The IELTS Life Skills exam has two levels: A1 and B1. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the B1 exam. However, the tasks in the A1 exam are similar, so a lot of the advice you’ll hear is useful for both levels.
The B1 IELTS Life Skills exam lasts around 20 minutes. You take the exam with one other candidate. Sometimes, the examiner will ask you questions, and sometimes you need to talk to your partner and complete tasks together.
IELTS Life Skills is a pass/fail exam. You are assessed on four things:
Speaking to communicate
Engaging in discussion
This means that IELTS Life Skills is a test of your ability to communicate and understand others.
Your grammar, vocabulary, writing and so on aren’t directly assessed. It doesn’t matter if you make grammar mistakes or if you don’t know some words so long as you can communicate and express your ideas.
Let’s look at the different parts of the IELTS Life Skills exam and what you need to do.
1. Life Skills Exam: Introduction
At the beginning, the examiner will ask you four questions:
What’s your name?
Can you spell it for me?
Where do you come from?
How long have you lived here?
These questions are the same in every exam, so you can prepare your answers.
Use the introduction to warm up and get as relaxed as possible. Answer the questions in full sentences, make eye contact, and be friendly. This will help you to feel confident.
Next, the examiner will ask:
Could I have your marksheets?
Give the examiner your marksheet. Then, the examiner will give you the instructions for the first speaking task.
2. Finding Information
In this task, the examiner will give you a topic. Your job is to ask your partner questions about the topic, and answer your partner’s questions.
Here’s a sample task:
Now you are going to ask each other some questions. I want you to find out from each other about something you do in your free time, and why you enjoy it. You have two minutes to talk to each other.
Be careful: your job is not to talk about the topic; it’s to ask questions.
The best way to do this task is to play ‘question tennis.’
What am I talking about?
‘Question tennis’ means that your partner asks you a question. You answer, then you ask your partner a question back. Your partner answers, and then asks you a question back.
A: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
B:I like reading, going to the gym, and cooking. What about you?
A:I’m a big sports fan. I play football for a local team and I go to watch matches most weekends, too. Do you play any sports?
B:Not really. I like keeping fit, but I’m not into team sports. Do you enjoy playing football more, or watching it?
Simple, right? Answer a question, ask a question, answer a question. That’s it.
There are two things you need to be careful of here.
One: don’t talk too long. This task lasts two minutes, which is not long. Answer each question with one or two sentences, and then ask the next question.
Two: these tasks always have two parts. For example:
Find out from each other about something you do in your free time (1) and why you enjoy it (2).
Find out from each other about a place you like to go (1), and what you like doing there (2).
Listen carefully to the examiner and make sure you understand both parts of the
question. If you’re not sure, ask! It doesn’t make a difference to your result.
Then, cover both parts of the question during the task.
Keep asking and answering questions until the examiner stops you. The examiner will then give you the instructions for the next task.
In this part of the Life Skills test, you and your partner are given two different topics.
You have to talk about your topic for one-and-a-half minutes. Then, your partner will ask you three questions about what you said.
Your partner will talk about their topic in the same way. You need to listen and ask them three questions afterwards.
Here’s a sample task:
You’re going to tell your partner about something you’d like to learn to do, and why you’d like to learn this.
You get one minute to think about what to say. You can also use this time to ask the examiner if anything is not clear.
As before, these tasks always have two parts.
Also, your job is to talk about one thing. Don’t talk about several things you’d like to learn to do. Choose one thing and talk about it.
This is generally true; these tasks always ask you to talk about one thing.
If anything is not clear, ask the examiner. Again, it doesn’t matter if you need to ask. However, if you don’t understand the task, and you talk about the wrong thing, that is a problem.
You have 90 seconds to speak. You should try to continue speaking until the examiner stops you.
Start your speech with a simple introduction, stating your topic. For example:
I’d like to learn to paint.
Then, add more details, making sure you cover both parts of the question.
You can prepare for this part of the test by practicing with a timer. Set the timer on your phone for 90 seconds. Take a topic and try to speak for the full 90 seconds.
When your partner is speaking, listen carefully and think of questions you could ask. You need to think of three questions.
Here are two tips:
One: keep your questions simple.
Two: make sure you’re asking for new information. For example, if your partner says, “I first went to Paris last year,” don’t ask, “When did you first go to Paris?” Ask for some new information. For example:
What did you do in Paris?
What did you like best about Paris?
Are you planning to go to Paris again?
When your partner asks you questions, you should also keep your answers simple and direct. Answer with one or two full sentences; don’t speak for a long time.
During the listening part of the IELTS Life Skills exam, you’ll hear two short recordings.
The examiner will then ask you a multiple-choice question about one of the recordings. For example, the question might be:
In the first recording, where are the people planning to go?
You’ll have a choice of three answers.
Then, you’ll hear the recordings again. The examiner will ask you two questions about the other recording.
That means: if your first question is about the first recording, the examiner will ask you about the second recording.
So, the first time you hear the recordings, listen to both as carefully as possible. The second time, focus on the recording which the examiner didn’t ask you about.
Here’s an example of the kind of question you might hear:
In the second recording, how are they planning to get to the concert? And what time are they going to meet?
Answer the questions with full sentences. If you don’t know, take a guess. The recordings and questions are relatively simple. Even if you guess, you have a chance to get lucky and get the right answer!
Next, the examiner will introduce the next activity: planning.
5. Life Skills Planning Activity
The planning section is not difficult, but it’s the part which IELTS Life Skills candidates have the most problems with, so it needs your attention!
Let’s look at a sample question.
The examiner will say, “Now, you’re going to plan something together. I’d like you to imagine that you’re organising a party for your friends. First, talk together about where you should have the party and choose the one you think would be best.”
You’ll see something like this:
Where should you have the party?
– in a restaurant
– at someone’s home
– in a bar or café
Next, the examiner will continue, “Then, plan and decide what to do about these things.”
The examiner will show you something like this:
Plan and decide:
– what food and drink to have
– how many people to invite
– what games or activities to have
Then, the examiner says, “You have two minutes to talk about this, so don’t worry if I interrupt you.”
Here’s the first thing you need to do: when you hear the examiner say this, you need to start immediately. Your time for this activity is very limited.
Don’t repeat parts of the task. Don’t say something like:
So, we’re going to organize a party. I think it’ll be fun!
This just wastes your time. Start answering the first question. Make a suggestion; for example:
I think we should have the party in a bar, because it’ll have a better atmosphere. What do you think?
If you can’t think of anything to say, just ask your partner a question, like this:
So, where should we have the party?
The planning activity has two parts: the first question, and the ‘plan and decide’ section, which has three points to discuss.
You want to answer the first question quickly, in 30 seconds or so. This will give you enough time for the plan and decide section.
If your partner makes a suggestion for the first question, just agree with them. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree or not. Say something like:
Yes, that’s a good idea.
You’re right; we should do that.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish everything, but you should try to cover as much as you can.
Because your time is so limited, it’s important to move the conversation forward. Don’t get stuck on one point. If you’ve been on one point for too long, say something like:
Let’s think about what food and drink to have.
Anyway, how many people do you think we should invite?
There’s one more thing to talk about: what games or activities should we have?
This brings us to another important point: you and your partner need to plan one thing together.
That means you can’t decide to do something different to your partner. You’re planning one party in this question, so you need to plan one event, in one place. You can’t make two separate plans.
This is easy: whatever you’re planning, it’s not real. If your partner suggests something, you can just agree with them. It doesn’t matter if you really agree or not.
Try to balance making your own suggestions, and asking your partner for their opinion. For example:
I think we should invite around 20 people. That’s enough to have fun, but not too big. What do you think?
Let’s review the most important points here:
Start answering the first question immediately. Aim to agree an answer as fast as you can.
Move the conversation forward, and don’t stay on one point for long.
Make sure you plan together and reach an agreement with your partner.
The examiner will probably stop you before you’ve finished, but that’s okay. Now, you have one more activity to do.
6. Open Discussion
In the last part of the IELTS Life Skills exam, the examiner gives you a more open topic. You and your partner need to discuss the topic for four minutes.
Let’s look at a sample question:
Now, we’re going to talk together about food and cooking. Find out from each other what kind of food you like, and what you can cook.
Do you notice anything in the task?
Like the first speaking task, the question has two parts.
This is true of all questions in this section; there are always two parts. Make sure you understand both parts. If you don’t, ask!
So, what should you do here?
The best way is to play ‘question tennis’ again. However, in this activity, you have a bit more time. That means you can make your answers a little longer and give a bit more information.
A:So, what’s your favourite food?
B:I really like all kinds of Asian food: Indian, Thai, Chinese, anything like that. I particularly like Thai food. As you might have guessed, Iím a big fan of spicy food! What about you?
A:My mother’s Italian, so I would say Italian food. I spent a lot of time in Italy when I was growing up, and there are some dishes which just make me feel happy. It’s not just about the flavour; they bring back happy memories for me! Do you like Italian food, or is it not spicy enough for you?
B:I do like Italian food, although it needs to be cooked right. I like most cuisines, to be honest. Plus, I enjoy trying new kinds of food. What about cooking: do you enjoy cooking?
You can see that it’s quite similar to the first speaking activity: answer your partner’s question, then ask a question back.
Try to give a little more detail in your answers here, but make sure you stay on topic! Even here, you don’t have so much time, so you shouldn’t talk for too long.
Make sure you ask questions to cover both parts of the task. Just keep asking and answering questions until the examiner stops you.
And, that’s it! You’ve finished your IELTS Life Skills exam.