Top Tips for IELTS

Understanding IELTS speaking – think real life situations

This lesson is an overview of the speaking test and looks at two ways of understanding it. One idea is that there is/should be a sense of progression throughout the test. The other is that IELTS speaking is not necessarily a “special” skill, but (perhaps with the exception of part 2) reflects real life spoken communication and one of the best ways of approaching the test is to try to use “natural” speaking skills as opposed to learn particular exam skills. Indeed, many of the strongest candidates do just this.


Overview – understand the rhythm of the test

IELTS, like many other speaking tests, has a particular rhythm. What I mean by this is that each part of the test is different and tests your speaking in a slightly different way. The candidates who are most likely to succeed are those that understand that rhythm and adapt their speaking as the test goes on. This means that they may approach each part of the test differently. In outline, the rhythm is this:

  • lots of short simple questions to make sure that you can communicate about basic social topics
  • an extended talk on a social topic and your views/memories on it
  • an interview with tougher questions to test how well you can think and speak at the same time
One point to note is that the tasks get more complex as the test goes on. You don’t want to waste all your mental energy on part 1. It helps if you “build into” the test.

Part 1

The real life situation – you’re meeting someone for the first time

This is the introduction part of the test and one way to think of it is that you are meeting someone for the first time in real life. What happens is that they ask you some questions about you to see what sort of a person you are. Are you their sort of person? Typically in real life is:

  1. You don’t give very short yes/no type answers – that’s rude. What you do is add some detail so that they understand a little more about you.
  2. You don’t give long answers either. That’s plain boring (and slightly anti-social) and no one likes a bore. So you don’t try to tell everything you know – that may come later in the relationship
  3. If you don’t have very much to say – you don’t say very much. You wait for a question where you have something to say
If you follow those real life guidelines, you shouldn’t go very far wrong in the exam.

Points to note

This is probably the point in the test when you are most tense. It’s also the easiest part of all IELTS. All that is happening is that you are being asked some simple questions about yourself. So

  • RELAX – get a simple question with a simple answer – give the simple answer. Now is not the time to try and show off with learned language. There’s plenty of time for that later. Rather, feel pleased that you have one question “done” – one down 17 to go!
  • Practise answering the questions (they are very predictable), but please do not learn answers. Trying to remember a learned answer does you no good – it will make you more tense and the examiner is unlikely to be impressed.
  • Remember eye contact matters in all parts of the test. In this part, you want to make as much eye contact as you feel comfortable with – there is a real benefit if you can look at the examiner as a friend you are talking to.
  • Don’t relax too much. First impressions count and the examiner is probably going to give you a “ballpark” score in part 1 – this means that when you do get a “good” question for you, then you need to show the examiner what you can do.

Part 2

The real life situation – you’re telling a story to a friend

This is the least natural part of the test and perhaps the one that has least contact with real life. There is one possible way to think of it – if you are a story-teller. You are with a friend and describing something that happened to you. The unusual part is that you need to talk for 2 minutes – longer than you would do in life. However, thinking of it like this can help you in the exam because:

  • the questions are always framed in terms of you – the task is to talk about what you know about – just as you would with a friend
  • this is not really a formal speech/presentation task where the examiner wants prepared language

Points to note

Fluency and coherence, pronunciation, grammar and vocab are measured throughout the test.

  • In this part, however, the key skills is almost certainly fluency and coherence. Try thinking of it as a story that maks sense and is interesting/relevant and you won’t go far wrong.
  • It really helps to maintain a comfortable level of eye contact here. The more you look away and/or look at your notes, the less natural your language is likely to become. Don’t speak at the examiner, speaker to him/her.

Part 3

Real life situation – the interview

This is the tough part of the test. The situation is that the examiner asks you questions that should make you think. In part 1, you should need no thinking time, in part 2 you get a minute to prepare yourself. Here you need to think on your feet – just like in an interview. The good news is this: you have been warming up for about 10 minutes before you get here by practising your speaking skills in parts 1 and 2.  A few general interview skills that can help you in this part are:

  • good interviewees normally don’t rush into an answer – they will often discuss the question first before giving their answer. This gives you time to think and make your answer coherent.
  • good interviewees will tend to summarise their answer when it is more complex/longer
  • good interviewees are unafraid of saying they don’t the answer – they will normally say why they don’t know, but they won’t tie themselves in knots by talking about something they have no idea about.

Points to note

  • At this stage, it really helps to remember that this is a language test and not an intelligence test. What you need to do is give a coherent answer in good English.
  • Listening to and focussing on the question are really important in this part. The question often gives you key words and structures – such as tenses. The question can help you form an answer.


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

Home page

Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

Keep up with me on Facebook - all the updates and even more advice there


Or just get all my free lessons by email

Subscribe to DC IELTS by Email

28 Responses to Understanding IELTS speaking – think real life situations

  1. Anonymous January 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    hi sir….
    great …topic great ideas………….!!!!!!!!!!
    u know i am waiting for ur task 1 lessons.thank uuuuuuuuuuu

  2. Jiss January 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    hi sir….
    good …topic, great ideas………….!!!!!!!!!!
    u know i am waiting for ur task 1 lessons.thank uuuuuuuuuuu

  3. Jiss January 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    hi sir, i tried to send u the comments……it was not going….n last line in my comment accidently happened. if possible please delete these comments…………thank u

    • malik ibraheem April 5, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

      sir tell me about speaking

  4. Ava January 21, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    hi, i am enjoying learning English itself as an laguage, a tool for sharing ideas, my problem is that i am always short of topic vocabulay, since it is true that i am afraid of part 2 topic, it would be a bad day if i am not familar with that topic that i dont have so much to say. so last 30th July, i have got 7 in speaking, while 3rd Dec unfortunately i only got 6.5. do you have any suggestion for me? Thanks a lot 🙂 Good day

  5. JISS January 23, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    hi sir….i am waiting for ur task 1 lessons……..thanks a lot for all ur lessons……jiss

  6. haitppt January 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Thank you for your useful lessons, Dominic

  7. Dinaz January 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    thanks – though i do well in speaking – yet the part where you tell us to pretend you are telling a story to your friend for 2 minutes is a great idea 😉

  8. shall January 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Found your advice on Part 1 v. useful as I don’t often concentrate on it as it seems a bit easy and obvious. Will remember about not being rude or a bore!

  9. vickey January 26, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    please can i get more lessons on reading since you only have a couple an i did them and please gve more tips and advice for reading i need a band score 7

  10. Alan De Maria January 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Couple of weeks ago I discovered your website and started to study for IELTS by following almost everything that you posted. My test was scheduled for 14/jan and I was doing whatever I could to understand your tips and get used to the test scheme as I never did English classes or IELTS oriented classes.

    So, I had been waiting these long 13 days to get the score and today I saw this:

    Listening: 8.0
    Reading: 9.0
    Writing: 7.0
    Speaking: 6.5
    Overall: 7.5

    A quick review on the marks: My speaking is my worst skill – I’m an autodidact and don’t have anyone to practice with – so I was expecting less than I got in this section. I did a great reading section as well as the listening. The writing was very hard – I’ve spent 30 mins in the task 1 and I’ve had to hurry in the task 2, in which I’m almost sure that I haven’t wrote 250 words. But it turned out I scored 7.
    In short, I was waiting for a 6, however I’ve managed to get overall 7.5!!

    I must thank you very much for your blog because it gave me useful advices and helped me to get confident to the test. I never could pay for classes so I’ve had to work a way out by myself and found this useful website. Thank you again!

    • Alan De Maria January 29, 2012 at 12:56 am #

      By the way, I’ve done the academic module.

      • yasir February 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

        alan de maria
        can u help me in writing and reading

      • Khocaly -26 february February 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

        hello Alan congrat. you 🙂
        i need your help can you give me some tips on reading section I cant get even 6 🙁
        my exam will be after 3 weeks waiting for ur reply thanks in advance)

    • gelly February 4, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      thanks for sharing your story Alan, it made me less terrified of the test.

    • Anonymous February 27, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Please add me on Skype I recently scored 7band but I want to practice Ielts speaking
      amandagillprofessional@ skype

      • Soha October 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

        Hi Amanda.

        I need to practice IELTS speaking and writing as well.

        i am sohakamel136 on sykpe. I will add u anyways.


    • Joy April 25, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      Wow, 9.0 for Reading and 8.0 for listening, how can you did it so well?

    • Milly August 7, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      Amazing result Alan De Maria.. How did you score 9 for Reading? I am trying hard to get my Reading and Writing component score higher. Can you give me some tips for this please 🙂

    • malik ibraheem April 5, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

      please help me you got outstanding bands in ielts .add me on facebook. muhammad ibraheem
      regard. .

    • malik ibraheem April 5, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

      please add me on f.b and skype . my skp i.d is malik.ibraheem72 i want to help about ielts.

    • parveen August 21, 2016 at 2:18 pm #


  11. HaseeJane February 18, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Dear sir:
    Hello ,teacher,I am a Chinese student ,here I have sth to discuss with you ,I publish a new forum(,it is all about English learning ,especially IELTS,so may I invite your honor to join into our forum,to help all our Chinese students?
    Best regards,
    Hasee Jane

  12. HOH March 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    thank you for your blog. Actually, i find it too useful. I am going to be ready for IELTS for the third time as I need four 7. Just I can say, I am really surprise about your blog. All your notes are my previous mistakes!

  13. zahra April 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    Hi Alan,
    Tonight I accidentaly found this site.i am going to prepare for Ielts.
    How long did it take you to preapare yourself for the exam?your result is amazing!
    Best wishes,

    • Soha October 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

      Hi Zahra,

      I am interested to practice IELTS speaking and wirting with somebody.

      Add me to skype or send me an e-mail

      sohakamel136 on Skype



  14. nana May 18, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Dear Dominic,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this wonderful website . I attended the academic module on 28 Apr for the first time & I got : L,8 R,8, S,7 W, 7 . I should admit that my greatest fear was writing which kept me away from the registration for almost 3 months. Though I was lucky enough to find your website just a month before my test . It indeed helped my writing enormously .
    Thanks again .

  15. Alan July 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Hello everyone, it’s a long time since my last visit to dcielts. I’m very pleased to see all the replies I got on my message. Thank you all for your kind words.

    Unfortunately I don’t have enough time to give some deep insights about the IELTS exam nor individual advices but, just to give you some quick tip, I would say finding your way to overcome your weakness is the most important aspect which can lead you to a good result on the exam. Don’t stick to all the plans and guides you read on the internet; instead, try to direct the pieces of information in a way that it can help you to develop your worst skill (and be honest when thinking about your skills). Work harder every day and the reward will come naturally. I’ve managed to get my score by studying almost 6 hours per day in a 2 week period. I’m sure you can do better.

    I know that studying sometimes can be quite boring but you have to think about the benefits. I would easily spend two or more weekends studying rather than going out with friends knowing that my efforts would worth in the future. For example, I needed a score above 6.5 in order to compete for an one-year scholarship to study in the UK, and now, five months later, I’ve got the scholarship and an acceptance letter from a British university.

    In short, be honest with yourselves, work hard and aim for your objectives. Good luck to all and thanks Dominic again for his helpful website.

Leave a Reply