Top Tips for the IELTS Speaking Test

See our answers to some of the many questions we get asked every day... why not send one in? HERE

You can also join our free chat forum on Facebook here below:

IELTS Q&A (from our own students)

What's the main difference between a band 5 and 7?

The main difference is that band 7 is able to sound quite like a native speaker in the sense of using phrases and other idiomatic language. The band 7 grammar structures use different kinds of tenses, whereas a band 5 or 6 uses more pedagogic English, just as you might expect in a textbook.

What a discourse marker?

A discourse marker is a phrase or expression, which might seem like slang. Usually it is at the beginning of a sentence to denote thinking time. You can also show different opinions by using discourse markers. It's important to remember that in spoken English uses informal language patterns.

What are the main features for the pronunciation score?

Well, the 'pronunciation' mark does not just mean that words are pronounced very clearly, it's also about chunking. Chunking is about pauses and the flow patterns of a sentence, just like when you take a breather. The examiner will pay attention to this, alongside intonation and rhythm as well as speed.

Is it possible to fail the speaking test?

Yes, it is possible to get zero marks if the examiner feels that you are using purely memorised passages. So, better to avoid memorised passages and focus on trying to develop your conversational English ability. Of course, if you say nothing, you can also get to zero points!

What's the average speaking mark?

The 'average' speaking score tends to be 5.5 in many countries around the world. Of course, in some countries, this is far higher where the average can be around 7. Those are normally European countries where English is a fundamental part of the mainstream education system and all the teachers in the education systems have a pretty good level of English already. More developing countries tend to have lower average scores based on the lower quality of English native fluency by teachers in the state school systems. That usually tends to be the case anyway. No offence intended.

Does it matter if I use American, British or another kind of accent English?

Not at all so long as it's fluent. It's better to use either British or American English for example and you should certainly try to avoid slang. Do not try to be too cool as the examiner will not be very impressed about that.

What are the most annoying things for examiners?

Students who ramble on too much can be quite annoying because the examiners have to ask a certain number of questions within a certain time limit in each of the three parts. Likewise, if you give answers of just a couple of words that is also annoying because the examiner cannot move on to the next part until they have asked you a set number of questions. So, remember, the more you speak the better and higher your mark will (probably) be.

Should I be as friendly as possible with the examiner?

No. This will be seen as trying to win favouritism and could actually get you into trouble with your centre. Just talk in a normal and friendly way, and please, please try to relax.

What is meant by 'Grammatical Range and Accuracy'?

Basically, what you need to do is try to use as many different tense structures, intermixed with each other, as possible... backed up with subordinate clauses. Using 'real English' just means using a variety of past, present and future tenses with some "I wish" and "I hope" clauses and adding phrases to express 'surprise' and so on. Just imagine you're telling a story along with all the inflections and adjectives and grammatical ranges that come with that.

What if I make the examiner angry?

It's almost impossible to make a properly qualified IELTS examiner angry because they go through so many candidates that they have heard almost everything. Just make sure that you don't have bad breath and you don't try to be too cool about it. Oh and don't try to give a prolonged handshake (ideally, do even try for a handshake). You can be friendly enough just by saying "hello" with a smile.

Will I be penalised for hesitation?

Actually, hesitation is very much a part of fluency, but also a lack of fluency, so yes you may get penalised if you hesitate too much especially in the fluency and coherence category. Just take a deep breath and think carefully about what you want to say before you start talking and then try to explain yourself nice and clearly.

Can I take notes during the test?

The only time that you will be allowed to take notes is in preparation to answer the part 2 question. The examiner will make sure that you have a pen and paper at the ready, which you cannot provide (he or she will hand it over to you). Then, you're allowed to take notes for one minute. Try to take as many notes as possible, as quickly as possible because that may feel like the quickest one minute of your life! We suggest using keywords a or brainstorm technique. You can find out more from our courses about how to do this in great detail. After you've given your two minute answer in part 2 of the test, you must hand the paper and notebook back to the examiner.

What's the main difference between the TOEFL and the IELTS speaking test?

Essentially, the IELTS speaking test requires that you sit down and have a face to face interview with an examiner, whereas TOEFL uses an online testing system (called TPO). Another big difference is that TOEFL shows you how many seconds are remaining to answer each question, whereas IELTS -deliberately- does not. Finally, in the TOEFL, the questions are usually 'integrated' which means there is a reading and maybe also listening part accompanied with your question to be answered. In IELTS, it is purely listening and speaking (except for a very small reading task which is the question to answer in part 2, of course. Some people think that the TOEFL test is easier than the IELTS one, but others think that IELTS is far easier because it takes away the time pressure when you can see the seconds ticking by. We obviously believe that IELTS speaking is easier than TOEFL speaking. It is also better to help you get through your daily life, when you are in a native speaking environment and without the luxury of having 45 or 60 seconds to give answers!

Will the examiner tell me my speaking score after the test?

No, the examiner will write down the score and it will be sent back to the head office or main centre and you will be notified in due course (usually that's a few weeks time). This varies depending on what parts of the world you're in. You'll see the examiner making some notes or writing some numbers during your test. This is a huge distraction to you! But please do not pay attention to this because it might not actually be your mark. In fact, it's probably just the examiner jotting down the time segments that he has to follow as well as the reference number of the question which he or she has to record in their book.  Just focus on examiner and relax. Never pay attention to whatever he or she writes down. 

Can I ask the examiner to clarify any of the questions?

Yes and no. In general, you are not supposed to. In part 1, the examiner is allowed to repeat the question once. But in the following parts the examiner is not really supposed to do that -if you're lucky he or she might repeat a word or even rephrase it. But don't worry, just focus on your speech fluency rather than comprehending the question. Leave that for the IELTS listening test!

How long does the test last?

The test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. Obviously, the time frame depends on how quickly or slowly the examiner is able to get through the questions they must ask you. Some candidates will speak slower, other ones give shorter answers and other candidates have too much to say! So don't be offended if the examiner interrupts you to move on in the test. 

How difficult is part 3?

Lots of candidates get worried by part three that they cannot answer the trickier questions or understand them fully. It's OK, because part three questions are designed to be more difficult just to see how far you can go with your answers. In general, candidates tend to respond better to questions which are more sophisticated. So the questions should be more elaborate, right? That normally brings out their one's ability to the full. It's a very good thing that part three questions tend to be slightly trickier than the previous parts. Examiners often say that they increased a candidate's mark because they answered one particular part three questions really well. Part three is your great chance to shine and claim one higher point! 

Which part should I give the most focus on?

Parts 1 and 2 tend to be the ones where examiners will make their decision about the candidate. Part 1 is a sort of 'warm up' part and the examiner will start to decide some of your scores during part 1. Part 2 is where they will probably make the deciding scores although some examiners could give you a higher mark based on your part 3 answers. This tends to be the case for higher level English speakers. You should try to focus on part 2 for your key to success. You must use that precious 1 minute of preparation time to jot down as many keywords as possible and then when you give your speech you expand on those keywords using as many different forms of grammar, tense and intonation. Try to nail it in Part 2.

What if my examiner is not a native English speaker?

Absolutely fine. Most of the examiners will be native English speakers of high regard and distinctive backgrounds. They go through rigorous training to standardise their questioning and scoring judgements and they are checked every three months for consistency. However, there are sometimes non-native English speaking examiners in the system. And normally those examiners are required to get a full 9 in all fields of their own IELTS test, plus have distinguished backgrounds, before they can even be considered for certification. So the standard across the board is very high, no matter who the examiner may be.

What are some of the common problems that stop candidates getting better scores?

Well, we have noticed that there is a distinctive problem with connected speech. Please do try to speed up slightly to the same level as a native English speaker so you can connect your sounds easier. Focus on such things as elision, and so on. Also, reducing hesitation and trying to use phrases and idiomatic language correctly is of great benefit too. We suggest that when you speak to our examiners you are very clear as to which band score you want and to make sure you allow enough time to do lots of self study and practice to reach that idea score.

What are some of the most important points to note when developing 'lexical resource'?

Lexical resource essentially means the words, phrases and terminology that you choose to use. Clearly, using more sophisticated vocabulary is a good thing but do not try to use many words which are out of your range which you therefore end up mispronouncing so you lose points in your pronunciation category instead. We suggest try to describe the same thing using phrases like phrasal verb and, if you can, some idioms. It's also important to paraphrase. That means you try to describe the same thing using different words. When the examiner asks about your house, please try not to say the word 'house', instead you could say your 'place' or where you 'live now', for example.

What would be my topic in part 1?

Usually, in part 1 you will be asked a few warm-up questions about where you live, where you work or if you're a student. Then, you will be asked two 'frames'. A frame is a set of questions on a specific topic. These two frames may be completely unconnected. For example, the first frame could be about travelling and then the second frame might be about maps. You should try to relax and answer the questions as fluently and calmly as possible. Part 2 will be a different question. You cannot choose your topics.

What kind of questions will the examiner asked me in part 2?

The examiner can ask you a question on any topic and this question will be more in-depth to allow you chance to give a full answer to meet the two minute requirement. You will also see some sub-questions to give you ideas for on what to describe. A part 2 question could be something like "describe a wonderful experience you had" or "describe a famous building that you visited" or "a family reunion that you remember very well". In all of these examples, you are easily able to describe the place, the time, the weather, the date, the people who went there, how you felt, what you didn't like and so forth. It's easier than you think to fill two minutes of talking about something that really happened in your life.

What if I get a question in part 2 that never happened to me?

If you receive a question in part 2 and it's something you never personally experienced (so you have to make it up) then you can try to talk about something very similar to what happened or talk about somebody else's experiences (just make sure you know the story extremely well). Then you could describe it as if it were your own. You could even admit that it's something that happened to your friend and not yourself. I n fact, the examiner is not too concerned about your content,  they are more concerned about your English fluency because IELTS is an speaking English test. It's not a story-telling contest! So don't worry about that too much, just focus on your speech.

© Copyright IELTS Online Direct