The IELTS speaking test explained
IELTS speaking Part 1
The examiner will ask you several shorter questions about you and your life. This is the easiest part of the test and there’s no need to try and show off.
Key skills and language
answer questions directly Give a short and direct answer to each question
extend your answer Then extend your answer with reasons or examples or by using the other techniques I show you on my part 1 guide
learn to talk about habits Many questions will ask you about your daily habits. It helps to have different ways to describe your routine and know how to extend your answers
learn to talk about likes and dislikes You’ll also be asked about what you like and dislike. Again you need to be able to vary your language and know how to say why you like or dislike something or give an example
learn to support opinions A third set of questions will relate to what you think. Here a skill is to know how to support your opinions that you give a longer and more coherent answer
learn to talk about your home town, country, job and education Some of the most common questions are about your background – things you may not often talk about much in everyday life. You need to be able to discuss these in the test
use tenses accurately Grammar matters in speaking. In part 1 some of the most important grammar you use will be tenses. It helps to use different tenses accurately
compare and contrast Another piece of grammar that helps in in part 1 is knowing how to compare and contrast things
IELTS speaking part 2
Here you are given a topic to talk about for 2 minutes. There are suggestions about what you might talk about. You can use them or not.
The topics are everyday life and typically fall into one of these categories:
Key skills and language
Learn to speak for two minutes If you can’t get to two minutes then you may be penalised for fluency
Learn how to use the one minute preparation time This time is key to help you give a coherent answer. One skill you need to develop is to make notes that are useful fro you as you speak.
Learn how to give a coherent answer It’s not just about fluency, you also need to be coherent – meaning the examiner should be able to follow your ideas. This is a skill that needs work in longer answers
Practise different ways to speak You can approach part 2 in different ways. It may be that it helps to be able to speak about different topics using slightly different methods. You may for example try to tell a story if you get an experience question
Use good topic vocabulary This is the one part of the test where you are most likely to use more detailed topic vocabulary.
IELTS speaking part 3
Here you get a series of more detailed questions about the topic in part 2. These questions often ask you to
- give an opinion
- speculate about the future
- comment on the past
- compare and contrast situations
This part of the test is perhaps the most challenging because you need to “think on your feet” and give immediate answers to some harder questions.
Key skills and language
Learn how to respond to harder questions This is the part of the test where you are most likely to use “speaking strategies” to buy yourself time. Unlike part 1 you may not give an immediate answer but find the answer a you speak
Use more opinion vocabulary A lot of the questions in part 3 ask for your opinion. This si the part of the test where it helps to have a range of words and phrases to give different types of opinions
Use more speculative language You may well be asked questions about what you think might happen. This requires you to use a greater range of grammatical structures.
Understand how IELTS speaking is scored
The speaking is scored by the examiner you talk to in real time. A recording will be made but only used if there is a problem with your score.
All the above criteria count equally
You should note that there is no mark for “content” (task response/achievement in writing). This means that you are able to go “off topic” slightly and add detail that the question does not ask you.
Also if you see the examiner writing numbers down – they won’t be you mark but the timing of the test. Please ignore them.
Key IELTS speaking vocabulary
What vocabulary do you need for IELTS speaking? There’re two different sets of words – more functional vocabulary and topic vocabulary
Common speaking functions
Giving opinions: this is necessary in all parts of the test and the key point here is to learn not to say “I think” all the time. You need to learn variations such as
In my view
As I see it
I’d sayTalking about likes and dislikes: this is mostly useful in part 1 but can also help you in parts 2 and 3. Here one of the keys is to learn how to explain why you like or dislike something and expand your answer. Ways you can do this include:
talking about consequencesMaking comparisons and contrasts: this is another key area of IELTS speaking vocabulary as it allows you to extend your answers and also use a better range of spoken grammarTalking about future possibilities and speculating: this is mostly useful in part 3 of the test when the examiner asks you to talk in more detail about a topic. There are a range of useful items of speaking vocabulary to use there including:
modal verbs such as may and might
common adverbs such as perhaps and maybe
Using fillers and explaining that you don’t know the answer: it’s not a problem at all in IELTS speaking if you don’t “know” the answer. It is a test of language and communication and not knowledge and all you need to do is say why you don’t know. If you do that you’ll still use good language and score well. To make this work though you need the right functional language such as:
Some common questions about IELTS speaking
Can I change my question?
You need to try and answer the question you are given. Don’t worry about having clever ideas – there are no marks for them.
You can also just say that you don’t know the exact answer and say why.
In part 2 remember that you just have to talk about the topic ion the question. This is where you need to practise how you spend your one minute thinking time.
Can I ask for the question to be repeated?
Just try “Please can you repeat the question?”
What happens if I talk about the wrong thing?
The only major problem is likely to be if the examiner thinks that you are giving a “prepared answer”. They tend not to like that at all.
Can I lie?
There is no reason why you cannot make up an answer. The best way to do this is to try and to use better words.
Be slightly careful though as lying may put you under more pressure, not less. You want to be as relaxed as possible in the test.
What are those numbers the examiner is writing down?
I have had several comments asking me about numbers candidates have seen being written down. In all probability these numbers are just to do with the timing of the test and are nothing to do with your score.
Why is it recorded?
You can for instance ask to have your score rechecked (at a price!) if you are unhappy with it. You’ll find more details on the process here.
Should I correct myself if I make a mistake?
My best advice her his to correct yourself if you can do so immediately. If you can’t- just move on. Why?
- It’s quite possible the examiner didn’t hear the mistake – they’re humans and don’t hear everything.
- The more you self-correct, the less fluent you become. Fluency is as important as accuracy.
- You can make yourself stressed by correcting yourself.
Should I use idioms and contractions?
Idioms are great if you can use them well. They are exactly the sort of language that we use in speech. The problem is though that they can be hard to use well. I interviewed Peter Travis of IELTS Speaking about this and you can read what he had to say about how to learn and use idioms here.
Use idioms if you are confident about them. If not, don’t.
Contractions or short forms are a natural part of speech. Do you use them in your speaking test. But there are times when we don’t use them! I have a complete lesson explaining about when and how to use short forms.
Is it a good idea to prepare answers to easy questions?
Examiners – and I’ve done a lot of examining of exams like IELTS – can always tell if you are just repeating a prepared answer. They hate it.
More than that it’s actually often harder to remember what to say than to just speak – you put more pressure on yourself.
If you want take a look at this video lesson to see what some of the dangers are. Warning: it has offended some people. That’s not the idea. It’s meant to make you think a little and also perhaps make you smile.
How to practise IELTS speaking
Find a friend!
There are a number of ways you can practise for IELTS speaking. The most important thing is to speak – and to use the language as often as you can. This means looking for opportunities at work and at home. This is hard for many people I know who don’t have friends who speak English. Try this find an IELTS Skype buddy service from English Arch.
Don’t just do tests – practise conversation too
You do need to get to know the format of the test but just talking in English in everyday life is also excellent practice for the test. Why? This is the sort of English you need for IELTS.
Work on skills and vocabulary
You can also practise the precise skills you need for IELTS speaking by recording yourself. You can work on your fluency and coherence at home and perhaps record yourself.
Focus on topics
A good way to improve your skills is to focus on speaking about common topics and speaking about them in different ways. Try these lessons to find lots of ideas to show it can work:
practice speaking ideas for leisure activities – likes and dislikes
Listen to other people speak and learn from them
The idea here is that the people who listen best also learn how to speak best. This is a skill from general communication that you can apply in IELTS both in your preparation and the test itself. If you want to know how this works, try my lesson on reflective listening.
Read then speak
I’m not sure that reading aloud is that great for your speaking – although some people do find it helps their pronunciation. But that I think can work very well is reading about a topic from a newspaper/magazine or just watching tv and then talking about it. This can work very well for vocabulary and to help you I publish regular little but often exercises on my FB page and the front page of this site.
Just be regular! Have a plan.
Everyone is different so I can’t advise you how often you should try and speak but I do think it helps to make a speaking plan – i.e. you try and find so many times a week that you practise speaking English.
Recommended IELTS speaking resources
TakeIELTS – a short but useful set of advice form the British Council site
IELTS Speaking – this should be your first choice for all thing speaking.i particularly recommend the vocabulary exercises
English Live – a useful set of tips for improving your pronunciation
IELTS Blog – easily the best source online for finding recent questions
Tefltastic – my favourite site for finding useful classroom resources and worksheets
Simon – he’s good on everything but he’s best at speaking if you ask me
British Council Vietnam – an excellent set of videos more aimed at teachers but equally useful for candidates
My most recent IELTS speaking lessons and resources
You’ll find links to all my lessons on the speaking pages. If you just want to see my latest IELTS speaking lessons, here they are:
Are you looking for something in particular? Search me
I have a lot of speaking lessons – not all of them are on this page. You may find it quicker just to search below.
What to talk about in part 2 speaking? Make sure that you select the thing you can speak about for 2 minutes. This may mean spending time considering different optionsread more
Advice on how to vary tenses in part 1 speaking to improve the range of grammar you use.read more
Make yourself sound better by using qualifiers such as pretty and slightly when you speak. Listen to a sample video, do a quick exercise and find ways to practise the skillread more
An idea for how to practise speaking about leisure activities and giving more fluent answers when talking about likes and dislikesread more
How to speak about a person in IELTS with advice on how to use your preparation time, structure your answer, give extended examples and talk about personality and relationshipsread more
A quick guide to weak forms and why they matter and how to learn themread more
What is sentence stress and why does it matter? This lesson shows you how it works and suggests some simple practice exercises to help you improve your pronunciation using better sentence stressread more
10 different ways to improve your fluency in IELTS speaking with suggestions and practice exercises to help you speak more fluently.read more
Vocabulary and sample answers to help you speak about questions about computers and the internet in IELTS.read more
Advice on how to answer likes and dislikes questions in IELTS part 1 speakingread more