Top Tips for IELTS

Tips on work/study questions in part 1 speaking

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.

IELTS examiners are your friends – talk to them personally

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:

How to extend answers in part 1 speaking

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:

Using questions to expand your answer in IELTS speaking

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”
  • “currently”
  • “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:

  1. Why did you choose that subject?
  2. What do you plan to do next?
  3. 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


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

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Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

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14 Responses to Tips on work/study questions in part 1 speaking

  1. Djamila December 1, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    This lesson was really grateful.
    I am improving ways to develop in my speaking exam.
    Thanks a lot for your helping.

  2. m3oda July 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    hello Mr.Cole
    I saw an ielts speaking exam sample in part two, will I receive any information after the topic that i am asked to speak about
    for instance :
    describe a city which you have visited and it has impressed you
    you should say
    – where is it situated
    – why you visited it
    – what you like about it
    in my real exam am I going to have tips like those three
    thank you and sorry for disturbing

    • Ervin August 22, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

      Yes. You should hire a tutor before entering the exam…

  3. m3oda July 25, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    hello Mr.Cole
    I saw an ielts speaking exam sample in part two, will I receive any information after the topic that i am asked to speak about
    for instance :
    describe a city which you have visited and it has impressed you
    you should say
    – where is it situated
    – why you visited it
    – what you like about it
    in my real exam am I going to have tips like those three ?
    thank you and sorry for disturbing

    • Gurpreet October 23, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

      Very easy..?

  4. Anonymous August 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    yes you are. in fact there will be four and its always W/H questions. u know why, how , when what etc
    best of luck

  5. tajin September 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Hello Mr. Cole,
    I am siting for ielts exam for a while. And i feel content problem with part 1 regular question.Such as
    1) Tell me about your home town?
    2) How have your hometown has been changed over the years.
    3) What are you studying?
    4) What aspects of your course you like the most?
    5)Do many students form you hometown study this course. Why?

    I am from New Delhi, and i was a IT student in Deakin Uni. I have also done Ielts aspire 8 course from Monash University. As these are short question and been asked by examiners regularly, I believe having a perfect content on these will be helpful.

    Thanks in Advance.

  6. jimmy June 26, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    Hi Dominic
    thank you so much for your efforts. just got a question that do you have any post regarding the past tense variable vocabulary{just like you described a future one}.
    it would be great if we have more past tense words instead of repeating the same ”i used to do this” ”i used to do that”

  7. Rachel April 21, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    I want to get an 8 / 8.5 band in speaking , LRW . Pls give me s0ome tips.

  8. ali jassam July 14, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    hi there
    I’m weak in speaking part
    can any one help me??

  9. Gurpreet October 23, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    Talk about a incident when child make you laugh?

    Plz tell me situation friends

  10. M.ismail khan January 19, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    i need 6.5 band if i use simple words instead of using difficult vocabulary so did they will give me 6.5 or not

    • Dominic Cole September 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

      A late reply sorry.

      You don’t need complex vocabulary to answer questions well in IELTS speaking. It helps to use some precise topic vocabulary but simple language can take you a long way.

  11. Dipesh patel April 16, 2017 at 4:19 am #

    I want achieve 5.5 in speaking….
    What can i do??

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