1. Part One of the IELTS Speaking Exam
Stephanie: Hello, my name is Stephanie. This is the IELTS speaking test. Can you tell me your full name, please?
Olivier: My name’s Olivier Guiberteau.
S: And can you tell me where you’re from?
O: I’m from a small town near Northampton, in the UK.
S: Can I see your identification, please?
O: Yes, of course. Here you are.
S: Okay, thank you very much. Now, in this first part I’d like to know something about you. First of all, can you tell me about the kind of music you like?
O: Sure, well, I’m a big fan of what you might call alternative electronica. It’s hard to classify, because when you say ‘electronica’, people think of dance music, but I wouldn’t call it that. Basically, I listen to a lot of stuff with hip-hop, funk or disco influences, but most of my friends think my taste in music is a bit weird.
S: I see. And, where do you like to listen to music?
O: I listen to music pretty much any time that I’m at home. So, if I’m doing housework, or cooking, or anything like that, I’ll put some music on. Sometimes I also listen to music on the bus. Especially if I’m going to play sport or to the gym, I’ll listen to some high-energy tunes on the way to get myself pumped up.
S: Yeah, okay. Why do you think music is so important in many people’s lives?
O: Hmm… That’s a big question… [pause] Well, first of all music has always been part of human culture, so in that sense obviously it’s an important part of our lives. I guess that’s because music can have such a powerful effect on our emotions. Music can lift you up, or inspire you, or make you feel sad. I’d certainly find it hard to live without it!
S: Uh-huh. I’d like to move on and talk about transport. What’s the best way to get around your city?
O: I live in quite a small town, so it’s very easy to get around. You can walk or cycle to a lot of places, although some roads are a bit dangerous for bikes. There are buses which are fairly reliable, but they’re not the fastest way to get around. Finally, you can take a taxi or an Uber if you want to get somewhere fast and you don’t mind paying a bit extra.
S: Alright. And, have you ever learned to drive?
O: Yes, I learned in the UK as soon as I was old enough, although I have to say I haven’t driven for several years! I’m not sure if you’d want to get in a car with me, but I guess I’d pick it up again quite quickly. There’s just not much point in having a car where I am now, because I can walk or ride my bike around town, and take public transport if I want to go somewhere else, for the weekend or whatever.
S: I see. Do you think everybody should learn to drive?
O: Er… That’s a strange idea. I think it’s up to each person to decide. It can be very useful in some places. For example, where I grew up in the UK… It’s a rural area, and if you don’t have a car you’re pretty isolated. If you live somewhere like that, you should probably learn to drive. But, it’s still a choice, right?
Let’s look at some key points from this part of the speaking exam.
First, to get a high score in IELTS speaking—band seven or above—you need to speak fluently, without hesitation. That doesn’t mean you can never pause or hesitate, but your hesitations should not be language-related.
So, if you’re pausing or stopping because you can’t remember vocabulary, or because you can’t build a sentence fast enough, that will make it difficult to get higher scores.
Secondly, Oli’s answers were all relevant and appropriately developed. He gave full answers to every question and added extra detail, but he never went off-topic. This is also essential: you need to do both of these things to get a high score in your IELTS speaking test.
He also used linking words and connecting devices well. Let’s look at one answer as an example:
- I live in quite a small town, so it’s very easy to get around. You can walk or cycle to a lot of places, although some roads are a bit dangerous for bikes. There are buses which are fairly reliable, but they’re not the fastest way to get around. Finally, you can take a taxi or an Uber if you want to get somewhere fast and you don’t mind paying a bit extra.
Notice that I didn’t use a lot of linking words here. IELTS students often overuse linking words, and they end up getting a lower score because they make errors or sound unnatural.
You need to connect your ideas, but you don’t get a higher score for using more linking words. It’s more important to use linking words accurately and naturally.
Looking at vocabulary, Oli used a wide range of words and phrases in his answers, including some good collocations like alternative electronica, disco influences, or a powerful effect on our emotions.
He also used some idiomatic language in a correct, natural way. For example, I’m a big fan of…, get myself pumped up, lift you up, or I’d pick it up again quite quickly.
Finally, I got a question at the end which was harder to answer: “Do you think everybody should learn to drive?”
You might have to answer some strange questions in your IELTS speaking exam, or talk about something you haven’t thought about before. The examiner follows a script, and has no choice about what to ask you.
Many IELTS candidates have problems because they try to answer questions they have no idea about. In this situation, it’s better to react naturally. For example, you could say: that’s a weird question; hmm… that’s a tricky one, or something like that.
Then, if you have no idea what to say, say so! So long as you explain why, this is fine, and it won’t affect your score.
Your score depends on your ability to communicate, not on your ideas and knowledge.
Let’s look at the next part of the test. We’re going to swap roles here, so I’ll be the candidate.
2. Part Two of the IELTS Speaking Test
Olivier: Now, I’m going to give you a topic and I’d like you to talk about it 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.
- Describe something difficult you learned to do.
- You should say:
- – what you learned to do
- – how you learned to do it
- – why it was difficult
and explain whether you’re glad that you learned to do this or not.
O: Are you ready?
O: Okay, please tell me about something difficult you learned to do.
S: So, I’m going to tell you about learning to drive a car with manual transmission. I’m from the States, and almost no one drives a manual there; most cars are automatic. When I came to Europe, I found it was totally the opposite here; driving a manual is the norm, and automatics are rare. I guess here they’re associated with very expensive, luxury cars. Anyway, I had to learn to drive stick, and it was so difficult! It was doubly hard because I already knew how to drive, so it felt extra frustrating to be behind the wheel but unable to do the things I would normally do. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea but I didn’t get any help; I could have gone to a driving school but I didn’t. I just practiced and tried to learn by myself, by driving around car parks and open spaces and things like that. That was okay, but when I went out and drove properly, on the streets with traffic, it was super stressful. I just couldn’t get the clutch right, and then I’d stall and I’d be stressing out while everyone was honking at me. I can’t say that I’m glad that I learned it. I mean, I just learned to do it because I had to, and I didn’t enjoy the experience! If it were up to me, I’d rather just have an automatic car.
O: Thank you. So, what do you use your car for?
S: Mostly for getting to work. I live quite far from the nearest metro station and the bus lines aren’t good, so it’s much easier to drive. Sometimes we go out of town for the weekends, too.
Next, let’s look at some of the positive points which Stephanie showed in this section.
First, she chose a very specific topic. This meant she needed a lot of specialised vocabulary to talk about it, like transmission, drive stick, clutch, stall, honking and so on.
If you’re aiming for a high score, you need to choose a topic which lets you go into more depth and use some more varied language. If you choose a very simple topic, it’ll be difficult to get top scores for language.
You can also see that I covered all of the points from the cue card in detail, and I didn’t add any irrelevant information or go off topic. Like in part one, you need both of these points to get a high score.
Oli already mentioned the specialised vocabulary, but I also used some idiomatic language, like I guess, doubly hard, extra frustrating, super stressful, or get the clutch right.
You need to use idiomatic language naturally and accurately to get a top score in IELTS speaking. Idiomatic language doesn’t just mean idioms like “raining cats and dogs”; it also includes conversational words and phrases that are common in native English speech.
Don’t forget about the follow-up questions in part two. After you finish speaking, the examiner will ask one or two simple follow-up questions about what you said. You don’t need long answers here, but you should give focused, well-developed answers, like with every IELTS exam question!
Finally, let’s look at part three of the IELTS speaking test.
3. Part Three of the IELTS Speaking Exam
Olivier: Right, I’d like to ask some questions related to this topic. First, let’s talk about learning new things. What motivates people to learn new things?
Stephanie: Wow… that’s a big question! Well, there are lots of reasons. The main one I guess is just necessity. For example, if you want to work in a particular field, you’ll need some specific training, skills, qualifications… Then, when you start a new job, you generally have to adapt and learn a lot of new things, even if you came in with a lot of theoretical knowledge. What else? I think also interest is important… I mean, people learn to do new things because they’re interested in them or they find something enjoyable. For example, no one needs to learn to play a musical instrument, but a lot of people do so because it brings them pleasure.
O: Do you think the way that people learn new things has changed compared to the past?
S: Absolutely. Of course, the Internet and the development of smartphones and other new technologies have had a huge influence. We all have easy access to so much information now, which wasn’t the case in the past at all. Before, people would need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to finding an expert, or doing research in order to learn about something new. Now, you can find tutorials online, ask people for help in discussion forums, and things like that. So, it’s a big difference, but I think it’s mostly for the better.
O: How do you think technology will change the way people learn new things in the future?
S: Hmm… I’m not sure. I think we’ll see the same trends developing… What I mean is: the big changes have already happened, but I don’t think they’ve run their course yet. So, a lot of people still have the idea that you learn something by going to a class, reading books, etc., and they haven’t realised that you just have more options nowadays. To tie all this together, I think that in the future, education and learning will be more globalised and democratic, in that everybody will have similar opportunities to learn. I suppose that might mean that formal education diminishes in significance, but I’m not sure that will actually happen.
O: Okay, let’s move on to talk about school and education. How can parents or students choose the best school or university?
S: In my experience, the only way to know what a school or university is really like is to talk to people who already study there and see what they say. Of course, you can go and look around, but I don’t think you can learn very much just by walking around a school. If you talk to some of the staff and students, you can get a feel of what kind of establishment it is, and whether it’s a good fit for you, or your child, whoever you’re talking about.
O: Mm-hmm. How do people in your country feel about private education?
S: Huh… I really don’t know. I went to a public school, and so did everyone I know. It’s not really a topic which comes up that much, you know? Personally, I don’t have strong opinions; if someone wants to pay to send their child to a private school, then why not? Given that there aren’t that many private schools, it’s just not something that people are so aware of.
O: I see. Do you think that university education should be free?
S: Definitely, yes. In the USA, university is insanely expensive; parents have to start saving up from the moment their child is born. I think this leads to elitist outcomes… I mean that the richest kids go to the best universities, and if you don’t have a lot of money behind you, your options are more limited. That said, I realize that graduates tend to earn more, so it might be fairer to have some kind of graduate tax, so that the people who erm… benefit from higher education also help to fund it. That seems to me to be the fairest solution.
O: Thank you. That’s the end of the speaking test.
So, let’s look at these answers more closely, and see what made them effective.
Many things here you’ve already heard. Stephanie’s answers were fluent, relevant, well-developed and clear. She used a wide range of grammar and vocabulary accurately, including idiomatic language.
She also used linking phrases and fillers to keep her answers fluent, even when she was dealing with more difficult answers. For example:
- Hmm… I’m not sure. I think we’ll see the same trends developing… What I mean is: the big changes have already happened, but I don’t think they’ve run their course yet. So, a lot of people still have the idea that you learn something by going to a class, reading books, etc., and they haven’t realised that you just have more options nowadays. To tie all this together, I think that in the future, education and learning will be more globalised and democratic, in that everybody will have similar opportunities to learn. I suppose that might mean that formal education diminishes in significance, but I’m not sure that will actually happen.
At the start, she used fillers to give herself thinking time without leaving an unnatural pause. She also used linking phrases, like what I mean is and to tie this all together to refocus her answer when she wasn’t sure how to finish a sentence or an idea.
The point here is that you don’t need to be perfect to get a high score in IELTS. You can hesitate, leave sentences unfinished or change your idea in the middle of an answer, BUT you need to deal with these issues in a clear, natural way.
Get more details with another Oxford Online English lesson: IELTS Speaking Exam Part Three.
Have you taken the IELTS speaking exam recently? Please share your experiences in the comments: what went well, and what did you find difficult?
Good luck in preparation for the IELTS test if you have it coming up soon! Thanks for watching!