Top Tips for IELTS

How to use your one minute preparation time

Part 2 of the speaking is different because the examiner gives you 1 minute preparation time before you start speaking. What should you do in that time? This is an important question to ask as very often that 1 minute gets wasted and you lose the opportunity to improve your talk.

What do I suggest?

There is no one right answer here. There are different possibilities all of which can work.What is best for you depends on you as a person: how you like to speak and how your brain works. Here are some suggestions for you try.

Just experiment

Experiment and see what works best for you. It may well be that you will try a combination of ideas. You will find some practice questions at the end. Use them. Experiment and see.

Learn different techniques

This point is slightly different. Different questions set different problems so it may help you to learn different techniques. For example, it may be the story telling technique works best if you are asked to talk about an experience but thinking of ideas is best if you are asked to talk about an object.

Just think about what to talk about – choose between different answers/things

The idea

Sometimes candidates go wrong because they decide too quickly about what they are going to talk about. It’s often the case that the first thing you think of is not the thing you can talk most/best about. So instead of deciding immediately what to talk about, you sit and think of different things and then decide which one you can talk most about.

Does it work?


You may find you need to practise this one because you may end up with very few, if any, notes but that needn’t be a problem. When I watch people speaking in IELTS, they often don’t look at the notes they make!

Another way it can help you is that if you think about more than one thing you can mention both of those things in your answer. This works particularly well with questions that ask you to talk about “your favourite” or ask you “why you like it”. In these type of questions a useful technique is to compare the thing/experience you selected with another one.

Write down words to use

The idea

Vocabulary is obviously important in IELTS and so one thing to do is write down some words you want to use.

Does it work?

Don’t just think words. Think phrases and spoken language

It can do.  If you get the right sort of topic, you can sometimes brainstorm some good vocabulary. So if you get “Describe a musician” you could write “play an instrument” ” go to a concert” “concert hall” “be a virtuoso” “piece of music” “orchestra” etc. If you are going to do this, it’s probably best for a familiar topic for which you know you have lots of words/phrases.

If you do go for this technique, make sure that you can read the notes you make quickly – at a glance. The last thing you want to do is spend your speaking time trying to read your handwriting – that you make you speak less fluently.

Writing in bullet points is one sensible  idea as then you should be able to see the words more quickly. Another possibility is to use a sort of mind map picture.

Any problems?

Sadly, yes. How many words can you think of in a minute? When I do this with students in class, they often only get 2 or 3 words. Time wasted. Another very practical problem is that I find students often don’t use the words they have written down – they start talking and then forget those words/phrases. Again, time wasted.

Close your eyes and see a picture

The idea

A picture is worth 1000 words

This one sounds unusual but can work beautifully. The idea is you don’t write down many notes but you close your eyes, think of the question and try and see a picture. You look at the picture in your head carefully, seeing the details (eg the musician playing in the background) and then note down words and ideas for when you speak.

Does it work?

If you are a “visual” thinker, it can be superb. If you look at a picture, you see far more details and these details will give you interesting language to use. More words, perhaps, than if you just look at a blank piece of paper.

Any problems?

Not everyone likes it. It seems wrong to close your eyes in an exam. It also works best for experience type questions where you can see a memory. Some questions have no obvious picture that goes with them.


See my lesson on Describing a house where you can listen to a sample part 2 based on a picture

Write down ideas

The idea

This time you don’t write down words you want to use but ideas you want to talk about. These are notes so that you don’t forget what to say.

Does it work?

Undoubtedly. All you need to do is practise what types of notes you need and what types of notes are practical when you are speaking. This will depend from person to person. For some people, it is enough to write down a name “James”, others need to write more “James – bicycle – birthday”


Any problems?

Really the only problem is finding out what notes work for you in practice. In my experience, some of the most useful notes are to do with examples and not the main points.

Structure or story

The idea

Depending slightly on the cue card you get, you have 2 basic options for organising your talk. You can use a very structured approach (First I am going to talk about.. etc) or you can try a story telling approach. Both can work equally well.

Does it work?

Think about how you are going to speak not just what you are going to say

Very much so. It really does help to decide how you are going to speak and how much you have to say about each point. It isn’t always enough just to think about what you are going to say (words and ideas).

Any problems?

Yup. In my (considerable!) experience, some people are simply uncomfortable trying to tell a story and some are very uncomfortable giving a structured talk. This means that they have fewer possible options.

Write a sentence

The idea

You use your time to try and write 1 or maybe 2 sentences so that your ideas are clear and you have some words in your head before you start speaking.

Does it work?

For some people, yes. It makes you focus on the question and it gets you thinking. It also helps that you have something positive to do. A danger in the 1 minute is that you sit and look at the piece of paper and you get no words or ideas. Your mind is less likely to go blank if you need to write a sentence.

Any problems?

Writing and speaking are 2 different skills. You don’t need writtten language, you need spoken language. (Some of the worst advice I have seen says that you should try and use “one” instead of “you”.) It just seems wrong to spend time writing a sentence, when you are planning to speak.

Practice questions

Take a look at these part 2 questions. Practise different ways of using your minute.

Don’t just use 1 minute now – you are training yourself first, remember. I suggest you start with 2/3 minutes and then try and do it more quickly each time until you can do it in 1 minute.

A childhood friend

Describe a friend you had when you were a child

You should say:

  • how you first met
  • how long you were friends
  • what you used to do together

and explain why you liked this person.

A garden

Describe a garden you remember visiting.

You should say:

  • where it is
  • what it looks like
  • what people do there

and explain why you remember it.


Describe your favourite item of clothing.

You should say:

  • what it is
  • when you bought it
  • why you bought it

and say why you like it so much.

More detailed advice

If you’re looking for some more detailed advice you can try these lessons:

Deciding what to talk about in part 2 speakinga discussion of how it can help to spend time making sure that you have chosen the right thing to talk about

Seeing a picture sample lesson: this is a favourite technique of mine. You use a picture (in your head)  to see detail that you may otherwise not mention



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16 Responses to How to use your one minute preparation time

  1. lasam o August 15, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    The scripts are informing hence, are very helpful thank you.

  2. meme September 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    its helpful

    thnQ V. much

  3. Lwin March 29, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Thanks a lot ! I used to be afraid of that.

  4. Pranay October 12, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    Thanks for wonderful advice. Visualizing a picture is the best method for me.

  5. Anjali Sharma November 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    How can I get myself assessed for writing and speaking test. I have my exam on 22nd Nov and need to gain some more confidence

  6. Anjali Sharma November 6, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Can I refer to my notes while speaking

    • Dominic Cole November 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      Yes you can. A good question. You need to make notes that you can use – i.e. make sure you can read what you have written

      • Chelo August 17, 2016 at 12:00 am #

        Hi, is it ok if I look at my notes all the time? I know that we can have a quick look while answering but by doing it all the time are we going to loose marks?

        Thanks for the answer.

        • Dominic Cole August 23, 2016 at 11:01 am #

          You don’t want to be looking down at your notes all the time – that is almost certainly going to interfere with your fluency. One thing you need to practise is how to make notes that are immediately clear at a quick glance – bullet points and that sort of thing

  7. Nikita September 29, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Close your eyes and see a picture >>This technique is awesome.

  8. Wayan Darya January 25, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    Dear Mr. Dominic,

    I would like to thank you for providing this helpful IELTS tips and study materials. I learned a lot from the website. I recently managed to get an overall band 7 (L7 R7 W6,5 S6,5), and with that score I was accepted to a study for master degree in the US 🙂
    Once again, thank you very much.



    • vaishnavi March 13, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

      hiiiiii I am looking for how to make notes in one minute ,,,,can you tell me how to make note on cue card ….please tell me some bullet points and word for making notes ……as soon as can be possible

  9. Kadir February 14, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks A Lot 🙂 I am sure that these tips will help me 🙂

  10. Ishar May 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm #

    How I shoot up my speaking skills for task 2? I have a lot of problems


  1. IELTS Speaking Test: Sample Questions Part 2 - May 22, 2016

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