let me show off my vocabulary! They kept interrupting me and it was very difficult to concentrate! It’s unfair! 💥
The examiner kept interrupting me when I was giving my examples. It was VERY unprofessional.😡
And every time I read complaints like these, I think – poor student 😓.
Here is somebody who was totally unprepared for what the IELTS speaking exam is really like.
Here is a somebody who was told by their teacher to extend, extend, extend in every part of the exam, and was then confused and shocked when they were seemingly “penalised” for doing so.
So, in today’s blog we are going to look at each section of the IELTS Speaking test to understand WHEN and WHY an examiner might cut you off in the middle of a sentence (and why it’s not always a bad thing!) 🚀
OK, hopefully you have all read my post on how long your responses should be in Speaking Part 1. But, if not, all you need to know today is that the examiner has got a maximum of 5 minutes to ask you at least SEVEN questions- three about either where you live or what you study, and four about one particular topic e.g. Trees! 🌳🌳🌳
👉 This is the MINIMUM that they MUST ask for the test to be valid 👈
Now, usually asking and answering 7 questions in 5 minutes is not a problem. In fact, most students can easily answer 11 questions in Part 1. But, sometimes students are given terrible advice by teachers. They are told that to achieve a HIGH SCORE they should extend their answers as much as possible, giving as many extra details to each question as they can, and not stopping until the examiner interrupts them.
💀 THIS IS NOT TRUE! 💀
In fact, there is nothing worse than when an examiner asks a test-taker a simple question like:
How far away are you living from here at the moment?
And the student replies with a 2 minute answer about the location of their city, its major industries and what tourists like to do there !!!!!!!
🛑You should NEVER do this in Part 1 🛑
Your job is just to DIRECTLY ANSWER THE QUESTIONS! For example, a good response here would have simply been:
Well, not too far, it’s about 20 minute by bus, but it can be longer if the traffic is bad. I’ve never tried walking, but I guess it would take around an hour to get here on foot.
That’s it. It’s direct and to the point. So, if you are asked a simple direct question about YOURSELF, but answer with a long rambling speech about the topic IN GENERAL –
THE EXAMINER IS GOING TO INTERRUPT YOU!!! ⚡
Now, it is important to note that being interrupted for talking for too long won’t affect your score negatively, but it might affect your performance 👎. Often, being interrupted surprises students and makes them feel uncomfortable, which can definitely have a negative impact on the rest of their test. Remember, being interrupted doesn’t signify that you have done a good job – it simply means that time is running out! ⏰.
Another reason that the examiner might stop you speaking is if they think that you have switched to a pre-prepared answer. The IELTS exam is about your ability to communicate in English, not give memorised monologues. Of course, because many Part 1 topics repeat, it can be very tempting for lower-level students to learn answers by heart 💔. However, it is very obvious when a student suddenly switches from natural speech to reciting a long-text that they have memorised. Examiners are trained to identify these and IGNORE THEM.✋ If they suspect that you are just recounting a memorised passage –
THE EXAMINER IS GOING TO INTERRUPT YOU ⚡.
Finally, it’s quite common for students to misunderstand a question in Part 1 – especially near the beginning of the test when nerves are high. If the examiner thinks that your answer is going in the wrong direction,
THEY ARE GOING TO INTERRUPT YOU TO REPEAT THE QUESTION AGAIN ⚡
If this happens to you, don’t worry. You don’t lose marks for the misunderstanding – just gather your thoughts and continue with the exam.
So, to summarise, in Part 1, the examiner might interrupt you for THREE reasons:
- You are speaking too long about one point and they are worried that you won’t be able to complete all of the questions in the time allowed.
- They suspect that you might be giving a memorised answer and, therefore, want to move on to the next part of the exam.
- You have misunderstood the question in some way, and they want to bring you back to the correct topic.
And, to repeat, NONE OF THESE INTERRUPTIONS WILL AFFECT YOUR SCORE. However, being interrupted feels unpleasant and can make students feel stressed. Do your best to make sure it doesn’t happen to you by giving short but relevant answers to the specific questions you are given! 👍
The only time that the examiner will interrupt you in Speaking Part 2 is when your TWO MINUTES ENDS. That’s it – until then, they will sit, smile, and assess your language. If you finish early, they may prompt you to continue, but nothing else.
👉 If you feel that the examiner stops you before your 2 minutes have been completed, then you should make a complaint to the administrator at your Test Centre.👈
Any interruption before 2 minutes would put make your test invalid. It is very easy to check if this happened, so don’t be afraid to speak up!
That said, when your two minutes finishes, you might be asked a very simple short question before Part 3 begins. So, if your cue card was about your favourite book, you might be asked something like:
Would you recommend this book to a friend?
I’ve never really understood why this question is part of the exam, maybe it’s to bring students back to conversation after the monologues, but the thing to remember here is that you should give a very short response to this question. There is usually no time for an answer longer than a couple of sentences. If you start re-telling your story, the examiner will definitely have to interrupt you to move the exam forward to the final stage!
So, to summarise, in Part 2, the examiner will ONLY interrupt you for ONE reason:
- Your two minutes have ended and it is time to ask the follow-up question and move forward.
Honestly, here is where I think the problems begin for most students. And, again, it’s because most test-takers are given the wrong information about that is expected of them. Many students believe that in Part 3 they should give a kind of mini-lecture in response to each question: 2 or 3 ideas, each with their own example, and then a summary at the end. However, this is not how Part 3 works.
This is the first part of the exam where the examiner is able to ask you questions freely. They can ask you to clarify what you have said, or give a further example, or go into more detail on a point, or to justify a point that they are unclear about. Therefore, you should treat this part of the exam
LIKE A CONVERSATION / DISCUSSION! 💬
That’s right, it should NOT feel like you are stood at the front of a class giving a lecture, but instead that you are sat in a tutorial having an academic discussion. If you start talking for too long on one point, or repeating yourself, or giving very basic or obvious examples to support your arguments –
THE EXAMINER IS GOING TO INTERRUPT YOU.⚡
The examiner wants to see if you are able to talk at a high-level about abstract ideas. If you are giving a third, obvious example about how smart phones have changed the world
We can communicate more. (OF COURSE WE CAN!!!!!)
then of course they are going to interrupt and ask you a more challenging question. Again, it’s all about time ⏰. The examiner has a final 5 minutes to see what you are capable of. If you are giving simplistic answers, then they may interrupt with a question that could let you show off higher-level language (if you have it!) The examiner wants to see what you are capable of!
Plus, in this part of the exam, your job is to talk about ABSTRACT issues. If the examiner asks you a question about people IN GENERAL: “On what occasions do people in your country give gifts?” And you start telling them whey YOU give gifts
THE EXAMINER IS GOING TO INTERRUPT YOU. ⚡
You had the chance to talk about yourself in Parts 1 and 2, now the examiner wants to see how you handle more complex topics. Again, I have a post about this that will help you to understand what is expected of you in Speaking Part 3. But, in short, you always need to speak in general terms, which means never giving personal examples.
So, to summarise, in Part 3, the examiner might interrupt you for THREE reasons:
- Your answer is too long and is starting to feel repetitive
- Your answer is simplistic and obvious for your perceived level
- Your answer is personal and, therefore, not relevant.
Interestingly, if the examiner interrupts you in Part 3 for reason 1 or 2, it means that they think you are under-performing and are capable to higher-level language than you are currently showing. Therefore, the interruption is actually a “good” thing. The examiner is pushing you to check that they have seen the very best examples of your language!
So, these are the reasons why the examiner might interrupt you, and NONE of them are because they want you to under-perform! In fact, as we just saw, in Part 3, it could be because they want you to IMPROVE your performance! 🚀
If you have trouble understanding what to should and shouldn’t do in the Speaking Exam, it can be very useful to have a full mock test with an experienced teacher before your test day. Book a Skype lesson with me today to see where you are losing marks (and gaining them!)