In some sections of the IELTS, such as the essay writing in Part II, you have the luxury of being able to go back and revise your answers. But in the speaking section everything happens quickly and your first response needs to be your best effort. The following IELTS speaking tips are designed to help you prepare efficiently and speak fluently and confidently; there are even some tips to help you interact with your administrator. Once you’ve got these speaking tips down pat, round out your IETLS preparation with this Express IELTS Prep course that covers all four components of the exam.
1. Timing And Scoring
It’s an excellent idea to memorize the timing of the speaking part of the exam, as well as how it is scored. There are three parts to the speaking section:
- Part 1: Interview: The interview will last 4-5 minutes. This is supposed to be a relatively easy, introductory section. The examiner will likely ask your name, where you’re from, how you like to spend your free time, why you’re studying English, etc. Tip: It will be easy to give “yes” and “no” answers in this section, but do your best to give longer responses. Example: “Do you enjoy learning English?” “Yes (keep going!), I think English is a difficult but enjoyable language to learn, and it’s very practical.”
- Part 2: Long Answer: In part 2 you will be given a topic about which you must speak uninterrupted for 1-2 minutes. This tends to be very difficult for most students. Tip: You will have one minute of prep time. Don’t try to write out complete answers, just make notes and improvise from them. You will sound more natural this way and you’ll be able to map out your entire response.
- Part 3: Discussion: In this part of the test you will discuss a topic with the examiner for 3-4 minutes; again, a difficult section. Tip: If you have the chance to make a point through a personal anecdote, this will show you are comfortable and make your conversation more unique.
The scoring is much more quickly understood: there are four sections that all carry equal weight in grading (that is, each section counts for 25% of your grade): Pronunciation, Fluency and Coherence, Grammar, Vocabulary. A balanced skill set will yield the highest score. You should think about reading over this fantastic post on IELTS listening tips, as understanding your examiner is of the utmost importance.
2. Fluency Over Vocabulary
While fluency and vocabulary technically carry the same weight in grading, it’s better to be fluent and fluid than to spend several seconds thinking of the best word. Your overall impression will be much stronger if you speak fluidly and only hunt around for a great word once or twice. Chances are that if you keep talking, your next chance to speak will yield a strong vocabulary word.
You might also consider brushing up on your accent with this acclaimed course on English pronunciation.
3. Avoid Monotone
You know the way beginners talk when learning a new language: a slow, flat monotone. Nothing is less impressive and more yawn inspiring. Even if you speak perfectly, a bland tone can make you sound less fluent than you really are. Adding some range to your tones will make you sound more fluent, interesting and accomplished.
4. How To Buy Yourself Time
It would be rare for someone to go through an exam and understand everything. Even if you do understand everything, you may need some extra time to formulate your responses. In part 2, this is not applicable because you have time to take notes and, since you’re required to talk without pause, you will have no excuses to buy yourself more time. But in sections 1 and 3 there are a few tactics you can employ:
- The examiner might ask, “What was your favorite part of growing up in Paris?” While some tips out there would recommend repeating the question, I find this tactic obvious and not very flattering to one’s ability to understand a language. Instead, you can make a compliment about the nature of the question and achieve the same time-buying effect: “I’ve never considered that before, but it’s an interesting question.” This is more natural and it will allow you to not, literally, take the words out of your examiner’s mouth.
- You may also not understand something. If the examiner uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, don’t panic. Be honest and demonstrate your ability to respond naturally to such a situation: “I’m not acquainted with that expression, could you please elaborate?” or “I never came across that word before, would you mind clarifying?” or even “I’m sorry, but could you please explain what you mean?”
5. How Much To Speak: 2 Rules of Thumb
First Rule of Thumb: There are two basic, unspoken rules when it comes to how much you should speak during the speaking section. The first is to speak as much as possible; the more and the greater variety of language you use, the better. You don’t want to talk incessantly and repeat yourself just for the sake of talking, but you should try to speak as much as possible within reason. As long as the conversation is lively and interesting, you can’t talk too much.
Second Rule of Thumb: If you aren’t the talkative type and you aren’t worried about talking incessantly about unrelated things, another rule of thumb is that you should talk more than the examiner. So if the examiner asks you a one sentence question, try to respond in at least two sentences (and so on and so forth).
If you haven’t yet decided between the IELTS and TOEFL, confer with this great blog post on what you need to know about both.
6. Throw Away Your Prepared Answers
If you’ve gone through the trouble of preparing answers to different questions, throw them away. Part of speaking fluently is speaking spontaneously, and the examiner will immediately know if you’re regurgitating responses. This will drastically hinder your score as the examiner cannot count these as answers because they are nothing more than memorization. The key is to be relaxed, have fun using English and respond directly to the questions asked. Plus, there’s nothing worse than trying to make a prepared answer fit a question that is just slightly different.
7. What To Do When You Make A Mistake
It happens to the best: mistakes. Even when you’re speaking your native tongue sometimes the wrong words come out. You might be talking too quickly or just accidentally say the wrong word. If you are able to quickly and fluently correct yourself, go for it. This will show the examiner than you are conscious and in control (and, of course, that you know the correct answer).
NOTE: If you don’t know how to correct yourself smoothly, don’t worry about. Just keep going. If you try to correct yourself and can’t, now you’ve turned your average tongue-slip into a prolonged disaster.
8. Vocabulary Tips
#1: Like I said in my introduction to this post, you can’t go back and revise your spoken responses. This is particularly relevant to vocabulary, as many students just write down easy words in the IELTS writing section and then change them once they’ve finished writing the essay (if you need help with the writing section, too, check out this IELTS Writing course on how to score a Band 7 or higher). But in speaking you should have a few really strong vocabulary words at your disposal.
#2: Your opinion is very important in the speaking section, so learn words and phrases that allow you to express yourself. You don’t want to say “I think” in the exact same way every time. Learn things like, “I feel,” “I like,” “I prefer,” etc.
9. Match The Grammar In The Question
This is a simple trick that can help you stay on track during your response. Pay attention to the grammar the examiner uses when he or she asks you a question. This is particularly true of verb tenses. To re-use one of our questions from above, the examiner might ask, “What was your favorite part of growing up in Paris?” This is in the past tense (“was”), so you would not answer, “My favorite part is . . . ” Matching the grammar will help you avoid simple mistakes and you can quickly learn the basics with this introduction to English grammar course (or if you think you’ve got what it takes, this course for advanced English grammar).
10. First Impressions
Make a good first impression by showing up presentable. It is basically an interview, so act, dress and prepare accordingly. Make sure you’ve showered, brushed your teeth (breath mint) and dressed appropriately. You should also sit up straight (but not uncomfortably straight), make eye contact with the examiner, engage causally but energetically in conversation and speak at a natural pace. While this alone won’t give you a high grade, it’s infinitely better than breathing foul air into your examiner’s face. A strong first impression will go a long way and this five-star course can help you make a powerful, professional first impression that lasts.