Top Tips for IELTS

How to speak for 2 minutes in IELTS – using comparisons and contrasts

In this lesson I aim to show you one possible approach to help you speak for 2 minutes in IELTS speaking. The general idea is that expand on what you see on the prompt card by comparing and contrasting.The benefit is that if you get it right you can have almost twice as much to talk about.

The general idea – add detail by comparing contrasting

The prompt you are given asks you to talk about a topic using certain ideas. For example:

Talk about a holiday you have enjoyed say

  • where you went
  • who you went with
  • when it was

And why you enjoyed that holiday so much

Here you talk about one holiday but compare it with another one. This works particularly well when you get to “why you enjoyed it”. You should find it much easier to say more when you start:

I enjoyed this holiday more than that holiday because ….

How comparing and contrasting might help – two situations

This idea can help in at least two different situations.

The problem – you don’t have enough to say about that topic

A typical problem is that you just don’t have much to say. In your minute this is all you produce:

You went on holiday to Florence

Last year

You went by yourself 

The Uffizzi was brilliant – Michelangelo’s David

It’s actually quite hard to get to 2 minutes with that – particularly if you can’t remember much about the holiday.

Another problem – you’re just a bit reticent

If you’re reticent you just don’t like speaking much – even in your own language. I’ve had lots of students like this. their English is absolutely fine but they just like to say everything directly and then just stop. It isn’t natural; for them to “say more”. If that’s you this idea could really help.

See an example of how it can work

This is a possible long turn answer. I’ve expanded some very short notes into a long answer mostly by using comparisons and contrasts. You should note:

I stay on topic – even though I add detail by comparing

I am still following the prompt card.

I make my comparisons explicit – that is I tell the examiner what I am doing – this is great for coherence. Look at the bold words to show where and how often I compare and contrast

I’m going to tell you about the holiday I went on last year to Florence. I guess it’s the best holiday I’ve ever had – it’s certainly the most memorable trip I’ve made so far.

One way to explain this is to compare it with the holiday I went on the year before last – when I went to Ibiza. It was  quite a different experience at any rate. I suppose one of the biggest differences was that when I went to Florence I was travelling by myself but when I went to Ibiza I was with a large group of friends – it was our graduation trip after we finished uni. Some people may not like travelling alone and get lonely but actually I prefer my own company. It’s probably because I get to do exactly what I want. Certainly when I was in Florence I just pleased myself and spent all day at the art galleries if I wanted. But in contrast in Ibiza I ended up doing what the group wanted.

Then another reason I enjoyed Florence so much was that I got to spend so much time looking at art – it’s one of my great passions. I can’t remember all the great works of art I saw but Michelangelo’s David was magnificent – much better than the pictures. Again, I can perhaps explain this best by contrasting it with my holiday in Ibiza. There we seemed to spend the whole day on the beach and then went clubbing after dark. My friends seemed to enjoy it but I certainly didn’t. I’m not really into that scene.

How to make it work – use your one minute to make notes – ask yourself simple questions

I think the best way to use your minute if you want do this is to think of good comparisons you can make – ones that you have something to say about. You really just need to think of a similar experience/person/object and ask yourself what is different or what the same.

Your notes may be quite short – just enough for you too remember what to say. Single words can be good. You’re not trying to think of words here but ideas that you can talk about. To get the ideas just ask yourself Same? Different? Why?

It can also help to add question words to your notes to remind you to compare. Here I add words like “why” to remind and “how different” to remind me to compare the two holidays.

where I went – Florence – Ibiza – why?

when – last year – year before

who with By myself – with friends – why? how different?

why enjoyed – Art – beach – why? different?

Practice what notes work for you – sometimes brief words and questions can work best

How to make it work – explain to the examiner what you are doing

There are two related reasons why I suggest this – both are to do with coherence

Easier to understand

The first is that if you tell the examiner you are going to compare two holidays then it just makes your long-turn talk much easier to understand. If you don’t do this the examiner may get confused about what you’re saying – why are you suddenly talking  about Ibiza and not Florence? s/he may be expecting you to talk about just one holiday and not compare two.

The phrases I use in the example above are very clear:

One way to explain this is to compare it

Again, I can perhaps explain this best by contrasting it


You are easier to understand if you say what you are doing. If you’re going to compare something – say so

Better linking

If you tell the examiner you are going to compare then you’ll also start to make your comparisons more explicit and use better linking words and phrases. This is good for your score as how you structure and link is important. The words you use here can be easy – you just want to be clear. The ones I use above are

One of the biggest differences


But in contrast

Remember to link your ideas if you can – comparing words and phrases can help here

How to make it work – follow the prompts/cue card – don’t get confused

There are different approaches possible in the long turn. If you do decide to use comparisons/contrasts though my advice is to be a structured a possible and follow the points on the cue card in order. If you don’t your answer may become confused.

More connected lessons

One minute preparation time

Learning what to do in your one minute preparation time is something you should definitely practise. I suggest one idea but here are in fact many different things you can do. Read about them here and experiment a little:

How to use your one minute preparation time

Different approaches to speaking in the long turn

One idea in this lesson is that you may need to try different approaches to different questions. I talk you through some of the main possibilities in this lesson:

3 different ways to do IELTS part 2 speaking – a tourist attraction


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4 Responses to How to speak for 2 minutes in IELTS – using comparisons and contrasts

  1. RJ September 22, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    I often forget while speaking for part 2 and sometimes even in 1st and 2nd part
    I always forget to use vocabulary and connectors
    What can I do in it?
    Please help

    • Dominic Cole September 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      This is a good question and I’ll do a lesson on it – hopefully next week. Two thoughts for you:

      1. You need to learn to use your notes better – think about what you do in the one minute
      2. It helps to have language to explain your problem. You’re allowed to forget things – You just say to the examiner what is happening. It’s not perfect but it’s much better communication.

      TY for the comment

  2. RJ September 23, 2016 at 6:13 am #

    Thank you so much for your help

  3. Thuy October 16, 2016 at 4:44 am #

    Thanks for your post! It’s really helpful. I am the kind of person you mentioned. I don’t like talking in a long answer, just answering in a short way. I mean that I enioy answering directly and shortly, so I find it hard to speak in part 2. This post is really a treasure for me.
    Many thanks!

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