IELTS Speaking Tips

Be friendly

This is a simple idea: if the examiner feels you are positive and friendly, they will also be positive and friendly.

Examiners are professionals who are supposed to be completely objective, but they are also people, and like all people they respond better to people who are friendly.

Also remember that examiners get bored after seeing a lot of students, and they can be grumpy before lunch. Be polite, friendly and engaging.

Body language

A lot of communication is done through the body.

This portion of the IELTS exam is supposed to feel like conversation, so:
1) try to feel confident and friendly
2) don’t be afraid to use your hands and facial expressions to help make a point
3) don’t look like you are reciting an answer; act like it is a natural conversation.

Remember what the examiner is looking for

Although it is good to have a strong vocabulary, remember that the speaking test is an examination of fluency and communication. It is not an exam looking for big words.
Using vocabulary that does not suit your level can sound strange, especially if you don’t really understand what you are saying.

Develop basic answers into longer answers

It is a very good idea to expand answers – don’t limit responses to one idea.
Here are some ways to expand an answer:

1. Think about all the basic questions (who, what, how, why, when, where, how long)
2. Think about different times (past, present, future) and how things have either changed or stayed the same
3. Think about different groups (ages, genders, where from)
4. Give examples

Therefore, a simple question can get a longer answer:

Question: What sports do you enjoy?
Answer: I’m quite fond of basketball: I usually play it once or twice a week with my friends at university, usually for two or three hours each time. I didn’t use to play basketball when I was a child – I always liked football – but I started playing when my friends did.

Question: What was the last holiday you went on?
Answer: The last holiday I went on was a family trip to Italy. We went to Turin and Milan, which was very pleasant. I really enjoyed the food. My wife has always been in love with Italy so she was really happy. We will probably go back soon, although next year we’re going to go to Morocco.

Question: Do you think the internet is changing how we shop?
Answer: Yes, I think it is. The internet is cheaper, more convenient, open 24/7, and has a wider choice. You can even buy vegetables online. I read somewhere that internet grocery shopping has increased something like 100% in the last 5 years. I tried that myself recently, and it was quite good. I bought some bananas and avocados and they came on time, no problem. I might try it again.

Question: Do you think traveling abroad can help a country’s population?
Answer: I think so because traveling abroad can help you learn about other countries, other cultures, and give you a broader mind. You can learn a lot more about the world by seeing it than by reading about it, especially in some countries where the government tells you what to think. I think I’m quite lucky in a way because when I think about my parents’ and grandparents’ generation they never had the chance to go overseas, and if you ask them about other countries they don’t know very much. Younger people in this country tend to have more money and more opportunities and I think it gives them a better education. So yes, I think it does help.

Of course, don’t make your answer too long. You want your answer to sound like natural English, and answering a simple question with a lecture is not natural English and can sound boring.

Talk more (but not too much)

The less a student says, the more the examiner has to ask.
If you give short answers, you are only going to get asked more questions.

Speak freely and widely on a subject (not only about the obvious information) so you have more control over the exam – although remember to stay on topic.

Don’t talk for an unnaturally or boring amount of time.

Learn the rules to ‘just a minute’

There is a comedy show on BBC Radio 4 called ‘Just a Minute’. It asks comedians to speak for one minute on a subject, and the rules are:
1) no hesitation
2) no deviation
3) no repetition

That means no pauses, no talking about something not related to the question, and no saying the same thing twice.

These rules should apply to an IELTS answer too.

What if I don’t understand the question?

It is unlikely you will totally misunderstand the question. However, if you don’t fully understand, you can ask the examiner to explain either the question or the word.

If you are going to ask the examiner to explain, use your question as a chance to show off your English.
“I’m sorry, I am not sure I have picked up the meaning of the question. I do apologise.” is better than “What?”

I don’t know anything about the topic.

A lot of students worry that the exam will mark them down for not knowing anything about a subject. However, the examiner does not really care about what you know about the topic, and will meet many students. This is an exam to show English ability.

A common strategy to get around a subject about which you do not know much is:
1) learn a few phrases to explain a lack of knowledge.
2) shift the subject onto something you do know more about

Of course, if you move the subject it should still be in the same area.
Don’t just start talking about anything.

For example:
“Do you think students should be made to learn a musical instrument?”
‘I have to say I’m not an expert on music, and have never learnt to play an instrument. However, I do think students should be able to choose which subjects they study.

Get your good ideas and language out

The examiner has the power to stop the speaking part when he/she thinks he has heard enough. If you hold back at the beginning, the exam might finish just as you are getting going.
Make sure you get your strong ideas and best answers out while you can.

Try to control the areas in which you talk

Don’t get yourself into trouble by speaking about something you know you can’t explain.
For example, if the question is about your brother’s job, and he does something very complicated that you don’t know how to explain, either
a) give him a job you do know how to describe (the examiner won’t know), or
b) use a phrase like “it’s a pretty complicated job with computers that I don’t really understand”. This tells the examiner that there is not much point asking about it.

Give yourself time to think

It is perfectly normal to need a moment to think of an answer.
The skill is to not say ‘umm….’, ‘errr…’, or nothing at all.

Repeating or commenting on the question is a good way to give yourself a second to think, and is a common trait, even for native speakers.
Phrases like ‘that’s a good question’, ‘I have never thought about that’, and ‘I have to admit I’m not an expert on that’ allow you sound clever in English while taking a moment to think of a starting point.

If you forget a word, don’t let it stop you

It is very common for someone taking the exam to forget a vocabulary word.
Skilled speakers know how to still impress the examiner at this moment, rather than looking worse.

Have a few phrases ready to excuse a vocabulary problem.
“I’m not entirely sure how you say it in English.” or “I probably should know this word, I do apologise.”

It can be a good idea to then try to explain the word, as this will show your English rather than leaving an awkward silence.
“I’m not entirely sure how you say it in English, but it is the bar on a car window that goes up and down and clears the water off.”