Are you thinking of taking the IELTS exam but have a ton of questions? How long should my answer be? Can I ask the examiner questions? I've put together a list of the questions that tend to come up most often. Even if you haven't asked these questions you will probably find the answers useful.
1. How long should my answer be for speaking part one?
There is no specific time for speaking part one, however, a one word answer simply won't cut it so avoid simple answers like ‘yes' or ‘no'. Rather aim to answer and give an interesting detail, for example:
- Examiner: Do you eat out often?
- Student: Yes, I am not a big fan of cooking so I eat out a couple times a week.
2. What should I do in my one minute to prepare for speaking part two?
One minute is not much time at all, if you misuse it you might find the next two minutes incredibly difficult.
Start by deciding what you’re going to describe, don't waste your time trying to choose the best possible topic—rather settle on a topic that is easy to talk about and use your time to focus on vocabulary.
Describe something healthy that you enjoy doing.
You should say:
- When you do it
- Where you do it
- Who you do it with
- and explain why you think doing this is healthy
For this example, let's use yoga.
Next, think of something to say for each question on the cue card and jot down key words.
- When: every morning
- Where: gym
- Who: class of about 10/ instructor
- Why: used to have back ache/ lowers stress
If you still have time left you should try to focus on descriptive language, particularly adjectives to describe the points you have already noted.
When: Every morning - difficult waking up/ fantastic start
Where: Gym- cheap/ convenient
Who: Class of about 10/ instructor - intimate/ sensitive and helpful
Why: Used to have back ache/lowers stress - relaxing/ feel better
When you answer you don’t have to give heaps of information for each question. I suggest answering the question and adding a descriptive detail; two to four sentences per point is sufficient.
I'd like to tell you about my yoga practice. I suppose yoga is becoming pretty popular nowadays but having tried it myself for just over a year, I think there's definitely a good reason for it.
I usually attend yoga classes four times a week. I like to go first thing in the morning and although it's rather difficult to get up, especially in winter it is a fantastic start to the morning. I had always wanted to try out yoga but I found many of the studios to be a little too expensive. I was also a bit put off as I was not in anyway flexible. Then about a year ago I found out that classes were being offered by my local gym so I decided to give it a go as it was pretty cheap and convenient.
There are usually not more than ten of us in class, so it's rather intimate and small which suits me perfectly. I think part of the reason why I decided to stick it out is the instructor is also absolutely lovely. She's pretty helpful when it comes to giving feedback but understanding enough not to expect perfection in every session.
Before I started practicing I used to suffer from backache, probably from spending too much time in front of the computer but yoga has been incredibly useful in remedying it. It's also very relaxing, I can't recommend it enough for anyone who is stressed or struggling with stiffness.
3. Should I stop speaking on my own or should I wait for the examiner to interrupt me?
I've read a lot of conflicting advice on this point, and tend to think it’s better to stop speaking on your own. The way I see it is nobody likes to get interrupted, do they? I certainly don't. It tends to make you feel a bit silly and lose confidence. Another disadvantage is that it doesn't really afford you the opportunity to conclude and tie your argument together. Work on practicing your speaking, particularly part two, to get an idea of how to best structure your answers so you can finish confidently and succinctly.
4. Do I need to speak for the full two minutes for speaking part two?
No. In fact, a good answer can be anywhere between 90 seconds and two minutes long.
5. There are usually four questions in a cue card. Should I mention all of them?
Yes, try to include all four questions but put greater emphasis on the final question. Of course, if you give a really good answer and skip one of the questions it won't count against you, but following the questions will help you organize and structure your answer more coherently.
6. What if I don't know vocabulary related to the topic?
IELTS speaking topics can vary from simple topics like hobbies, which most of us are used to talking about, to more complex topics such as art or the environment. Leading up to the test it is a good idea to get acquainted with vocabulary related to difficult topics but you might not get around to all of them.
If you end up getting a topic you are completely unfamiliar with try explaining what something is, rather than struggling and fumbling as you try to remember the exact terminology. For instance, if you are talking about animals and you forget the term ‘endangered species' explain it in another way, maybe something like; animals who could become extinct or animals who have a very low population.
Strangely enough, sometimes we know the antonym of a word but don't remember the word itself. For example, perhaps you want to say ‘affordable' and the word escapes you completely, try thinking of the opposite of that word - expensive, so you could use ‘not expensive' instead.
Sometimes, even when we are accustomed to talking about certain topics we forget words in the moment of speaking (Frustrating, right?). In such a case you may want to use fillers to keep your speech flowing and buy some time. Some phrases I like are; Sorry the word is on the tip of my tongue, Excuse me I've lost my train of thought, Sorry I've gone blank, Sorry I’ve completely forgotten the word. Then, you certainly want to keep going to use an expression like; ‘Let me continue’, or ‘To rephrase’, and move on.
7. How much thinking time do I have in part three?
Unfortunately none. There are some time fillers you can use to buy a bit of time though.
Some examples are:
- Wow, I’ve never thought of that before
- That’s an interesting question
- I don’t have much knowledge of this subject, but I think…
- I'm not really sure, but if I had to say
8. How long should I speak for in speaking part three?
Although there’s no set time here you want to strive for an answer that’s not too long nor too short. I’ve read a couple of blogs suggesting students speak until the examiner interrupts them, I would not recommend this at all. Again it would be awkward and perhaps knock your confidence. Much like your writing task two, you could follow the AREA structure.
- A- Answer,
- A- Alternative
By following this structure your answer should be well-rounded enough. Be careful not to try and lengthen your answer by repeating ideas as this will take away from your fluency.
9. How are IELTS speaking scores calculated?
The examiner will focus on four key areas:
- The fluency of your speaking
- The range and accuracy of your vocabulary
- The range and accuracy of your grammar
- Your pronunciation.
10. Will I get a poor score for my native accent?
No, while pronunciation influences your score, your accent doesn’t as long as it is clear.
11. Should I correct any mistakes I make in my speaking?
Definitely. Many students think that correcting their mistakes will draw attention to them when the truth is that the examiner will probably notice them anyway. It's perfectly fine to correct yourself, most of us do it even in our native languages, but don't linger on corrections or get stuck. Correct yourself and move on.
12. Will asking the examiner to repeat lower my score?
Not necessarily. Even in our native languages we often mishear or simply don’t understand what someone is asking. Using the following expressions are perfectly acceptable:
- “Could you rephrase that please?”
- “Sorry I didn’t quite catch that”
- “Please could you repeat that”
However, if you ask the examiner to repeat every question it could signal that your comprehension is poor and impact your score. A few times should be no problem though.
Now that we've cleared up some uncertainties why don't you try some speaking practice? Either schedule a lesson with a teacher familiar with IELTS right here on italki, or just search "IELTS speaking sample questions" and you should find a lot of keep you busy. Keep in mind though, feedback from a qualified teacher can really come in handy before the exam.