One of the most common questions in speaking is:
Do you work? Or are you a student?
It’s important to be ready for this work/study questions in part 1 as there are some possible traps which you need to avoid. It’s quite possible to go wrong immediately. Here are some general guidelines for you to consider.
1. Treat the examiner as a normal person
This is rule number 1. Try and answer the examiner as if this was a normal conversation. Many mistakes you may make are because you think you need to do something special because this is a speaking test.
To see how this can work for you, look at this lesson. The idea is to give a personalised answer and not talk like a robot.
2. Don’t show off by using all the language you know
The examiner expects a short answer here – it is a very simple question after all. Think how you would answer this if someone you had just met was asking. If you speak too much the examiner may become annoyed and will probably think you are using an answer you have learned – a bad thing.
3. Don’t give your life history
The examiner will ask you more questions on the same topic. Two or three sentences is quite enough. You will get to talk about why you chose that subject or what you expect to do next a little later.
4. Don’t give a very short answer
You need to think that this is a conversation. If you answer: “I’m a student”. That is not quite right because it sounds almost impolite unless you say something more. Also, remember this is a speaking test and you need to speak.
There are lots of ways to expand your answer in part 1. I discuss them in detail in this lesson:
5. It’s not a yes/no question
Don’t be tempted just to say ‘Yes, I’m a student”. That’s wrong – it doesn’t really answer the whole question. You hold hear in your head a follow up question “Where do you study?” or “What are you studying?”. I explain this technique in more detail in this lesson:
6. Avoid using learned speaking phrases
It’s simply not appropriate to use phrases such as: “That’s a good question” or “Let me see”. It’s not a good question. It’s not even an interesting question. It’s a simple question that should be answered directly. If you want phrases here, I suggest “well” and “actually” can work.
If you haven’t watched it before, this is one of my old videos that may make you smile and also make you think a bit about the dangers of this language.
7. You’re not in full-time education and you don’t have a job
This is quite a common scenario for many IELTS candidates. What I suggest here is to say something like: “Neither actually. I finished university last year and I hope to get a job as a doctor in Australia soon.” ie You answer the question and give a short explanation.
8. You have a job and you’re studying for IELTS
This another common one. The trick is to explain the situation. In fact, this gives you the opportunity to use some really nice language:
- “take a year out”
- “be on a sabbatical”
- “for the time being”
Test yourself on some examples
Take a look at these examples and decide if you think the responses are appropriate or not:
Do you work or are you a student?
- I’m a student.
- I’m studying law at the moment. But I plan to go into marketing.
- I finished my studies last year.
- I’m a student. I’m studying economics at university. I should graduate next year and then I hope to find a job in finance.
- I’m an architect and have been one for the last 15 years. It’s a very fulfilling career which pays very well and it gives me a great deal of job satisfaction. I always wanted to be an architect when I grew up and I first joined my father’s practice when I graduated from university. I have been responsible for many projects and I’m currently working on designing a school in my home town. It’s a very interesting project….
- Well, actually I’m doing a postgraduate degree in cybernetics.
- Yes, I’m a student.
- Well, I’m not in work at the moment because I’m studying privately for the IELTS exam.
- I’m a pilot in the Kuwaiti airforce actually. Though I’m also studying English for the IELTS exam so I can go to flight school.
Follow up questions
Some of the most likely follow up questions are:
- Why did you choose that subject?
- What do you plan to do next?
- Do you enjoy it?
1. Get the tense right
If you are asked “Why did choose that subject?”. This is a past tense question, so it needs a past tense answer.
2. Vary your tenses
There are lots of ways to talk about the future, so don’t just use “will” if you are asked about your plans. Here are just a few of the options available to you:
3. Use some good education vocabulary accurately
If you check out my Education vocabulary page, you will find a handy list of education vocabulary with advice and some exercises on how to use it.
4. Beware of the Yes/No question
If you are asked “Do you enjoy it?” You should note that this is a yes/no question. It is wrong to answer only”Yes” or “No”. I suggest you try one of these options:
- why you enjoy it
- what you particularly enjoy about it
- how much you enjoy it
- that you both enjoy it and dislike it