Many people find the Speaking test the most difficult part of the IELTS exam. The idea of facing an examiner can be scary, but by familiarising yourself with what to expect, you can approach the day feeling confident and prepared. In this blog post, we’ll take you through the test format and how to set yourself up for success.
What to expect in the IELTS Speaking test
The IELTS Speaking test is a face-to-face, informal discussion with an examiner in a room. It’s divided into three parts, and you will be assessed on four skill areas: fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
Part one is the introduction and interview. The IELTS examiner will introduce themselves and ask you to do the same. You will also answer some general questions about yourself, on topics like family, work, studies and your interests. This part takes four to five minutes.
Part two is a monologue. You will be handed a card with a topic written on it, with some points to talk about in your speech. You’ll be given around one minute to plan what you want to say, before speaking for one to two minutes. Afterwards, the examiner will ask you some questions.
Part three is a two-way discussion. The examiner will ask further questions related to your monologue topic, and the interaction should flow like a conversation. This part takes four to five minutes.
What to consider when preparing
The examiner is assessing your ability to speak fluently, so you should aim to sound natural and relaxed. It’s common for nerves to quicken our speech or muddle our thoughts. If you notice that happening, take a deep breath and slow down, allowing yourself the opportunity to pause and think when you need to. Speak spontaneously and within the range of vocabulary you are comfortable with; only reach for complicated words if you feel confident doing so.
How you say it matters
Good grammar and vocabulary are not your only tools. Use non-verbal communication to engage the examiner and project the right impression: that you are competent and at ease. Smile and make eye contact to build rapport, and be expressive – use body language and intonation to enhance your verbal answers. Don’t forget to use linking words and structures to help you give a well-connected and coherent response to the examiner’s questions.
Extend your answers
As a general rule, you should try to speak more than the examiner. Avoid one-word or dead-end responses that are difficult to expand on; this will limit how much you can demonstrate your speaking skills. Elaborate wherever possible, giving examples or explaining your thoughts. For instance, if the examiner asks you what you are studying, don’t simply give the name of your course. Talk about whether you are enjoying it, what you hope to use it for in future, what you are currently working on, and so on. You can continue talking until the examiner moves on to the next question, just take care to stay on topic.
Practice makes perfect
It may sound obvious, but the more you practise, the more prepared you will feel on the day. Practise speaking English in front of another person as early as possible and at every opportunity. At first, if you prefer, you can try speaking in front of a mirror or recording yourself to assess how you come across. Tempting as it can be, it’s important not to try to memorise whole scripts. This will only make you feel more stressed when your answer doesn’t quite fit with the examiner’s question, and you are far less likely to sound fluent and natural. Instead, practise some English every day and gradually build your ability to speak on a range of topics. Study past questions so that you have a clear idea of what you may be asked and how to respond.
Everyone makes mistakes
One key thing to remember is that mistakes are normal. Everybody makes them in everyday interactions. How you respond to your mistake is the important part. If you get something wrong, aim to correct yourself as smoothly as you can, either by repeating the sentence correctly or by rephrasing your answer. And if you are asked a question that you don’t fully understand, it is perfectly fine to ask the examiner for clarity or to repeat it. You can also buy yourself some time to plan a coherent response by saying something like “that’s an interesting question”. All of this will show that you are able to think on your feet.
How our IELTS Preparation course can help
The support of an experienced tutor can help you to prepare effectively and achieve your IELTS goal. IELTS Preparation is a 10-week course that will help you to score well in your test by focusing on the key language skills required for success. Suitable for students taking IELTS for academic or general purposes, the course is taught by a highly qualified and specialist teacher in small group sizes. Receive individual feedback on all four parts of the test and improve your confidence as you learn tried and tested test techniques.
Find out more about IELTS Preparation and discover our free MyClub language workshops and events for all British Council adult learners. For more tips on exam preparation, you might also like to read our previous blog post, IELTS test preparation plan – a how-to guide.