Top Tips for IELTS

Making your answers personal in long turn speaking

The idea behind this lesson is to make you think about how you approach task 2 – the long turn – in speaking. The question invariably asks you to be personal and the idea is that you learn to speak about your own experiences. If you can learn to do this, then

  1. you answer the question directly – that’s a good thing!
  2. you should find you have more things to say even about some harder topics – a common problem
  3. you get to use a wider range of vocabulary – spoken vocabulary

In each case the idea is to make it personal. You will also find a great online resource and two practice suggestions below.

 Understanding the personal element

One way in which it is possible to go wrong on this task is to treat it too much like a speech/presentation or even a lecture. While it is possible to give a structured answer rather than just tell a story, the general idea is that you are talking to someone (the examiner) about things/places experiences you know and about how you feel about them. Look at these sample tasks below. They are some of the harder tasks I could find. A point to note though is that they all have something in common – they all ask you to talk about things you liked, experienced or are interested in etc

Some harder tasks

Describe a foreign culture that you are interested in. You should say:

  •    what this culture is
  •    what you know about this culture
  •    how you learned about this culture

and explain why you feel this culture is interesting.

Describe an unforgettable advertisement. You should say:

  •    where you saw or heard it
  •    what kind of advertisement it was
  •    what product or service was advertised

and explain why you liked it

Describe a wild animal from your country.  You should say:

  •  what it looks like
  •  where you can see it
  • how often you see it

and explain how you feel about this animal.

Being personal – thinking about the detail questions – asking yourself more questions

If you examine all the questions above, they have something in common: they all ask you to talk about detail – the “what”,” when”, “where” type questions on the cue card. It would be possible to answer these questions very briefly: eg

I saw it on the television

It earned about it in school

This is a missed opportunity. These detail questions should allow you to say more. What you need to do is practise adding detail that is not asked for on the card but relates to the question. In the speaking task, you have much more freedom in adding in this kind of detail that is not explicitly asked for in the question. So you could say:

I can’t exactly remember but I guess I first saw it on television about 3 months ago. It was one of those ads that got shown all the time and it seemed to be on whenever you turned the tv on.

By adding detail and adding my own thoughts and memories I get to use some excellent vocab. The words I have highlighted in blue may seem simple, but this is the sort of language that makes for good spoken communication. It’s not always the case that it is topic words like “commercial break” that impress most.

The tip to do this is to ask yourself more questions and to make those questions personal to you.So in the example above I simply added “How often did I see it?” and I find I have more to say.

Being personal – the reason why question and being interesting

Nearly all task 2 speaking questions have a final question at the end that says something similar to “Explain why you“.  Most of the time this is your chance to expand your answer and give an interesting answer. The idea is that you give personal opinions here about what you think/believe. Something to think about here is that the more personal you make your reasons and the more you explain your reasons, the more interesting your answer becomes.If, for instance, I start with a general impersonal statement, it’s quite hard to carry on and I don’t say anything interesting:

The Giant Panda is a symbol of China and so it is very important

If, though, I concentrate on the personal opinion part then there are more things to say:

I know that the Giant Panda is a symbol of China, but it’s not that relevant to me. As I’ve said I’ve only ever seen one in a zoo and that was through a crowd of people and I didn’t see that much. In fact, I felt rather sad when I saw it. It was just sitting there chomping some bamboo leaves and it didn’t really feel right. In my heart, I would like for it to be returned to the wild – into its natural habitat. Though I suppose if that happened it may die out and become extinct…

What you should see about the bits I’ve highlighted in blue is that:

  1. how much I use “I” – that’s quite normal in speech
  2. I change my opinion vocab – a common problem is to go “I think” “I think”
  3. I use detail to explain why I think – in particular I use examples to expand what I say -examples give you good vocab and are normally easier to say in real time than more complex explanations

The tip here is when you explain why you say what you personally think, you vary your language and you give examples to help explain why

Practice suggestion 1 — check your camera or just look around you

This can take time to get right. What I do not suggest you do is go off and try and find model speaking answers or even model vocab to learn. That for me does not work. If you do that, you may well end up not being personal. If you do look at model answers, see how they use personal experiences to expand what they say. Then find your own experiences.

What do I suggest? Go to your iPhone or wherever you keep your photos. Don’t describe the pictures (though that may help), rather try to remember:

where you were when the pictures were taken,

what was the weather like,

who was with you,

why did you take that photo

The idea is that task 2 long turn speaking asks you to talk about memories and experiences. If you give yourself some help by looking at pictures when you are training, then it is much easier in the exam itself. I’d add that it does help in the exam to try and “see pictures” in your head.

Practice suggestion 2 – make your own questions – understand how they work

To understand how the questions work, it can make sense to write out your own cue cards. This makes you think about the detail questions and the opinion questions. The idea here is that if you have made the question yourself, you are more likely to answer it! The model is roughly

Talk about _________________ you _____. You should say





And you should also explain why

Where to go next – the best IELTS speaking resource on the net

For me, easily the best IELTS speaking is to be found at – it is one of those sites run by an ex- IELTS examiner and can he can give you areal insight in how to approach all parts of the speaking. There are a lot of good things to find there in addition to the sample questions – he is particularly good on how to approach the different parts of the test – something that tricks many.



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One Response to Making your answers personal in long turn speaking

  1. Quan July 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    I’ve been following your website for long time. It’s really helpful.
    Thank you for your lessons

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