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IELTS Speaking Tips

The IELTS tips on this page will help you get the best possible score in the IELTS Speaking test.

The general advice we gave about the IELTS test applies to the speaking module, too. In particular anything that might affect your stress levels and nerves. The IELTS Speaking interview is separate from the rest of the IELTS test. You might have your interview on the same day or it could be a few days before or after. If it's on a different day be sure to try to relax the evening before - no cramming! Also, make sure you have everything you need (read all instructions sent to you by the test centre and the "Rules and Regulations" and "Advice and information" pages you kept from your application form).

On the day of the interview be sure to set off in plenty of time. If you arrive late you will not be allowed to take the test.

Once your ID has been checked by the test centre staff you will be taken to a waiting area. The best thing you can do is try to relax. Why not take a book or newspaper with you to read?

Eventually the examiner will ask for you. You will probably be a little nervous so try to relax. Our best IELTS tip for the speaking interview is to be natural. There really is no need to try to be something you aren't so just be yourself.

The interview is tightly controlled. For most of the interview the examiner has to follow a script. He also has well defined criteria with which to assess you. We read too much 'advice' from people who think you can influence your examiner by wearing smart clothes or asking the interviewer questions. Forget all this. Just be yourself.

Put yourself in the position of the examiner for a moment. What is he there for? To assess your English level. How does he do this? By interviewing you and listening to the language you produce. He then uses well defined criteria to assess your ability in the following areas: Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy and Pronunciation.

The whole point of the interview is to get you to produce language to the best of your ability. Although the examiner has to work within the constraints of the framework imposed on him, part of his job is to help you produce this language.

How can you help yourself? It may seem obvious, but by producing language naturally. If you are asked a question don't just answer it but expand upon it where appropriate. Many questions can be answered with just a 'Yes' or 'No' but you can usually expand on this a little e.g. "Yes, because...". Give the examiner something to work with. But note our italics on the word 'naturally'. Don't just ramble on about something just to keep talking and be prepared to take turns - this is all part of fluency and coherence. Some candidates just take a deep breath and start talking. They are difficult to stop and don't get as good marks for fluency and coherence as they might have expected.

If you don't understand what the examiner has said to you, don't worry, just say you didn't understand what he said or ask him to repeat the question. You are being marked on your speaking, not listening ability. Showing that you are able to respond appropriately when you don't understand something will be taken positively by the examiner. If you don't understand what a word means, say so. Your examiner will explain it to you and you will then be able to answer the question.

We have also seen 'advice' telling candidates to prepare questions to ask the examiner. This is bad advice! Remember it is you who is being interviewed, not the examiner. If you ask the examiner questions you are wasting valuable language production time. And don't expect more than a cursory answer!

There are no 'right' answers to the questions asked so don't be concerned about 'getting the answer right'. The examiner is concerned with how you answer the questions rather than 'what' your answer is. Indeed, if you answered with an opinion that was contrary to the examiner's own, or if you said something the examiner found offensive, it should not affect your score. Neither will factually incorrect answers. However, if your answer is off topic it will be apparent that you have problems with lexical resource and you may be marked down accordingly. Don't be tempted to memorise answers and regurgitate them regardless of the question asked!

Once the examiner has invited you into the interview room and asked you to sit down he will have some administrative tasks to see to. Wait until the interviewer is ready and respond as required. Don't offer your ID until the interviewer asks for it.

The first part of the interview lasts for 4 - 5 minutes and consists of questions on general topics such as questions about the candidate, their families, interests etc. Bear in mind that the examiner has to use set questions and ask them verbatim so sometimes the question you are asked may seem a little odd in the context of what you have just been talking about. You may even be asked something you have already partially answered. Just humour the examiner and answer as appropriately as you can. Use this section to start to relax and get comfortable. More advanced candidates will find that the next two sections are where they will be able to show off their ability.

As I said before, don't just give Yes or No answers; expand a little but don't launch into a monologue. The examiner has sufficient questions to ask you without needing excessively long answers. We know some teachers will tell you that the more you speak the better your mark. Not true. What is important is that you speak appropriately.

The second section is a little different. Here you will be asked to talk on a topic for 1 - 2 minutes. Again, the interviewer is following a script although there are a number of topics from which he can choose. They are quite general and you won't need any specific knowledge so don't worry that you might not be able to answer the topic you are given. You will be given the topic verbally and a task card on which the topic is written together with some points you should talk about. You will also be given some paper and a pencil to make notes and given one minute to think about what you are going to say. The topics are designed so that anyone can answer them.

The examiner will tell you when your one minute thinking time is up. Some candidates don't need to think about their topic much at all but others find one minute isn't enough. If you don't need the time available, tell the examiner you are ready so you can continue with the test. The rest of you, the majority by far, will want to use the time to think about your topic. Read the topic and bullet points and make quick notes - a minute is not very long so use it effectively. Don't try to write sentences. Try to use the time to make notes that will allow you to talk about the topic and answer the points on the card and any other relevant points you can think of. You can write in any language, your notes will not be used to assess you and will be destroyed after the interview.

When your minute of thinking time is up, your interviewer will remind you that you have 1 - 2 minutes, and ask you to start talkng. On this occasion a monologue is what is required. This is not a discussion. You need to talk about the topic as fluently and coherently as possible. This will be easier if you managed to use your thinking time to write some useful notes.

Don't worry about the time too much. If you speak for more than two minutes the examiner will stop you. There will be no penalty for saying too much. If you say everything you want to say and the examiner hasn't stopped you it is probably better to say you have finished rather than flounder around trying to find something else to say. If you have been speaking for over a minute you won't be penalised as long as what you have said has been reasonably fluent and coherent.

When you have finished this section you will start the third and final section. The interviewer will ask you questions related to the topic in section two but he has some flexibility about what he asks. This means that he should be able, by asking appropriate questions, to ascertain more accurately your language level, particularly in the case of more advanced candidates. This is your opportunity to shine. Again, my advice is to be relaxed and natural. If you have the ability it will show. By this stage you should be getting over your initial nervousness so you won't be answering questions with a simple yes or no. In this section you will be asked questions which help you to expand. You will be asked to describe things, compare and contrast, provide an opinion. All these types of questions will help you to produce the language you are capable of.

Section 3 lasts for 4 - 5 minutes at the end of which the examiner will tell you it is the end of the speaking test. You will be shown out of the interview room. Don't try to start a conversation with the examiner as he is not allowed to discuss anything with you - especially if it concerns how you did in the test.

Now it's time to relax but do take a minute to make some "Post IELTS Test Notes" as we suggested in the IELTS Tips page. How did the interview go? As well as expected? Make a note of any problems you had. Also, were there any problems with the way the test was conducted? Perhaps there was a lot of noise outside which was distracting. Make a note of these things. One thing to remember is that the interview was recorded so if you have any complaints the tape is available as confirmation. If you have any complaints that won't have recorded on the tape, be sure to report them immediately and in writing.

Using these IELTS tips will help you get the most out of the IELTS Speaking interview.

For information on how to prepare for the IELTS test, check out our IELTS Speaking Preparation and IELTS Resources pages.

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