The IELTS Speaking section is the fourth and final component of the IELTS test. However, unlike the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections, the Speaking component can be completed up to a week before or after you take the other tests.
The Speaking test is 11-14 minutes long and consists of an oral interview between you – the test taker – and an examiner. The test is broken down into three parts:
Part 1 – Introduction and Interview (4 – 5 minutes)
The examiner will ask you questions about yourself, as well as general questions on familiar topics such as your home, family, work, studies, and interests.
Part 2 – Long Turn (3 – 4 minutes, including prep time)
The examiner will give you a task card asking you to discuss a particular topic. You’ll have one minute to prepare and up to two minutes to speak. The examiner will then ask you one or two follow-up questions. Topics are general and will ask you to tell a story about yourself or a time in your life.
Part 3 – Discussion (4 – 5 minutes)
The examiner will ask you further questions about the topic from Part 2. This is your chance to expand on your thoughts and introduce more abstract ideas into the conversation.
Since it’s structured like an interview, the Speaking test is a stressful exercise for many test-takers. Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to not only reduce stress but attain a high score. Follow the 10 tips below and you’ll be on your way to excelling on the IELTS Speaking test!
10. Pick a good study buddy
When you take the IELTS Speaking test, it’s more likely than not that your examiner will have a stronger grasp of the English language than you. For this reason, it’s a great idea to practice with someone who also speaks English at a higher level. This will allow you to stretch your speaking abilities.
Just make sure you don’t pair up with someone whose English proficiency is much higher than your own, as this is a good way to get discouraged and have doubts about your abilities.
9. Speak more than the examiner
Although IELTS frames the Speaking test as a conversation between you and the examiner, this isn’t really the case. A better way to think of it is that you are the interview subject. The examiner is there to prompt you with a question and listen intently to your answer.
So how do you make sure you’re speaking more than your examiner?
Don’t respond to a question with a single short sentence. Build on your answer. Use complex grammatical structures to keep your thoughts flowing, such as:
Conditional clauses: Usually begins with if or unless: “If we don’t leave now, we’ll be late.”
Time clauses: Talks about the future: “I’ll come home when I finish work.”
Modal verbs: An auxillary verb that expresses necessity or possibility: “You can borrow my car.”
Reported speech: Tenses, word-order, and pronouns may be different from the original sentence: “She said that she liked ice cream.”
At the end of the day, it’s better to use complex grammar with a few mistakes than short, simple sentences.
7. Think of it like telling a story
Picture this: you’re taking the IELTS Speaking test and are asked the question: “What sport do you like to play?” The problem is, you don’t play any sports! How can you talk about something you have no experience of?
While it’s useful to pull from your own experiences in your answer, there’s no rule saying you need to tell the truth. You’re just being asked to tell a story with language. Make something up and use intricate vocabulary and grammar to do it.
6. Your knowledge is not being tested
One of the most difficult things about the IELTS Speaking test is that you won’t know the topics ahead of time. While it’s true you can prepare for common topics, you won’t know the exact questions until you hear them directly from your examiner’s mouth.
There’s a chance you’ll be asked a question about a topic you have little-to-no knowledge about or experience with. While this isn’t a fun position to be in, the good news is what you know about a certain topic matters very little in an IELTS Speaking test.
The examiners are more interested in how you answer a question than what you know. Why? Because it shows you’re resourceful and can still develop an answer even if you lack an understanding of the topic.
5. Don’t be afraid to use “flowery” language
This point builds off of the previous one about the importance of how you speak during the test. Even if you know everything there is to know about a topic, you won’t achieve a high score if you only use simplistic language in your answer. Instead, don’t be afraid to get “flowery” with your vocabulary. What does this mean? Well, another way of looking at it is to use abstract nouns over concrete nouns:
Concrete nouns: A noun that can be identified through one of the five senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, or smell). In other words, these are real things and more than likely common words (car, noise, book).
Abstract nouns: A noun that cannot be perceived using one of the five senses. These are uncommon words used to explain abstract concepts (motivation, courage, freedom, generosity).
Basically, the more abstract nouns and ideas you use in your answer, the better chance you have at getting a high score. Examiners want to see you use an advanced vocabulary, so use it!
4. Take time to gather your thoughts
Much like in a job interview, it’s okay to take time to think over a question before you give a response. This can help you avoid rambling. If you’re worried about leaving an awkward silence, you can always let your examiner know you need a moment to collect your thoughts.
Here are a few sample phrases you can use:
- “To be honest, this isn’t a topic I normally talk about. Let me take a moment to consider your question.”
- “I’m so sorry but I’m just feeling a bit nervous today. Can you give me a moment to collect my thoughts?”
- “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Can you repeat the question please?”
To clarify that last phrase, you can ask your examiner to repeat a question if you didn’t fully understand it or just want to buy yourself a bit of time. However, make sure you don’t do this for every question or your examiner may think you’re not comprehending what they’re saying.
3. Be emotional
While we don’t recommend answering your examiner’s questions with tears streaming down your face the whole time, you should speak with some emotion in your voice. Speaking in monotone will only make you look inexperienced and could hurt your score.
Instead, think of how you’d express yourself if you were answering in your native language and apply those same feelings to your English speaking.
2. Look and feel confident
The Speaking test is arguably the most nerve wracking component of IELTS. Unless you have a will of steel, odds are you will feel nervous before and during the test. This is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. However, even if you’re feeling anxious, it’s important to project a confident attitude.
A strong first impression can really go a long way in building a rapport with your examiner, so make sure you dress neatly and look clean and tidy. Greet your examiner with a smile and a firm handshake. And if you accidentally say “Good morning” instead of “Good afternoon,” don’t worry – IELTS examiners will overlook simple mistakes due to nerves.
1. Establish a good pace
We tend to associate speed with skill when it comes to speaking a language. The more fluent you are, the quicker you’ll be able to speak, right? While there is some truth to this, it’s best not to fall into the speed trap during the IELTS Speaking test.
If you speak too fast, you may come off as incoherent. Alternatively, speaking too slowly may cause your instructor’s mind to wander and lose interest in what you’re saying.
The best thing you can do is keep a steady, consistent pace. This will help ensure that you are coherent and leave an overall good impression with your examiner.
We hope these tips were helpful and wish you the best of luck on the IELTS Speaking test!
For more study tips, check out our list of the 5 Best IELTS Preparation Books for International Students, as well as our guides on IELTS Listening, Reading, and Writing.