Top 5 Tips for the IELTS Speaking Exam
The IELTS speaking test can often seem like the most difficult 14 minutes of a students’ life. But, you can definitely maximise your chance of achieving a high score if you can master good test-technique. After examining hundreds of students, these are my top 5 IELTS speaking tips.
🗣️1. Make life easy for the IELTS examiner
Test day is obviously stressful for every IELTS candidate, but it is also pretty difficult for speaking examiner too. They might see 12 or more students in a day, with very little time in between each one to rest and recover. And, in every test, they don’t just have to accurately assess the student’s language, but they also have to deliver a test that is valid.
What do I mean by valid? Well, I mean that every test the examiner gives must follow the strict rules that IELTS has created to make sure that every test-taker has the same experience. If the examiner breaks one of these rules, your test is not valid and is, therefore, cannot be accepted as a true representation of your language.
- There are rules about how long each part of the test can last.
- There are rules about making sure the pen and paper you use for Part 2 don’t leave the exam room.
- There are rules about when the recording starts.
- There are even rules about what the examiner can say in each part of the test.
And it is this last one that is important – your test starts BEFORE you enter the test room when the examiner hits record on the dictaphone. From that point forward, everything you and the examiner say is recorded to make sure that your exam is delivered fairly. And so, from that point forward, your examiner must follow the IELTS script.
When you enter the test room, it is a GREAT idea to smile and say hello and sit down in your chair to wait for the test to begin 😇. However, it is not a good idea to ask the examiner how they are or comment on the weather or mention that you are nervous – they can’t answer! And, if the examiner is anything like me, that makes them feel awkward!!! Remember, the examiner’s job is to make sure that your test is valid, so all they need you to do is enter the room, sit down and wait for the test to begin.
Also, once the examiner has recorded the official information (the date, your name, their name, the test centre details) and sits down to check your passport, they say hello and ask you for your full name. This is not part of the test- it is just part of the identity check! Don’t bother replying to the “Good afternoon” part or telling the examiner about your nickname! They can’t answer you and it just makes life difficult for everyone. Just sit smiling until the examiner says “In this first part, I’d like to as you some questions about yourself” – from that point forth, you can speak, speak, speak, but until that point, just do your best to look quietly intelligent!!!
Also, when the test finishes, say thank you, goodbye and then leave. It’s natural to make a comment like “That was quick” or “Really?”, but please do not ask the examiner how you did and if you “passed” – again, they cannot tell you and it just makes everybody feel awkward. Smile, leave the room and collapse in a heap in the corner of the room next-door to recover!
🗣️2. Answer the question directly in IELTS Speaking Part 1
IELTS exams rooms have a magic effect on students. Examiners ask a simple question like “Is breakfast an important meal for you?” and before you know it, the test-taker is trying to tell you about the national cuisine of their country! Yes, part of your score is based on you being fluent, but part is also based on you being RELEVANT. You are going to have plenty of time to speak in the test – particularly in Part 3 – what you want to show the examiner in Part One is that you can understand questions and respond to them APPROPRIATELY. If what you are saying is relevant, great! But if the examiner asks you where you are living now, and you start to tell them about the industry in your local area, you are doing something wrong (and the examiner will probably interrupt you)
🗣️3. Don’t count your sentences!
I read so much “advice” online that your answers in Part One should be 2 – 3 sentences long – it makes me want to scream 😱. Your answers should be as long as they need to be to answer the question! I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to perform in an exam and counting my sentences in my head at the same time! The truth is that some Part One questions require answers that are naturally short:
Examiner: “Do you travel much by car?”
Test-taker: “No, not really as I don’t own a car here in St Petersburg, so I mostly take public transport of walk.”
Others genuinely do lead to longer answers:
Examiner: “Is the colour of a car important to you?”
Test-taker: “Actually, it is. My first car as a teenager was red and I loved that car, so I think if I ever buy another one, it will be bright red too. I once read, though, that the colour of a car can affect the amount of insurance you pay and that red is the most expensive colour of cars to insure, so actually, maybe if I do buy another car, I’ll have to consider that. I can’t imagine driving a white or yellow car though – they would get too dirty”
The point is that both of these answers are fine because they are natural. Sitting and counting your sentences is only going to put unnecessary stress on your brain, which is already working at capacity! If you want to know more about how long your responses should be in Part One, I write about it in detail in this previous blog post.
🗣️4. Don’t focus on the bullets in IELTS Speaking Part 2
Speaking Part Two frightens many students and I can understand why – it’s not often that we speak for two minutes about a topic with NO verbal feedback from the person we are speaking to. Think about it. Imagine that you were telling your best friend about a time you thought a person you knew had lied to you, and your friend just sat there nodding but never showed ANY interest by saying the occasional “Really?” or “No!” or “What did you do then?”. I often think it is a good idea to practice Part Two with your pet – that way you will know what it feels like to speak continually with no feedback! 🐰 However, I have found that most students do better with Task 2 if they IGNORE THE BULLETS.
What? Am I serious? YES! There is no penalty for not including the bullets in your response to your cue card and, in my experience, students who base their answer on the bullets spend too much time looking down at them and pausing to remember which “bullet” comes next. My advice is to focus on the main topic. If the examiner asks you to “Describe a person you know who is intelligent” then focus simply on doing this. If you don’t have ideas in the 1-minute preparation, then you can look to the bullets for inspiration, but don’t use these as the “backbone” of your talk as it probably won’t fit your description but will probably distract you. In my classrooms, I never give the bullets to students until very late in the course – I find that they perform much better without them, so why don’t you try this next time you practice.
Plus, if you struggle speaking for two minutes in response to the IELTS Cue Card, then I give plenty of advice in these two blog posts: Never Run Out of Things to Say in Speaking Part Two and The Importance of Adding Details in IELTS Speaking Part Two
🗣️5. Don’t give personal answers in IELTS Speaking Part 3
So, we arrive at my final tip, and this is an important one. IELTS Speaking Part Three is the part of the test where the examiner makes their final decision about your score. It is also the most academic part of the test, because it is here that we move from talking about YOU to talking about the world in GENERAL. And this means that you want to avoid talking about yourself as much as possible.
If the examiner asks you “Why do you think people get distracted when they try to study” and you answer “I find it hard to focus when there is a lot of noise” then the examiner is going to interrupt you to ask about people in GENERAL. But, what do you do if the only idea in your head is a personal anecdote? Well, you can try to make it more universal by starting your turn with an expression like this:
“I think that I am like many people in the fact that I find it hard to focus when there is a lot of noise.”
“I don’t think I am alone infinding it hard to focus when there is a lot of noise.”
“Like everybody else, I find it hard to focus when there is a lot of noise.”
No, let me be clear, it is ALWAYS better to talk in general (“Most people find noise a big distraction”), but in an emergency, this is a great tactic!
My Top 5 IELTS Speaking Test Tips
- Make like easier for the examiner by not trying to chat to them before or after the exam
- In Speaking Part 1, make sure that you directly answer the question you are asked
- Also, in Speaking Part 1, don’t count your sentences! Give an answer that is natural in length
- In Part 2, ignore the bullets and focus on communicating about the main topic for as long as you can.
- Finally, in Part 3, you never want to give a personal example, but if you do have to, then try to make it global by showing how your experience is the same as the general experience.
I hope my Top 5 tips help you in your exam! And, remember, if you struggle with language, my 10-hour IELTS grammar course covers all the most important B2/C1 level sentence structures for IELTS test-takers – these tips are great, but if you don’t have the basic language skills for a high score, they won’t help you!!!! 🚀