Speaking Test Advice
Follow this Speaking test advice and try to talk fluently.
The Speaking test is a face-to-face conversation with a certified examiner. It is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get.
The examiner will ask you about familiar topics such as home, work or studies in part 1. This should help you feel comfortable when speaking. Try and relax so that you can speak as naturally as possible.
Take time before the test to practise speaking with a partner, friend or teacher.
Make the most of your Speaking test:
- Try to talk as much as you can
- Talk as fluently as possible and be spontaneous
- Relax, be confident and enjoy using your English
- Develop your answers
- Speak more than the examiner
- Ask for clarification if necessary
- Do not learn prepared answers; the examiner is trained to spot this and will change the question
- Express your opinions; you will be assessed on your ability to communicate
- The examiner’s questions tend to be fairly predictable; practice at home and record yourself
IELTS Speaking Tips
Learn how IELTS speaking is scored
This only makes sense. IELTS speaking is scored according to strict grading criteria and if you want to impress the examiner, you need to know what the examiner wants! In brief, pronunciation, fluency and coherence, grammar and vocabulary all count for 25%. To get more details about what each of these criteria mean, visit my page on this:
Before the Exam – Practice – and Listen
Following on from the previous advice, you need to practice before the exam to make sure that the appropriate skills are automatic. The very best practice is to listen and then speak – language learning is about repetition. If you don’t have anyone to practise with try here:
Understand what you will be asked about – Everyday Ideas
Typically you will be asked to talk about everyday topics and ideas. As the test goes on though the questions do become harder and more theoretical. One simple suggestion is to just to look at the types of questions you will get. You may be surprised at how easy the questions are! IELTS speaking is not an academic test at all – it’s just a test go your language. Sometimes people can go wrong because they treat it like an intelligence test and forget to use good English.
Use natural Spoken English
The best form of English to use in the test is natural spoken English. This will help you to speak more fluently and improve your pronunciation. Here are some examples of what works:
short forms like it’s and not it is
words like quite that we use a lot in speaking
common spoken phrases like I guess and I suppose
The best way to learn this type of language is often to listen to native speakers. If you don’t have a native speaker to listen to, I suggest you visit my collection of sample questions where you will find recording and transcripts of my answers. Look at the sort of language I use and try and borrow it for yourself. To help you I have highlighted the sort of language you need:
Extend your Answer
If there is one key piece of advice, it is to extend your answer appropriately. For example, this is inappropriate:
Question:” How many languages do you speak?”
Answer: “Two. Chinese and English.”
Better would be:
Answer: “I speak two languages. My first language is Chinese and I speak English too. I’ve been learning English since I was 10. I started learning it when I was in primary school.”
Be aware, however, that very long answers are not always a good idea. It is possible that you will go off topic and lose coherence.
Sometimes give short answers too!
Not all IELTS speaking questions are equal. For some you may have more to say about and some less. That is only natural. If you get a question that you don’t know very much about do NOT try and talk and talk about it. If you do you will probably become incoherent. Much much better is just to give a shortish answer saying that you don’t know very much about that and then wait for the next question – there’s always another question.
Naturally you can’t do this all the time and in part 2 you do need to keep speaking for at least one and a half minutes.
Give yourself time to think – repeat/reformulate the question
In parts 1 and 3 you are not given any thinking time: you are supposed to start speaking immediately. This does not mean, however, that you need to start answering the question straight away. What you can do is start by repeating/reformulating or commenting on the question:
“What did I enjoy doing as a child? Let me see…”
“That’s not something I’ve thought about before. It’s an interesting question.’
This has several benefits. It is good communication. It allows you a little time to think. It should also make you answer the question and not the general topic.
Correct yourself – if you can do it immediately
If you make a mistake and you can correct it immediately, do so. This will show the examiner that you have control over the language. If, however, you are unsure how to correct yourself, move on: the examiner may not have noticed the mistake in the first place and if you try unsuccessfully to correct it, a small mistake may become a much bigger one.
If you don’t understand the question – ask
This is a speaking test and not a listening test. If you don’t understand the question, ask the examiner to repeat or explain it – you should not be penalised for this. If you try to answer a question you do not understand, you will almost certainly become incoherent.
Learn to use a range of functional vocabulary such as opinion language
One thing that you will do a lot in the test is give opinions and talk about what you like and dislike. The examiner will be listening to see whether you can say I think and I like in different ways. This can be a tough skill to learn as you may need to learn new speaking habits.
Discover the best way to use your preparation time in part 2
The one scary part of the test is likely to be part 2 where you need to speak for up to 2 minutes. This is a slightly unusual task and you want to use your preparation time well to help you speak enough. There are a variety of different ways you can use this time and the best advice is to find one that suits you.
Listen to the Grammar in the Question
The best advice for IELTS speaking is very simply to listen to the question and answer it. The reason for this is for this is the one time you are face to face with the examiner and nerves are a sigificant problem. If you are trying to remember complex advice, you are likely to become more nervous and not perform to your best. Keep it simple.
One example here is in part 1. If you hear a question in the past tense:
“What sports did you play as a child?”
A good answer will use the past tense – the examiner will be listening for this.
Don’t worry too much about using clever language – think fluency
When we speak a language we don’t have much time to choose our words and that means that we often use far fewer words when we speak than when we write. In IELTS speaking candidates sometimes go wrong because they try and use “clever” words that they think will impress the examiner. This can be a mistake for a couple of reasons:
the words may in fact be wrong!
if you spend too much time trying to think of words your fluency may suffer
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself – think coherence – the “as I was saying” trick
Part of your score in speaking is fluency and coherence. One way to make yourself more coherent is in fact to repeat yourself. This is something professional speakers do a lot. They say something once and then they say it again. The one trick is not use the same words both times!. A practical suggestion is to think about finishing your speech by referring back to something you have already said. A key phrase here may be
As I was saying/As I said before
If you use this, it helps to show the examiner that you are linking your ideas together and that in fact is what coherence is!
Speak about what you know and what you think
This perhaps should be point number one. One of the best ways to impress an examiner is to talk personally about what you think and what you know. Examiners just HATE answers that they think are learnt. In contrast, if you talk about something that you know about then they will be much more interested in what you say.
If you are the sort of person who finds it difficult to explain things or tends to give short answers, then it may help you to try and give examples. Examples are great for explaining ideas and it is much easier to say for example than because. If you give an example, you are just describing something you know about and that takes very little mental effort. If though you say because that is much harder as you now need to think! Be easy on yourself.
Think about detail – that’s interesting and good for your vocabulary
Another way to learn to say more is just to add detail. You should remember that this is a language test and there more language you use the better. That means if you are asked a question such as
When did you first start to learn English?
The smart thing to do is give detail about when.
I first started to learn English when I was in primary school. We had around 4 classes a week with our form teacher and sometimes a native speaker came to help her out and talk to us in English. It was quite funny because we didn’t understand a word he said. At first I hated it because my teacher was very strict and forced us to write in English every day.
Why does this work? Well if you can give an answer like that you get to use interesting language such as “native speaker” “help out”. You can only do this if you add detail.
Make Eye Contact
A large part of communication is non-verbal. You are marked by the examiner in the room and you should do everything you can to show that person that you are a good communicator. If you do not make eye contact with the examiner, s/he is probably going to be less impressed with your performance.
Immediately before the exam – Speak English
The problem for many people is not speaking English, rather it is moving from their own language into English. The advice here is plain: make certain that you are already speaking English before you go into the exam.
Do not relax too much – it’s not a conversation
This is an exam and you need to show the best side of your spoken English. If you relax too much and become too conversational, your English may suffer. You need to recognise that this is not a true dialogue between two people: it is more of an interview with one person speaking and the other listening.
In a conversation the speaking conventions are quite different: you expect the other person to share 50% of the talk time and to react to your comments, typically one person will not speak for any length of time.