Strategies for the IELTS Speaking Test
The speaking test is an opportunity to shine. This article looks at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the IELTS speaking test, the marking criteria and strategies for success.
The golden rule is to make your answers interesting! Some students consider making up answers, however I advocate telling the truth for two reasons. Firstly, it gives you more to say and you can speak in more detail. Secondly, listeners respond well to authenticity. Unfortunately, it is a test so grammar counts. If you notice that you have made a mistake, correct yourself. Just like in conversations in real life, if the topic is juicy, we can forgive small mistakes. Speak loud and clear, speak with passion and emphasise the most important points.
The first part about daily topics is for you to ease into the test and for the examiner to get to know a little about you. Whatever you do, don’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Speak in full sentences and expand your answers. For example, if the examiner gives you a question about your work, respond to the invitation to talk about yourself in full. Better that the examiner stops you speaking than you run out of things to say.
The second part is challenging because you need to speak for two minutes straight about a given topic. The task card gives you the topic and WWWWWH questions to answer. Use the one minute of preparation time wisely. Practice brainstorming and making notes in bullet point form. Pay attention to the tense (past, present or future). The simplest way to organise the ideas is by answering the questions on the task card in order. Planning makes your answer more coherent, in other words, more logical, which scores points. Avoid memorising answers to common topics. Rather, prepare to speak about anything, tell stories, give examples, and bonus if you can make the examiner laugh!
Practice answering the question with a friend or teacher and time yourself. Find examples of topics here.
The third part gives you discussion questions, usually based on the same topic as part 2. One strategy (from the comprehensive National Geographic Complete Guide to IELTS book) is called PREP. This stands for make a POINT, give a REASON, give an EXAMPLE, and restate your POINT. Participate in discussions on different topics as much as possible. Read about current affairs to make your answers relevant and show that you are socially and politically conscious (reading the news gives good ideas for writing too). Some formal phrases to include:
One reason is that… Another reason is that…
There’s a big difference between … and …
If we compare … and …
I definitely agree that…
To give you an example…
To some extent that’s true, however…
One advantage is … but the problem is…
One disadvantage of… is that…
Speaking test criteria
Many students are surprised by the friendliness of the examiners, in contrast to their scores! The examiners are professional and follow strict marking criteria on the following areas. Fluency and coherence refer to your ability to express yourself without hesitation, in a logical way. Lexical resource refers to vocabulary, which includes informal spoken English such as phrasal verbs and ‘expensive words’ that demonstrate high-level English. Grammatical range and accuracy refer to your ability to use tenses appropriately, and to correct yourself on small issues such as singular/plural, subject/verb agreement, countable/uncountable nouns. Pronunciation refers not only to use of particular words, but also to the natural rhythm of the language
Here are some tips from the British Council. Check out their resources about the speaking test.
- Relax and speak naturally.
- Practice with a friend or teacher.
- Try to speak fluently and be spontaneous.
- Expand your answers as much as you can, do not wait for the examiner to prompt you.
- If you need to, feel free to ask the examiner to clarify the question.
- Practise common topics but do not memorise answers.
- Express your opinions clearly and effectively.
This article looked at strategies for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the speaking test, and the marking criteria that examiners use.
Some final points
Show off your best language and vocabulary. Slow down to avoid silly mistakes. Listening is the best way to improve pronunciation. Immerse yourself in podcasts, Ted talks, TV series and movies, music and you’ll naturally improve your pronunciation. Take three deep breaths before you begin. Make eye contact. Consider your body language to enhance your confidence (check out this talk about power posing). Trust yourself, diligent preparation for the reading and listening gives you plenty of vocabulary and grammar to ace the speaking test too.