In this lesson, you can get our top 10 tips for your IELTS speaking test.
There’s a lot of information and advice about the IELTS speaking test online. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t. Much of it is similar.
However, after working with hundreds of students who were taking IELTS, we discovered there was a lot of information which isn’t easy to find online, from official sources or not.
We got feedback from students of ours who took the IELTS speaking exam, and we also interviewed several IELTS examiners. Based on this, we’ve put together these ten tips for IELTS speaking. We chose these ten points because they’re things which aren’t easy to find information about, or because they’re points which are often misunderstood.
1. Train for speed
Let’s begin our journey through the top 10 tips for your IELTS speaking exam. Here’s a question for you: in part one of the IELTS speaking exam, how long do you have for each answer?
In IELTS speaking part one, the examiner is aiming to ask you twelve questions. The examiner must ask at least seven questions, otherwise the exam is not considered valid.
To answer twelve questions, you have around fifteen to twenty seconds per answer. Another question: how many sentences can you say in twenty seconds?
Try it now. Find an easy text, and read it aloud, with a twenty-second timer. How many full sentences can you finish?
Whatever number you got, in the IELTS speaking test, you won’t be reading a text. So, your number will be lower.
Many students we meet find it difficult to get through more than one or two full sentences in this time.
Common IELTS speaking advice is “develop your ideas”, “give longer answers,” and so on.
That’s not wrong, but it’s not the full picture, either.
You don’t have time to make a very long answer. Even a highly fluent speaker can’t say that much in twenty seconds.
And, twenty seconds is the maximum. OK, it’s not like the IELTS examiners are timing every answer you give, but they will be controlling the time tightly.
By the way, this is similar in part three of the speaking test.
So, when you’re practising, use a timer. Limit your answers to twenty seconds. Don’t practise huge, long answers which take you a minute to get through.
If it’s difficult for you to get through more than one sentence in twenty seconds, practise for speed, with a timer.
2. Expect to be interrupted
How much do you think the examiner will interrupt you in your IELTS speaking exam? And, does it mean that you did something wrong?
The examiner might interrupt you for many reasons. We get feedback from IELTS students who are surprised at how much the examiner interrupts. Some people even get annoyed: “The examiner wouldn’t let me speak!”
There are many reasons the examiner might interrupt you, and not all of them are problems.
The examiner will interrupt you if your answer is too long, or if your answer is off topic – in parts one or three only, because the examiner can’t interrupt you in part two. The examiner will also interrupt you in part three if you give personal examples, rather than talking generally.
The examiner might also interrupt in part three for a positive reason: your answer is strong, and the examiner wants to move on to more challenging topics.
Here’s the thing: you might not know why. The examiner won’t generally tell you. But, you should be ready for it.
Should you be worried? Not necessarily. There’s only one of these points which is a problem, and that’s going off-topic. We’ll cover that in more detail in tip number eight.
3. The greeting section does not count
There are many popular IELTS videos on YouTube about “how to greet the examiner.”
Don’t worry about it. It isn’t assessed. It’s not part of your score. It doesn’t count as part of the exam time.
Sure, it’s a good idea to use this time to warm up, try to get comfortable, and remind yourself of basic good habits: speak in full sentences, give full answers, and so on.
For a review, watch this Oxford Online English lesson on English Greetings and Introductions.
But, it’s not assessed. You can make a huge mess of it, and it won’t affect your score at all!
4. The first 4 questions in part one are predictable
In part one of the IELTS speaking exam, the examiner wants to get through twelve questions, on three different topics.
The second and third topics could be almost anything, but the first topic – meaning the first four questions – is always one of two things: where you live, or what you do.
Generally, it’s not a good idea to try to guess questions or memorise answers, but you should prepare to talk about these topics: your house or apartment, your hometown, your job or your studies.
Listen carefully to the form of the question. Many students we meet mishear or mix up ‘home’ and ‘hometown’. If in doubt, ask the examiner to repeat.
Although the topics are similar in every IELTS exam, the questions are different. For example, the examiner might ask:
- Tell me about where you live.
- Tell me about your home.
- Do you live in a house or an apartment?
- Describe your house or your apartment.
These questions are similar, but not exactly the same.
“Tell me about where you live” is broader. You could talk about your home, or the town or city where you live.
“Tell me about your home” is specifically about the house or apartment you live in.
“Do you live in a house or an apartment?” is a more focused question, and you could give a shorter answer.
“Describe your house or your apartment” is more open, and requires a more detailed answer.
So, listen carefully to the exact words of the question.
5. Fast start in part 2
In part two, you have one minute to prepare your answer.
Then, the examiner will say this: “Alright. Now, remember you have one to two minutes for this, so don’t worry if I stop you. I’ll tell you when the time is up. Can you start speaking now, please?”
Your time starts when the examiner stops speaking.
When we prepare English learners for part two, they’re often slow to start. Sometimes, people need another five to ten seconds to get their thoughts together and start their answer.
This is a problem for two reasons. First, you’re wasting your speaking time.
More seriously, if the examiner decides that your pause is because you’re trying to find the words and sentence patterns you need, this will have a major effect on your fluency and coherence score.
Learn more about IELTS scoring.
A pause of five seconds or more anywhere in your IELTS speaking test limits your fluency and coherence score to band four.
During part two, when your preparation time is finished, you don’t need to listen to what the examiner says. It’s the same in every exam.
You *do* need to be ready to go. Make sure you’re ready to start speaking when the examiner finishes.
On to our next tip for IELTS speaking.
6. Make it clear when you’ve finished in part two
On to our next top tip for the IELTS speaking exam: How long should you speak for in part two?
There are different opinions about this. Some people advise trying to speak for the full two minutes. We advised aiming for 90 seconds in a video we made previously.
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter. Speaking more is generally better if you have ideas and can express them clearly. However, so long as you speak for more than one minute, length isn’t a direct factor in your score.
However, there’s one thing which is important. If you finish before the two minutes is over, you need to clearly signal to the examiner that you’ve said everything you wanted to.
If you stop speaking before the two minutes is over, the examiner will try to prompt you to continue.
If the examiner feels that you can’t continue because you’ve run out of words, or because you can’t express your ideas, then this will affect your score.
So, if you’ve said everything you can, tell the examiner directly. Say something like “That’s everything I have to say.”
7. Use 3rd person examples in part three
In part three of the IELTS speaking exam, if you want to give an example to support your idea, make sure it doesn’t start with ‘I’ or ‘my’.
In part three, the examiner wants you to talk in a more general way. The examiner will interrupt you if you start giving examples about yourself and your life.
It might be OK to give examples about individual friends or relatives. However, different examiners interpret things differently, and some examiners might interrupt you even if you do this.
But, don’t worry! There’s a simple solution.
Just change your answers and examples to make them general.
Imagine the examiner asks you: “When do people traditionally give gifts in your country?”
Instead of “I usually give my family gifts at New Year’s,” say “Most people give gifts to their families at New Year’s.”
Instead of “I buy birthday presents for my close friends,” say “Generally, people would only buy birthday presents for their close friends.”
Instead of “My former colleagues gave me a gift when I left my last company,” say “In the workplace, people might buy a gift for a colleague who’s leaving.”
You don’t need to change the ideas; just present them differently!
By the way, if you give a personal example and the examiner interrupts you, this isn’t a problem. The examiner is just trying to keep you on track, and it won’t affect your score.
8. Stay on topic
A highly debated topic in tips for IELTS speaking refers to whether it’s necessary to stay on topic in IELTS, and whether it’s a problem if you don’t.
Basically, you need to answer the questions which the examiner asks.
If you go off topic in a natural way – for example, if you start talking about one thing in part two, and you take your idea in a new direction in a way which is natural and coherent, then no problem.
However, if you don’t answer the questions which the examiner asks, or if your answer is not relevant, this *will* limit your score.
Firstly, the examiner will not let you go off topic in parts one and three. The examiner will interrupt you and repeat the question if he or she feels that your answer does not fit.
If you still can’t produce a relevant answer, this will affect both your vocabulary and fluency-coherence scores. In particular, the examiner will decide that you aren’t answering the question because you don’t have the vocabulary to do so. This will put a limit on your vocabulary score to band six maximum.
Giving irrelevant answers also makes higher fluency-coherence scores impossible. Especially for the highest scores – eight and nine – your answers need to be relevant and fully coherent.
9. Don’t memorise
There’s no point using memorised language in your IELTS speaking test.
First, it will be obvious. The examiner will know. Trust me – it’s incredibly obvious when someone is speaking from memory.
Secondly, it affects your score. It’s not a disaster, but it puts a limit on your vocabulary and fluency-coherence scores, similar to going off topic. That means both of these scores are limited to band six maximum.
Finally, it’s a waste of time. In the best case, you will get the same score you would get by speaking naturally. In the worst case, you’ll get a lower score.
So, why do it? Memorising answers takes time and effort. Spend that time and effort practising your speaking and improving your communication skills instead!
10. Speak in a natural, informal way
Sometimes, we meet IELTS students who try to speak like they’re writing an essay.
They use lots of formal linking words, like ‘furthermore’ and ‘nevertheless.’ They don’t use contractions, like ‘won’t’ instead of ‘will not’. Their intonation sounds robotic because they’re speaking in an unnatural way.
This is not a helpful approach. Firstly, with linking words and other discourse markers, using them appropriately is important. Using extremely formal language in a simple conversation is not appropriate.
Secondly, for your pronunciation score, it’s important to talk smoothly, using features of connected speech. An important feature of connected speech is using contractions. Many English learners don’t use contractions at all in speech, or very rarely. This is something you can work on, and it will help your IELTS speaking score!
Using natural intonation is also helpful. The examiners aren’t looking for any specific points – they don’t have time to focus on every detail of your pronunciation – but they will consider the overall effect. Focusing on intonation, and trying to copy the intonation of native-level speakers, can help you here.
Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon. We hope these top ten tips for IELTS speaking have helped you prepare. Thanks for watching!