The IELTS speaking test interview is designed to give the examiner plenty of opportunities to hear you speak so that they can make an accurate assessment of your speaking ability.
It is made up of 3 parts:
- General questions on familiar topics
- A long turn where you speak about a topic for 2 minutes.
- A follow-up discussion about more abstract issues.
You will be assessed on 4 criteria:
- Fluency and coherence
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
*People often forget that Pronunciation is worth 25% of the marks, but they spend very little time working on pronunciation. Go to this lesson for guidance on how to improve your pronunciation for the IELTS Speaking Test.
Notice that there is no Band Descriptor for answering the question (so don’t worry if you go off topic).
IELTS Speaking Test Part 1
IELTS Speaking Part 1 gives you a chance to relax, with some easy and familiar questions.
After they have asked you about what you do and where you live, the examiner will choose from a list of everyday topics.
The questions are designed for ALL levels and get gradually more difficult. So this might start with a simple:
‘What’s your favourite colour? Why?’
and then get more complex, leading up to something like
‘Is there any colour that you would NOT choose to decorate your room? Why?‘
The topics might seem a bit strange because they don’t want you to give ‘memorised’ answers.
They want to see that you can ‘discuss a variety of topics’ (Band 7 in the Speaking Descriptors)
- They will definitely ask you about either your job/studies or about where you live, so this is something you can prepare in advance.
- Make sure you’ve got the right vocabulary to describe your job/studies and that you’ve practised this part with a teacher or good speaker who can check your pronunciation too.
- Don’t waste time trying to memorise ‘model answers’ that you found on the internet (they’re usually full of mistakes).
- Spend time improving your general English so that you can answer ANY question naturally.
- When the examiner asks for your full name and where you’re from at the start of the test, they will probably say
‘And what shall I call you?’
This is just so that they can use your first name and help you relax. Be ready for this question. Answer it naturally. Don’t be too formal. Say something like
Things to avoid in IELTS Speaking Test Part 1
1. Don’t repeat the examiner’s question
If someone asks you
‘Have you been to the new cinema in town yet?’
how would you answer in your own language?
1. ‘No I have not been to the new cinema in town yet.’
2. ‘No, not yet’.
I’m guessing you chose Option 2, which is a more natural answer.
Wherever possible, use a short answer and then expand on it, as you would in your own language e.g ‘Yes I have – I went last week’.
Use the examiner’s question to guide you and help you choose the right tense. e.g.
‘Have you ever…? ‘Yes, I have’.
2. Try not to say ‘of course!’
‘Of course’ does not mean the same thing as ‘yes’.
‘Of course’ suggests that the other person should already know the answer, because the answer is widely known.
So if the question is something like ‘Is the world round?’ you can safely say ‘Of course!’ because everyone knows the world is round.
You can safely use ‘of course’ is when you want to emphasise that you are not completely useless e.g. when my husband asks me ‘Did you lock the door?’ I can safely say ‘Of course!’, meaning ‘Don’t be stupid. Do you think I’m so stupid that I wouldn’t lock the door?’
As you can see, the expression has some negative connotations relating to how stupid you think the speaker is, or how stupid they think you are!
‘Of course’ can often sound rude unless you say it in a jokey way with a smile on your face!
So when the examiner asks a simple question like ‘Do you like chocolate?’, the answer may be obvious to you, but not to the examiner! Not everyone likes chocolate. It is not a known fact that everyone in the world likes chocolate. So you can’t expect the examiner to know that you like chocolate.
In order to sound as natural as possible, say something like
- ‘Oh yes I absolutely love it!’
- ‘Yes I’m a total chocoholic’
- ‘No, not particularly. I don’t mind dark chocolate but milk chocolate is a bit too sweet for my taste’
- ‘Yes I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth!’.
Any of those would be much better than ‘Of course’ unless you say something like
‘Well of course (*laughing*). Doesn’t everybody?’
Other ways of answering short questions (and this goes for Part 3 too) are to be emphatic e.g.
‘Do you think it’s important to doexercise?’
‘Absolutely/definitely. It’s essential because….’
3. Avoid giving answers which are too short
Just because the question is simple, it doesn’t mean your answer should be simple.
- Don’t let the examiner ask ‘Why?’. Always give a full enough answer so that the examiner doesn’t need to ask for any more information.
- Train yourself to say ‘because….’ or ‘so…’. This will help you get a better score for fluency and coherence.
Show the examiner that you can easily ‘speak at length without noticeable effort’ (Band 7 in the Speaking Band Descriptors).
IELTS Speaking Test Part 2: the ‘long turn’
Now you have 2 minutes to talk about a topic, and you have 1 minute to plan what you’re going to say (you can make notes if you wish, and they give you a pencil and paper).
These topics can be grouped into 5 broad categories:
e.g. a teacher you like, a polite person you know, a neighbour, someone you remember from your childhood, a person you admire, a celebrity, someone you met recently.
e.g. something you bought/took back to the shop, a gadget in your house, something you’re planning to buy, something that is special to you, a piece of technology (not a mobile phone or laptop!), a gift you gave/received, a photo/painting you like.
e.g. a museum, a sports venue, a park, a tourist attraction, a building you like, a restaurant/cafe/shop you often go to
a party you attended, a meal you enjoyed, a sports event/concert you went to, a time when you won a prize/medal, a speech you gave, a holiday/difficult journey, a film you saw, a book you read, a day out.
An imaginary situation
e.g. a job you’d like to have, something you’d like to buy, a language/skill you’d like to learn, a country you’d like to visit, a small business you’d like to start
Something you enjoy
e.g. a hobby, a website you use, a cafe you like going to, a song/pop group you like, a newspaper you often read.
- Use the 1 minute to plan and organise your answer.
- Keep talking for the full 2 minutes.
- Make your topic interesting.
- Develop a ‘story-telling’ style. Telling a story will help you show off your tenses and help you to avoid repetition.
- Make eye contact.
- Run out of things to say. It really doesn’t matter what you say or even if you go off-topic as long as you keep talking for the full 2 minutes.
- Repeat what you’ve already said because you’ve run out of things to say. Avoid repetition at all costs. It’s much better to develop the subject in a different area (see above) than to go over what you’ve already said.
- Read too much from your notes.
- Worry about the bullet points – the examiner really doesn’t pay any attention to them.
There is NO MARKING CRITERIA for answering the question.
The examiner really doesn’t care what you talk about, as long as you talk.
IELTS Speaking Test Part 3
This is where the examiner really gets an opportunity to see what you’re capable of. This is where you could be hitting all the higher scores if you show the examiner that you can:
- speak at length and use a range of linking words (Fluency and Coherence)
- discuss a variety of topics and use some less common and idiomatic vocabulary (Lexical Resource)
- use a range of complex structures with some flexibility (Grammar)
- use a range of pronunciation features and be easy to understand (Pronunciation)
These are all Band 7 on the Speaking Descriptors.
The questions are related to the topic you discussed in Speaking Part 2. In this part, the examiner can ask you questions more freely, so they might ask you to explain more, or be more specific, or give an example. Don’t feel stressed by this – it just shows that the examiner thinks you can take on the challenge of more complex questions.
And don’t worry if the examiners seems to disagree with you – this is just a way of asking you to support your arguments with clear argumentation. These are all things that you can practise, and my advice is to keep up-to-date with typical issues that come up in IELTS.
Make sure that you read the articles, note down the vocabulary, and keep a list of key arguments for and against.
This will also help you with your reading and writing.
Typical Questions for IELTS Speaking Part 3
IELTS Liz has a nice list of Speaking Part 3 topics.
Also, check out my list of vocabulary topics you need for IELTS.
Some of the skills you need to develop and practise for answering Part 3 questions are:
- How do people in your country feel about protecting historic buildings?
- People tend to be very passionate about protecting their heritage but sadly very few people actively campaign to stop them from being demolished.
Using adverbs of opinion
- Do you think people should have to pay to visit historic buildings?
- Personally, I think entry should be free, so that everyone can benefit from the experience.
- What problems do town planners have when trying to decide what to do with a historic building?
- I think the main issue is cost, and whether it will cost more to renovate a building than to simply knock it down.
Expressing your opinion naturally
- Do you think the government or private investors should pay for the upkeep of old buildings?
- It seems to me that the government would benefit hugely from tourist revenue if they invested in the maintenance of these places.
- What do you think will happen to historic buildings in the future?
- I don’t hold out much hope, to be honest. There is such huge pressure on local councils to provide more affordable housing, so I doubt very much that their focus is on conservation at the moment.
Using conditionals to make predictions
- How do you think town centres will change in the future?
- If people continue to do most of their shopping online, I think towns will have a different function. There’s a drive to transform them into green spaces where people can meet up and go for a coffee rather than go shopping.
- What are the benefits of living in a town compared to living in rural areas?
- For a start, there are far more sources of irritation in a town – noise, pollution, litter etc, so I think living in a rural area much better for your mental health.
Developing a topic
Show that you are aware of the complexity of the issue.
Try to explore the topic rather than just answer the question.
More IELTS links here:
How to use IDIOMS in the IELTS Speaking Test.
Learn with Keith’s Speaking Academy – a fantastic resource to improve your Speaking for IELTS
30+ the best free websites and apps to improve your Speaking
How to improve your pronunciation really quickly before a test.
How to answer short questions well in Speaking Part 1
How to improve your IELTS Speaking Score by recording yourself for just 2 minutes a day!
What to do when your IELTS Speaking score isn’t getting any better.
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