Top Tips for IELTS

IELTS examiners are your friends – talk to them personally

This lesson is about one simple way to impress IELTS speaking examiners and at the same time improve your fluency and coherence. Let me first of all talk you through the idea and then give you a list of helpful language at the end.

What’s the big idea?

The idea is just this: don’t speak at the examiner, speak to them. What do I mean by this? Take a look at all these phrases below. They all have something in common.

if you see what I mean

as I was saying to you before

I’m not sure how I can explain this to you

you might not understand this but

What they all share is that the candidate is actually talking to the examiner – addressing them as you. If you use phrases like these, you are taking part in a conversation. The test is not a monologue (one person talking), but a dialogue (two people talking together) – albeit one person is rather silent. Here’s the advice:

use common conversational phrases in the test 

when you speak to the examiner use YOU – be personal with them

How does this work?

1. It helps you relax

This is an important point. If you are too nervous, then you won’t speak your best and you may “trip over your tongue” and lose your words. In contrast, if you feel relaxed you normally speak more and speak better:

relaxation → confidence and fluency

If you talk to the examiner as you would a friend and not as you would to someone who can interfere with all your future plans, you relax. So, why not use the same sort of techniques you would  as when you talk to a friend? You use you when you chat with friends, right?

2. It helps you become more fluent

This is the same point put another way. When you relax you normally become more fluent and the words that you need just appear i.e. your vocabulary improves too. This is particularly true for spoken idiom and phrases – the words we use most when we speak:

confidence → fluency and vocabulary

3. It helps you become more coherent

People often forget about coherence in speaking and just talk about fluency (indeed some examiners I know do too!). Coherence does matter though. The more coherent you are, the more sense you make and the more the examiner will be impressed. The way it works here is that if you actually talk to the examiner, then you concentrate on getting them to understand what you’re saying:

personal communication → coherence

4. It helps make your answer more personal

Examiners just hate learned answers – they want to hear good English but they will also be impressed by genuine and personal responses. You don’t need to be funny, clever or “different” – that can be very dangerous. All you need to do is talk personally about what you know or don’t know. If you use I and you then the examiner is much more likely to take a real interest in what you’re saying. And that’s good.

personal pronouns → interest

Which part of the test does this work in?

All of them. It’s a technique that can apply when you’re chatting in part 1, describing an experience in part 2 or explaining an idea in part 3.

Some useful phrases

There are lots of different phrases possible. Here are just some to show you how you can be personal in different ways:


Let me put it to you like this

I’m not sure if you agree but 

Coming back to the question

As I was saying to you just now

To answer your question

To come back to the question you asked

Giving opinions

I don’t know about you but I think

You might disagree with this but I think

Stating a fact

This may surprise you but

As you might guess I…

See it work in practice

Look at these quick examples

Part 1

Q: What is your favourite colour?

A: You know, I’m really not sure. I suppose when I was a kid it was pink – all girls like pink don’t they? But I think I have grown out of that now. I don’t know about you but pink seems a little girly to me now. So, to answer your question, I don’t really have a favourite colour.

Part 2

Q: Talk about an animal 

A: ….. You might find this a bit surprising but I’ve never liked animals at all – not even when I was a kid. But I can tell you about the Giant Panda – as you’re probably aware its the symbol of our country – or one of them anyway – and we learn all about them at school. It’s compulsory.

Part 3

Q: What kind of pets do people in your country prefer?

A: I think the answer to that is that it just depends on the person. China is a huge country and it’s just so difficult to generalise and say “the Chinese like this or the Chinese like that”. But that said, it’s probably true that we don’t keep guinea pigs or rats as I’ve heard people do in some countries. And, thinking about it, the most common pets are cats and dogs – and goldfish of course – they’re really therapeutic don’t you think?  I could sit and watch mine all day. But as I was saying to you before, it does depend on the person.

See more lessons to help you with this skill

Here is one of my most important lessons. It explains one way to understand the speaking test. Do that and you have made a good start.

Understanding IELTS speaking – think real life situations

You can many examples of me speaking personally on my IELTS questions page. This is a good lesson to start with there:

Talk about an animal for IELTS

Or just try my speaking guide

IELTS speaking guide


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

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Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

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5 Responses to IELTS examiners are your friends – talk to them personally

  1. vanbinh October 30, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    This is a useful and an exellent topic for those who not only take part in the exam, but also for daily conversation. I think you might have lots of expressions like this and this will help us – non native speakers learn and can comunicate well as we always expect.

  2. Diane October 30, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    Thank you. So very helpful and provides a lot of insight.

  3. suja November 5, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    It was benificial

  4. Anonymous April 16, 2015 at 4:28 am #

    Can i change my part 2 question if it is unknown for me?? Could you explain this for me

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