IELTS speaking tips

 

1. Learn how IELTS speaking is scored

This only makes sense. IELTS speaking is scored according to strict grading criteria and if you want to impress the examiner, you need to know what the examiner wants! In brief, pronunciation, fluency and coherence, grammar and vocabulary all count for 25%. To get more details about what each of these criteria mean, visit my page on this:

Speaking scores explained 

2. Before the exam – practice – and listen

Following on from the previous advice, you need to practice before the exam to make sure that the appropriate skills are automatic. The very best practice is to listen and then speak – language learning is about repetition. If you don’t have anyone to practise with try here:

3. Understand what you will be asked about – everyday ideas

Typically you will be asked to talk about everyday topics and ideas. As the test goes on though the questions do become harder and more theoretical. One simple suggestion is to just to look at the types of questions you will get. You may be surprised at how easy the questions are! IELTS speaking is not an academic test at all – it’s just a test go your language. Sometimes people can go wrong because they treat it like an intelligence test and forget to use good English.

4. Use natural spoken English

The best form of English to use in the test is natural spoken English. This will help you to speak more fluently and improve your pronunciation. Here are some examples of what works:

short forms like it’s and not it is

 words like quite that we use a lot in speaking

common spoken phrases like I guess and I suppose

The best way to learn this type of language is often to listen to native speakers. If you don’t have a native speaker to listen to, I suggest you visit my collection of sample questions where you will find recording and transcripts of my answers. Look at the sort of language I use and try and borrow it for yourself. To help you I have highlighted the sort of language you need:

model questions with answers and highlighted language

5. Extend your answer 

If there is one key piece of advice, it is to extend your answer appropriately. For example, this is inappropriate:
Question:” How many languages do you speak?”
Answer: “Two. Chinese and English.”
Better would be:
Answer: “I speak two languages. My first language is Chinese and I speak English too. I’ve been learning English since I was 10. I started learning it when I was in primary school.”
Be aware, however, that very long answers are not always a good idea. It is possible that you will go off topic and lose coherence.

6. Sometimes give short answers too!

Not all IELTS speaking questions are equal. For some you may have more to say about and some less. That is only natural. If you get a question that you don’t know very much about do NOT try and talk and talk about it. If you do you will probably become incoherent. Much much better is just to give a shortish answer saying that you don’t know very much about that and then wait for the next question – there’s always another question.

Naturally you can’t do this all the time and in part 2 you do need to keep speaking for at least one and a half minutes.

7. Give yourself time to think – repeat/reformulate the question

In parts 1 and 3 you are not given any thinking time: you are supposed to start speaking immediately. This does not mean, however, that you need to start answering the question straight away. What you can do is start by repeating/reformulating or commenting on the question:
“What did I enjoy doing as a child? Let me see…”
“That’s not something I’ve thought about before. It’s an interesting question.’
This has several benefits. It is good communication. It allows you a little time to think. It should also make you answer the question and not the general topic.

8. Correct yourself – if you can do it immediately

If you make a mistake and you can correct it immediately, do so. This will show the examiner that you have control over the language. If, however, you are unsure how to correct yourself, move on: the examiner may not have noticed the mistake in the first place and if you try unsuccessfully to correct it, a small mistake may become a much bigger one.

9. If you don’t understand the question – ask

This is a speaking test and not a listening test. If you don’t understand the question, ask the examiner to repeat or explain it – you should not be penalised for this. If you try to answer a question you do not understand, you will almost certainly become incoherent.

10. Learn to use a range of functional vocabulary such as opinion language

One thing that you will do a lot in the test is give opinions and talk about what you like and dislike. The examiner will be listening to see whether you can say I think and I like in different ways. This can be a tough skill to learn as you may need to learn new speaking habits.

helpful language for opinions

11. Discover the best way to use your preparation time in part 2

The one scary part of the test is likely to be part 2 where you need to speak for up to 2 minutes. This is a slightly unusual task and you want to use your preparation time well to help you spek enough. There are a variety of different ways you can use this time and the best advice is to find one that suits you. Try some of these ideas and work out which one or ones work best for you:

5 different ways to use your preparation time

12. Listen to  the grammar in the question

The best advice for IELTS speaking is very simply to listen to the question and answer it. The reason for this is for this is the one time you are face to face with the examiner and nerves are a sigificant problem. If you are trying to remember complex advice, you are likely to become more nervous and not perform to your best. Keep it simple.
One example here is in part 1. If you here a question in the past tense:
 “What sports did you play as a child?”
A good answer will use the past tense – the examiner will be listening for this.

13. Don’t worry too much about using clever language – think fluency

When we speak a language we don’t have much time to choose our words and that means that we often use far fewer words when we speak than when we write. In IELTS speaking candidates sometimes go wrong because they try and use “clever” words that they think will impress the examiner. This can be a mistake for a couple of reasons:

the words may in fact be wrong!

if you spend too much time trying to think of words your fluency may suffer

14. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself – think coherence – the “as I was saying” trick

Part of your score in speaking is fluency and coherence. One way to make yourself more coherent is in fact to repeat yourself. This is something professional speakers do a lot. They say something once and then they say it again. The one trick is not use the sam words both times!. A practical suggestion is to think about finishing your speech by referring back to something you have already said. A key phrase here may be

As I was saying/As I said before 

If you use this it helps show the examiner that you are linking your ideas together and that in fact is what coherence is!

Get a full lesson on coherence

15. Speak about what you know and what you think

This perhaps should be point number one. One of the best ways to impress an examiner is to talk personally about what you think and what you know. Examiners just HATE answers that they think are learnt. In contrast, if you talk about something that you know about then they will be much more interested in what you say.

16. Give examples

If you are the sort of person who finds it difficult to explain things or tends to give short answers, then it may help you to try and give examples. Examples are great for explaining ideas and it is much easier to say for example than because. If you give an example, you are just describing something you know about and that takes very little mental effort. If though you say because that is much harder as you now need to think! Be easy on yourself.

17. Think about detail – that’s interesting and good for your vocabulary

Another way to learn to say more is just to add detail. You should remember that this is a language test and there more language you use the better. That means if you are asked a question such as

When did you first start to learn English?

The smart thing to do is give detail about when.

I first started to learn English when I was in primary school. We had around 4 classes a week with our form teacher and sometimes a native speaker came to help her out and talk to us in English. It was quite funny because we didn’t understand a word he said. At first I hated it because my teacher was very strict and forced us to write in English every day.

Why does this work? Well if you can give an answer like that you get to use interesting language such as “native speaker” “help out”. You can only do this if you add detail.

18. Make eye contact

A large part of communication is non-verbal. You are marked by the examiner in the room and you should do everything you can to show that person that you are a good communicator. If you do not make eye contact with the examiner, s/he is probably going to be less impressed with your performance.

19. Immediately before the exam – speak English

The problem for many people is not speaking English, rather it is moving from their own language into English. The advice here is plain: make certain that you are already speaking English before you go into the exam.

20. Do not relax too much – it’s not a conversation

This is an exam and you need to show the best side of your spoken English. If you relax too much and become too conversational, your English may suffer. You need to recognise that this is not a true dialogue between two people: it is more of an interview with one person speaking and the other listening.
In a conversation the speaking conventions are quite different: you expect the other person to share 50% of the talk time and to react to your comments, typically one person will not speak for any length of time.

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42 Responses to IELTS speaking tips

  1. Jon Dunn May 5, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    I agree with all that you say Dominic. I would suggest students record sample answers on their mobile phones and listen back to them. It amazes me that students have often never listened to themselves speak.

    For part one of the speaking the students can predict the questions. They will probably be asked about their home town so be prepared to talk about it. It is no good saying it is boring or small, or if you are asked about what you do in your free time don’t say ‘nothing’. Practice these types of questions using your mobile phone voice recorder – but never memorise an answer.

    • m sulman August 22, 2011 at 8:09 am #

      i want to get speaking tips

  2. Mike May 11, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    In writing, it is a mark against you if you use the question in your answer, but in speaking, I’ve been told that it’s good to use some vocabulary from the question. Please comment on this, Dominic.

    ~ Mike

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole November 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

      The mistake is to directly copy the question in your writing. The trick here is to rephrase it in your own words – to show your range of expression. In the speaking, the rules are somewhat different. I do train my students to consider repeating the question at the beginning:

      It’s something native speakers do

      to buy time with tricky questions

      to make sure they are going to talk about the right question

      This is acceptable to me as speaking is a real-time activity where you do not always have time to pick and choose your words. However, it’s not a trick you can always play as you would bore the examiner, if you did it every time. So save it for tricky/substantive questions. Also, if you can, rephrase the question, rather than repeat it.

  3. fion May 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    I completely agree with the stuff on this site. Actually I was just trying to get an update on typical speaking test questions. I am prooofreading a textbook right now which is lousy with ‘what’s your favourite season’ and ‘ how many seasons are there in your country’ etc type questions. I am in Japan, and I have spent years trying to get my students away from this ‘Japan has four seasons ‘ nonsense, maybe one of the most boring sentences ever uttered in English. Can I assume that (please’!) they will not be asked that question on IELTS, and maybe it is just Japanese English teachers encouraging the students to be very boring? I cannot believe that parrotting off ‘Japan has four seasons’ will or should get them a good grade on IELTS. brgs fion>

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole November 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

      Quite right. Parrotted answers are highly dangerous – if only because IELTS examiners hate them – you want the examiner on your side.

  4. Rose September 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Thank you for these helpful tips

  5. Dolly October 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    I notice that i could get high scores in speaking when the interviewer is a male but if the interviewer is female they give very low scores.. Even i knew I was well prepared and answered every questions fluently since I do believed that I have no priblems with speaking english language for I have been leaving here in England for four years.. It is just mad that some examiners are pathetic!

  6. NEGAR November 6, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Thank you

  7. Fatih Mehmet December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    All the those things are very beneficial, I think and also I used these tips in the exam and I get 7.5 over 9 I totally agree with Dominic.

    Turkish version: Arkadaslar yalan bu puf noktalar iki bucuk aldim amk adam sallamis ya yazarken bunlari.. neymis efendim yok rahat olacakmissin ama cokta rahat olmayacakmissin falan siktir edin ya bunlari.. Dominic’in taa ebesini ziksinler emi..

  8. iTechGiz December 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    You have explained it very precisely and briefly, that’s all the best speaking tip for IELTS, cheers

  9. arslan January 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    many thanks for these useful tips. I want to share my problem here. I have already appeared in ielts test and i got 5.5 in speaking but overall 6.5. The main problem with me is that i become nervous in front of examinar. 2nd thing is that i have no friend in my surrounding to practice english. How can i practice alone? Reply plz

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole January 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      I know what you mean by being nervous. I used to work as an examiner for a different set of exams and it was easy to see that some candidates were jsut very nervous and underperformed. But as an examiner you can only mark what you hear!

      Have you looked at my post on this? It is possible to practise speaking by yourself. An alternative would be to “advertise” on the FB for a speaking partner.

      • Anonymous January 31, 2014 at 3:12 am #

        excellent

  10. sarab February 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    awesome it help me

  11. riya August 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    i want to get 7 band in ielts….but my english is not good….plz send helpful tips….

    • Anonymous December 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

      tend to practice listening first and focus to understand what they are saying.

    • karnesh January 5, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

      congratulation…
      I am new user. but this help me a lot and i say to all in IELTS exam not only important learning skill but also require LUCK ..i believe and can you tell me which latter (upper or smaller) do you given answer in listening and reading section . moreover which book use for learning speaking part one or two. please if you possible give me suggestion !!!……………..thank you ..(karnesh patel)

  12. chinnu September 12, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    brilliant, nice work ….

  13. Niraj Karki October 15, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    Hey,
    I really love the tips and techniques what you have put in this site i.e. Listening,Writing,Reading and obiously Speaking.The less the best,everthing is simple to understand and helped me before of my exam practice.Thanks to you,Dominic…Hats off!!

    Nepal

  14. Almira November 7, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    Mr. Cole, please advise me, all teachers say to do not learn answers but I think that it would be better to look through the topics and not to learn but just to have some ideas about these topics to be familiar with them. My speaking is good but it depends on a topic… There are questions that I can not imagine how to answer. So should I prepare some ideas before the exam? or is it really dangerous?

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole February 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

      Prepare by practising topics by all means – that only makes sense. The thing to avoid is to “memorise”. Examiners can almost always tell and it probably puts you under more pressure when you try to remember what to say.

  15. Anonymous December 14, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    I got 8.5 in speaking but only 6 in writing :(( . Your blog is extremely useful, I have recommended it to many of my friends. Had I known it earlier, I would have scored more than 7. Waiting for the next chance.

  16. Anonymous December 14, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Your blog is extremely useful. I love it, I have recommended it to many of my friends. Had I known it earlier, my score would have been more than 7. I got 8.5 in speaking but only 6 in writing. Anyway, looking for the next chance.

  17. yesudas thomas February 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    very useful. I want to know what is memorising in writing?What is penalty?

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole February 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

      Not sure if this answers your question. Memorising someone else’s answer is simply a form of cheating! That’s one good reason not to do it. Another is that the answers you learn may not answer the question in front of you – only be similar to it. That’s a big problem.

      • yesudas thomas February 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

        Thank you….I have two more questions.Shall we use contemporary English in writing or we should be more formal? What is under length in writing?

        • Avatar of Dominic Cole
          Dominic Cole February 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

          I will be writing about exactly this a lot in the next few months – the answer is that you should aim for “plain English”. This is roughly English that is clear and not too formal or too informal.

          Under length is 149 words and 249 words. At least means at least.

  18. Stan February 27, 2013 at 1:11 am #

    Your post offers established helpful to me.

    It’s very informative and you’re simply certainly quite well-informed in this region. You have opened my own eyes to numerous thoughts about this subject together with intriguing and solid content material.

  19. amal March 1, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

    Hiii sir,,
    Great tips,,i appeared idp ielts on dec 15,2012 and i got 7 for 3 modeules except for speaking, i only got 6. What should i do??i defnitely can speak,but i am unable to do it during speaking sessions… any tips for reducing tension????

    my skipe id is amu.j2,,,,,,my e mail id…2007amu@gmail.com

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole March 2, 2013 at 7:20 am #

      Hi
      As it happens I am writing something on this even today. Provided my internet connection behaves, it should be out very soon. The tips are fairly general and for exams. I will try and add some more detail in for the speaking for you.

    • mohammed muhib February 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

      i want to some conecting word.and need some useful sentence

  20. Christoper June 2, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    What’s up to all, it’s really a good for me to visit this website, it consists of helpful Information.

  21. Obiwankenobi September 6, 2013 at 2:49 am #

    Hi , great post. I gave my speaking today . I handled the first and the last last section very comfortably and fluently . In the second one , I ran out of ideas and paused for a moment . After being ushered on by the examiner , I continued and was able to talk till she interrupted me later . Will this affect my scores badly ? I really hope I get at least a 7 if not a 7.5 .

  22. mohim September 13, 2013 at 12:04 am #

    i m mohim. how can i get in 7.00 points. wihthin 2 months.

  23. Ravi October 28, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I think with the help of all the tips covered by Dominic my score became R:8 W:8 L:7.5 S:8 :)
    Thanks dom.

    regards,
    Ravi Sonar

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  25. mohammed muhib February 21, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    my exam at 15th march.give me some trips

  26. mohammed muhib February 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    thanks if you sent me some useful sentence it will helpful for me.
    my email:m

  27. Nida Malik April 11, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    I want to prepare for IELTS exam from Pakistan do you have any partner institutes here?
    Is Pacans good for IELTS preparation or not

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole April 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      Sorry I have no idea about Pacans and I cannot help you with any preparation institute.

  28. Kemaru August 3, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    Thanks for your speaking advices. I’m so upset right now after scoring 6.5 in speaking twice…..My first speaking score 3 years ago was 8.5 and then my second time which was just a couple of months ago was 8 without putting any effort into it…..I thought I just needed to speak naturally and fluently as I came to Australia when I was 13 and been staying here for more than 8 years… When I speak to Aussie they always compliment on my communication skill and most of them do not know that I was born overseas. Before failing twice recently, I had been always proud of my speaking skill so I never really prepared anything before the exams until failure hit me twice consecutively….I just lost hope in everything I don’t know whether the marking system is unfair or there’s something wrong with my language. Please advise me what I should do…..do I need to get help from a tutor? if yes please suggest me one who lives in Perth.
    Thanks

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