In the IELTS speaking exam there are some useful phrases that can help you through the exam if there’s a question you don’t understand or you need time to think of an answer.
Sometimes you may not understand a question the examiner asks you and this can actually be good for you if you can deal with the communication problem well. In Part 1 and Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking exam the examiner cannot rephrase questions, they can only repeat them. Therefore, you need phrases like this.
Asking the examiner to repeat a question in Part 1 or Part 2
Asking for clarification in Part 3
As well as phrases that can help you if you don’t understand a question you should also be familiar with phrases that you can use to give yourself time to think. If you take a moment to organise your answer it can be a lot more effective.
Playing for thinking time
Remember, it’s better to say something rather than nothing so these kinds of phrases can really help you deal with difficult situations.
The IELTS speaking test starts with everyday questions about yourself (Part 1). Next, you have to give a short speech on a topic chosen by the examiner (Part 2). The test finishes with a discussion on your Part 2 topic. This part of the speaking test (Part 3) can be more challenging for you because you are expected to discuss the topic in a wider and more general way.
In Part 3 the examiner can be more flexible in questioning you. They do have some set questions but can ask follow up questions on the opinions you give. They can also ask if you agree or disagree with a statement. The idea is to have a discussion with the examiner. For example, if your topic in Part 2 was ‘’a favourite holiday’’ the examiner might say something in Part 3 like ‘’Some people believe we should travel less because of damage to the environment. Do you agree with this?’’ Don’t be afraid to disagree. This shows you can argue against a belief and express your own opinion.
Candidates often perform better in this part of the test as it feels more natural than the first two parts. Listen carefully to the examiner’s questions or statements and be prepared to back up your opinions with examples from your general knowledge or personal experience. Look the examiner in the eye as much a possible as this will make you appear more confident.
How can you do well in your IELTS speaking test? Are you very nervous about it? Well, knowing more about what happens in the test can go a long way towards you giving a better performance. Let’s focus on Part 1 of the test in this blog.
Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Test lasts for 4-5 minutes and consists of personal questions which are familiar to you. It’s like a ‘’warm up’’ to help you to relax and not feel so nervous.
The examiner will ask you your full name and to see your identification first, so have your passport or ID card ready. They will also ask you ‘’What shall I call you?’’ This means you can give a nickname or an English name, especially if you think your given name is very difficult for the examiner to pronounce correctly!
Then the examiner will ask you about where you live or about your job or studies. It is good to answer most questions with a reason or explanation, but only a sentence or two. The time to demonstrate that you can give a longer speech is not here, but in Part 2.
Depending on how long your answers are, the examiner will usually ask you about two more familiar topics e.g. music, movies, travel, food. Again, you’re not expected to talk at length in response to the questions; just a sentence or two giving an opinion and why is enough.
Keep your focus on the examiner; keep eye contact, smile when appropriate and behave in a confident way, even if you feel very nervous. It’s amazing how people can hide their nerves from the examiner by acting confidently and smiling.
Are you worried about the two minute speech in the IELTS Speaking Test Part 2?
Part 1 of the IELTS speaking test lasts for 4-5 minutes and is really just a selection of questions about you, your likes and dislikes and personal experience. It’s like a ‘’warm up’’ to Parts 2 and 3.
Part 2, however, tests your ability to speak in English more than Part 1, because you get a topic sheet and you must speak on that topic for between one and two minutes.
In Part 2 the examiner gives you a topic sheet and a piece of blank paper and a pencil. You are allowed one minute to read the topic sheet and make notes. One minute is not long, so it’s best to write key words as reminders of your main points. The topics are not academic and even if you don’t like your topic remember you can make up your content; it does not have to be recent or true. The topic card will normally state three bullet point sentences to guide your short presentation. Follow those when you are making notes.
After the one minute preparation time is up, the examiner will ask you to speak. It is wise to keep going until the examiner stops you after two minutes. If you stop after one minute, the examiner is likely to say something like ‘’Anything else to add?’’ The examiner wants as near the two minutes as possible to make a good judgement of your fluency.
You may not cover all the points on the topic card for Part 2, but that doesn’t matter. Remember too that your notes are just prompts and keep good eye contact with the examiner during your two minute speech. This will make you seem more confident and help you to have good intonation, rather than reading from your notes.
Some students are very nervous in the speaking exam, so nervous that they can’t really perform as well as they should. Taking an exam can be stressful but there are some things you can do to give yourself the best chance to do well.
First of all, be prepared. Look through the speaking preparation material here so you know what to expect. If you know what’s coming it’s not so scary.
You should also practice as much as you can. Record yourself talking about many different topics, practice IELTS interviews with a friend. Your speaking doesn’t have to be perfect in the exam, you just need to show you are able to talk about things in some detail.
Secondly, on the day of the exam, arrive in plenty of time. If you arrive just on time or a little late you will go into the exam more nervous than ever.
Take something to read in English with you or some English music to listen to so you can be thinking in English before the exam starts. Picture yourself doing well in the test.
During the exam itself, stay relaxed. Remember to breathe deeply as this will help you stay calm and stop you from talking too quickly. If you are not happy with an answer, don’t worry about it. You can’t go back in time but you can make sure you give the best answer possible in the rest of the test.
The examiner wants to give you credit for what you say so if you realise you misunderstood a question and talked about something else, it’s not the end of the world. Just refocus and keep going.
Stay positive and you’ll be fine. If you remember these simple tips you will do well in the speaking test.
“Can’t cook, don’t read the news, haven’t read a novel in years”. What not to say in your IELTS speaking test.
Many students ask what is the best way to prepare for the IELTS speaking test – one way is to know what the examiner doesn’t want to hear. Find our what not to say in your IELTS speaking test.
Of course, one of the best ways is to familiarise yourself with the speaking test format and test techniques. For that, check out the advice on the Prepare Speaking pages.
What many people forget however, is that no matter how hard you study for your test you will need to talk about non-academic interests. Therefore you need an awareness of what is currently happening in the world or be ready to talk about your interests.
You may be asked a question about something you have read recently in the news, or a novel you would recommend, or a dish you can cook.
What the examiner doesn’t want to hear is that you haven’t been reading the news lately, or reading a novel for pleasure or you can’t cook because you are always studying.
This makes it very difficult for the examiner to keep the conversation going.
Our advice is to read and listen to the news in English every day (say 10 minutes a day), have a novel you read for pleasure and keep up some hobbies you can talk about.
And if you really don’t have time in your life for these things, make it up. The examiner will never know if the book you are describing was one you read ten years ago. Or the dish you can cook, is actually your mother’s cooking. It doesn’t matter – it is a test of your English, so you need to speak about something!
Remember, the topics in the speaking test are non-academic. It would be a shame to score lower than you should because you have been focusing too much on academic work.
If you do want to know how to deal with nerves in the IELTS Speaking Test, check out our blog post on the General Advice page. Today’s blog isn’t about nerves, it’s about pronunciation and the use of stress particularly.
One of the criteria for marking IELTS is pronunciation. While this covers the clear pronunciation of individual words your pronunciation will also be assessed on a sentence level. The examiner will be listening to your use of intonation and stress, if you can use your voice well to show your meaning.
The words you stress highlight the information you think is important so think about these sentences. Think about how the change in stress changes the meaning of this sentence.
Even though the words are the same the change in stress changes the meaning completely. Using stress effectively can really help your listener understand more clearly.
Read this paragraph out loud. Which words do you stress and why?
I’m a student and I study Architecture at University. I really like my major because I think a well-designed building can have a major impact on people’s quality of life. The places we live affect how we think and how we feel so it’s important that buildings help people live well.
You can’t stress everything and in an answer this long you should perhaps have 8-10 stressed words. While there are different choices, depending on the point you want to make, hopefully two of the words you chose to stress were ‘think’ and ‘feel’. If YOU think about stress, the EXAMINER can feel the difference.
When it comes to the speaking paper in IELTS it is important that you try to show as much of your language as possible. The same is true of the writing paper. In both the writing and speaking papers examiners will be looking for a range of language. Consider these two answers in the speaking exam.
Examiner: What’s your favourite colour?
Candidate: My favourite colour is blue.
Examiner: What’s your favourite colour?
Candidate: When I am shopping I usually buy blue clothes so it might be blue.”
The first answer is clear, complete and answers the question directly. There also aren’t any mistakes. However, it doesn’t really give the examiner a lot of language to work with. It doesn’t do a good job of demonstrating the language the candidate knows.
The second answer would be rated more highly. The language in the second answer isn’t much more complicated but it shows a wider range of language. For example, there’s effective use of adverbs of frequency (usually) and modals (might be).
You might be worried about making mistakes and think it is better to keep answers short. However, that’s a mistake. Longer answers show the examiner you are trying and it is better to take a risk and make a mistake than keep things safe and basic. Remember, as long as the examiner understands what you are trying to say you’ll do ok.
We’ve talked before about how you can prepare for different accents in the IELTS listening exam but today we’re going to think about your accent in the speaking exam.
Pronunciation is one of the four criteria you are marked on in the IELTS speaking exam. The others are Fluency & Coherence, Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. This means your pronunciation is very important and will have an impact on your final score.
The good news is, you don’t have to sound exactly like a native speaker. It is expected you may have an accent and you can still score highly in pronunciation. The most important thing is that your speech is intelligible. This means that the listener can understand what you are saying without any trouble.
What you need to think about is making sure your speech is easy for the listener to follow. This involves thinking about individual word sounds but also how your speech is connected together, the rhythm and intonation. It’s also important to think about stress, both on the individual word level and on the sentence level.
A good idea is to record yourself talking and then listen back to it. You will be able to hear what you sound like and hear where other people may have a problem understanding you. You should try speaking naturally and also try reading something out loud, particularly something that has a strong rhythm like a poem. The one below is a good one to try and you can listen to someone reciting it here.
English Pronunciation Poem
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through?
Well done! And now you wish perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird;
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead --
For goodness sake don’t call it ‘deed’.
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt
A moth is not a moth in mother,
nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose --
Just look them up — and goose and choose.
And cord and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart --
Come come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!