Tips & Strategies for The IELTS Speaking test

Do you want to score 7.0 or higher in the Speaking module? Check out our tips & strategies to achieve your goal!

Information and strategies for the Speaking test

Description of the Speaking test

The Speaking test consists of an oral interview between you, the candidate, and an examiner. It will last between 11 and 14 minutes, and is divided into three parts which are described below.

The aim of the test is to assess the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively in English, and the examiner will consider your: Fluency and Coherence; Lexical Resource: Grammatical Range and Accuracy; and Pronunciation.

These criteria will be discussed below.

Introduction to the IELTS Interview

Like the Listening test, the Speaking test is taken by all candidates, whether they are taking the Academic or General Training modules. It is a one-to-one interview of 11 to 14 minutes and may be done on the day of the examination, or up to two days later, at the discretion of the examination centre.

Your examiner is a qualified teacher who has been appointed by the test centre and approved by the British Council or IELTS Org. He or she is likely to be very experienced in dealing with students.

There are three main parts to the interview. The examiner has been trained to guide candidates through the interview, and will help you to feel comfortable. The interview will be recorded.

The examiner will have to follow a script, or frame, during the interview. This frame means that everyone doing the Speaking test will receive the same instructions and information in the same manner. Your examiner will be more constrained in Part 1 and Part 2 of the test. In Part 3, the two-way discussion, the examiner will have a less restrictive frame, but will still have very firm rules to follow.

Description of the three parts of the interview

Part 1

In this part you will answer general questions. The examiner will ask you about things which are close to you and which should be easy for you to answer. The examiner may ask you about yourself, your home and your family, what sort of job you have, what you are studying, or he or she may want to know about your particular interests. This part will last between four and five minutes.

Part 2

In Part 2 the examiner will give you a verbal prompt on a card and will ask you to talk on a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare your answer before speaking at length for between one or two minutes. After you have spoken the examiner will ask some questions which arise from what you have said. These questions will bring Part 2 to a conclusion. The whole of Part 2 lasts between three and four minutes, which includes the one minute spent preparing the answer.

Part 3

In Part 3 the examiner will get you to develop the ideas on the topic you have been discussing in Part 2. The discussion will continue between four and five minutes.

How to approach the test

Part 1

The examiner will introduce him or herself and ask for your identification. The examiner may also ask you how to pronounce your name correctly. This part of the interview takes four to five minutes, and should allow you to settle down and feel comfortable.

Part I is concerned with familiar topics of general interest.

Preparing for Part 1

Make sure you know the English vocabulary you might use to speak about familiar topics, so you can talk about topics like your home, your family, your course of study or your job. It is a good idea to think about the sort of things your examiner might ask you about. If you are studying with other students, be ready to question each other about your homes and families, jobs and studies and your interests.

You will notice that it is a very wide list, and it is impossible to guess the specific topic you will be asked to discuss. If, for instance, your examiner wants you to talk about your interests, he or she might ask you what sport/hobby/pastime you are interested in, and when, where and why you became interested. Or he or she might ask if that particular hobby is popular in your country, or if your parents share your interest, or if your hobby is expensive …

Please do not think you can prepare a talk on any topic and take it into the examination. The examiner will be in control of the interaction, and may prompt you with questions or change the direction of the conversation. The examiner will not permit a prepared speech.

Develop the topic as fully as you can, and offer your own ideas and give explanations if necessary. Do not simply answer “Yes” or “No” to the examiner’s questions.

If possible, practise asking and answering questions with another person. Do not let the person you are talking to correct you or prompt you while you are speaking. If you want to be corrected, record your conversation and then listen to it and see how you might improve it.

Part 2

In Part 2 the candidate is given a verbal prompt on a card and is asked to talk on a particular topic. The candidate has one minute to prepare before speaking at length, for between one or two minutes. The examiner then asks one or two follow-up questions.

Describe the thing you most like to do when you have some free time.

You should say:

·         what it is

·         what you do

·         what makes you enjoy the activity

and explain why this activity is important to you.

You will have to talk about this topic for one to two minutes. You have one minute to think about what you are going to say. You can make some notes to help you if you wish.

Preparing for Part 2

It is a good idea to practise talking on a topic for one or two minutes, and to practise making notes to help you. Do not write too much, and do not allow more than one minute for preparation time.

Practise with the topic above. The first instruction is to Describe the thing you most like to do when you have some free time.

What do you like to do? When you describe something, you say what it is, and you should you make a word picture which tells the listener about what you like to do in your free time. For example, you might like to go to the movies. Describe the sort of movies you enjoy, and when you get to see them. Maybe you have favourite actors. You might talk about them. Describe the sort of movie theatre you like to visit, and how you get there. You could talk about who you go with, and what you both enjoy, or whether you have differing tastes.

After that, you should explain why going to the movies is important to you. Think of reasons. It could be because you like to be able to talk to other people about what you have seen, or you enjoy having stories told to you, or you think that movies are an important part of our culture. Explain your reasons as fully as you can.

Your examiner will ask you some questions just to round off the topic. If you talk about a particular actor your examiner might ask if you know something more about him or her. Or you might be asked more about the movie theatre you attend, and why you go there.

Here is another topic you might like to practise:

 Tell the examiner about your favourite festival.

You should say:

·         where it is

·         what it is celebrating

·         what makes you enjoy the things that happen and explain why this festival is important to you.

Your examiner will ask you some questions about the festival you have chosen.

Time yourself making notes for up to a minute and talking for a minute or two. Talk on any topic you know well. It is a good idea to use a timer, and a small piece of paper so you cannot write too much. Your prompts should only be one or two words long.

It is also a good idea to record yourself and then play back the recording so you can think of ways you could improve your talk. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • Did I answer the question?
  • Did I give enough details?
  • Could I develop the ideas more?
  • Did I keep using the same vocabulary? What other words could 1 use?
  • Was my grammar correct?
  • Was my pronunciation clear?
  • How could I make my notes more helpful?
  • Did I talk for at least one minute? Did I take more than two minutes?

Timing is important. You must speak for at least one minute so the examiner can get a good sample of your speaking to listen to. On the other hand, if you take more than two minutes in the examination, the examiner will have to stop you so you can go on with the rest of the Speaking Test. Do not be upset by this. The test has to be fitted into the 14 minutes allotted, so the examiner cannot let you go on over time.

Part 3

In Part 3 the examiner and candidate develop the discussion which began in Part 2. The discussion lasts between four and five minutes. The examiner will get the candidate to enlarge upon things which were discussed in the second part of the test.

Preparing for Part 3

Practise discussing topics at length with another person. For instance, take a topic which you have discussed in level 2 and enlarge upon it. If possible, work with another person and take it in turns to be examiner and candidate. The person playing the role of examiner should ask questions and give the person playing the part of the candidate plenty of time to answer. Perhaps you have been talking about entertainment where you live. You should be ready to talk about other possibilities: what if your favourite movie house closed down? Do you feel disillusioned with the behaviour of some of the actors? How do you think the pressure of fame can be managed?

Factors in your assessment:

Candidates are assessed on Fluency and Coherence; Lexical Resource; Grammatical Range and Accuracy; and Pronunciation.

  • Fluency is the quality of being able to speak without too many pauses and hesitations.
  • Coherence refers to the way you stay on the topic and argue it clearly, so the listener can follow your ideas easily.
  • Lexical Resource refers to your use of words, the range and accuracy of your vocabulary and how well you use it. You should keep in mind that this is a fairly formal situation, and your language and your manner should not be too casual.
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy refers to the number of grammatical forms which you can use, and how well you can use them. It is better to be able to use many different constructions, and not to be limited to subject/verb/object sentences like The cat caught a rat. Accuracy refers to the appropriate use of language, for instance correctly using the different tenses of English.
  • Pronunciation refers to whole sentences and not just single words. It is important that the examiner is able to understand what you are saying. You are not expected to sound like a native speaker of English.

The examiner will assess you on each of these factors and will give you an overall Bandscore of 1 to 9. Bandscores were discussed in Unit 1.

How you can help yourself to do well

Practise speaking English with your friends. If they are preparing for the IELTS test you might like to interview each other. If you are talking with people who are not studying for the IELTS test, the practice you get in using English will be valuable.

You might like to taperecord your conversations and listen to them again later. It is better to consider how you could improve your grammar and pronunciation after you have listened to the tape; if you worry about your grammar while you are speaking you will be less fluent. It is better not to let people correct you while you are speaking, but to wait until you have finished speaking.

During the examination, the examiner will guide you. The examiner has to keep control of the progress and timing of the different parts of the interview and so you should take your cues from him/her. Answer the questions as well as you can, and remember the examiner is there to help you achieve your best level.

Finally, please remember this is a speaking test, and the only way to prepare for it is to speak.

Tips & Strategies for The IELTS Speaking test
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