IELTS Speaking Tips: 5 Things No Examiner Wants to Hear
Hey! Believe it or not, your IELTS speaking examiner is hoping that you will do well in the exam. Seriously, nothing is easier than assessing a student who performs well in the test. Unfortunately, not every student performs as well as they can on test day (often because they have been given some “IELTS Speaking Tips” that are just plain wrong!). In fact, there are some words that every examiner dreads hearing. What are they? Let’s find out!
1. Transition Signals (i.e. moreover / hence / therefore)
I understand why students use these words – they have just spent the last 6 months writing essays and have transition signals permanently stuck in their brains. However, I would strongly recommend that you don’t use these words in your speaking exam.
Transition signals are great when written down, but sound very unnatural when spoken. You are not a character in a Shakespeare play – you are in a speaking test that is designed to see if you can speak NATURALLY! It is much better to use a discourse marker like “another thing is” or “also” or “actually” or “obviously”. Even words like “so”, “and” and “but” are better than a transition signal. You might think that this sounds “simplistic” but when we speak, the discourse markers should be invisible.
2. Long memorised introductions to sentences which contain complex grammar and “high-level” lexis but mean nothing!
OK, the heading for my second IELTS Speaking Tip is as long as the ridiculous answers that I sometimes get to simple questions! I find it hard not to laugh when you ask a student a simple question and they start their answer with a long memorised stem that is supposed to “impress me”.
Examiner: What types of animal do people usually keep as pets in your country?
Test-Taker: This is a complicated question which I could answer in a great number of ways, but if I had to single out one, in a nutshell, cats.😹
You might think that I am exaggerating, but I have really been given answers like this. 🤯 The only word that is relevant in that answer is cats!!! Examiners are not fooled by these long introductions. If anything, they just sound ridiculous. Maybe if you are a very low-level student (I mean 5.0 or less) then they can help. But if you are a 6.0 or higher, then you are not going to get any points for these phrases. JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION! Start by saying “I think cats” and then telling me why. Trust me – I will give you more points for this as I will know that you are not “hiding” behind these long phrases.
Why did the examiner interrupt you in your speaking test? Was it because you did something wrong? Maybe! But it could also just be that they want to check that you can change direction in a conversation or that they just need to move forward to the next question. Learn more in this blog post.
3. That’s an interesting question!
Really? Are you sure? I just asked you when the last time you drank tea or coffee was! There is nothing wrong with this response if the question you have been asked IS genuinely interesting (which can actually happen), but don’t use it for every question! If you want some extra time to think, then there are plenty of other ways you can do this that are MUCH more natural. My favourite is repeating the question back to the examiner slowly to indicate that you have heard it and are considering the answer (this is VERY natural!):
Examiner: When was the last time you drank a cup of tea or coffee?
Test-Taker: Mmm, the last time I drank tea or coffee…….? I think it was this morning when I had breakfast.
Obviously, this question about tea and coffee is very simple , but once you get to those tricky part three questions, this tactic can be a lifesaver!
4. That’s it!
One thing I have noticed is that students are not very good at ending their turns. I think this is because many students have been told that it is always a good idea to keep talking until the examiner interrupts you. This is definitely an IELTS Speaking Tip that is NOT true (read why in this blog post).
Turn-taking is an important speaking skill. Strong students are able to signal to the examiner that their turn has ended. Saying “That’s it” is not a good way to do this. Would you ever say to a friend “That’s it!” when you come to the end of a story in a cafe? Of course you wouldn’t! Remember, your speaking test should feel like a conversation (not like you are giving a lecture!). Try using one of these more natural expressions to end your turn instead. My favourite is using “So, I guess you could say that” and then summarising your initial answer.
- I guess you could say that breakfast is important for me
- I guess you could say that my favourite colour is red
- I guess you could say that I wouldn’t like to be a pop star
Want to listen to two ex-examiners giving their advice on how to approach the speaking test? Then listen to this latest episode of the My IELTS Classroom podcast!
5. What was my score?
Nothing is worse than hearing these words at the end of a test. Do I know? Probably. But I might need to go and look at the band descriptors and reflect on your performance before I make a final decision. Either way, there is no way that I am going to tell you what I’m thinking because we are being recorded and I will lose my job!
Oh, and those numbers you saw me writing down during the exam? That was the TIME!!! The only way you can find out your score is by waiting until it is confirmed in your results! And my advice would be, don’t annoy the examiner who gives you that score just before you leave the exam room!!!!
These are just a few short IELTS speaking tips to help you improve your score . If you would like to have a My IELTS Classroom practice speaking test that includes 100% authentic feedback on your performance, then why not find out more about our new IELTS Speaking Packages.