Recently, many of my IELTS students have asked me to focus on Part 3 of the IELTS speaking exam during our lessons. For this reason, I thought It was time to share my tips and suggestions to help candidates prepare for exam day.
Part 1 of the speaking exam involves more general questions about subjects such as studies and hobbies. In Part 2, candidates are asked give a presentation on a topic given to them on a task card. Previous themes have included “Describe an event you’ve attended recently”.
In contrast to these sections of the speaking exam, Part 3 takes place as an interview. Examiners want candidates to express their opinion on topics related to Part 2, which can range from technology’s impact on communication to family values.
From day one of your IELTS preparation, I recommend that all students start a lexical journal.
A lexical journal is a space, whether it’s a notebook or an online document, in which candidates can store a range of vocabulary, phrases, and idioms which will prove useful across the four sections of the exam.
I recommend students create a page (or more than one page) relating to each topic. For example, a page titled Crime and Punishment may have vocabulary such as white-collar crime and smuggling. In addition, students could collect phrasal verbs linked to the topic. Again relating to Crime and Punishment, students might include terms like break in or turn them in. When candidates make sure their vocabulary preparation is organised and accessible, studying for the exam is easier. A lexical journal really helps with this.
I think that…
Opinion phrases are undeniably important for success in Part 3 of the IELTS speaking exam. After all, the examiner ultimately wants to know what the candidate’s opinion is on the given topic. The speaking exam is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their range and variety of English. Avoid repetition of elementary phrases such as I think that…as they will not demonstrate a sophisticated use of language or lexical range.
Again, in your lexical journal, brainstorm a variety of advanced opinion phrases, which include phrases such as ‘as far as I’m concerned’ and ‘from my point of view…’
Don’t be tense, but use tenses
Part 3 of the speaking exam is a perfect opportunity for candidates to show off their ability to produce arguments and responses to questions using a range of tenses. The examiner will kindly indicate which tense they want the candidate to demonstrate the use of, with questions such as How has education changed in your country in the last few decades? In this case, the examiner indicates that the candidate should make a comparison with how it was (past) and how it is now (present).
In addition, they may ask for predictions about how things might be in the future. This is a great opportunity to use conditional sentences ‘It may be…’ or ‘It is possible that…’. Sentences such as these demonstrate the candidate’s ability to exercise grammatical range and accuracy both effectively and appropriately.
If you’re not 100 percent sure on the question they’ve just been asked, then check. It's better to double-check than to answer a question on Eating Habits with a response about Technology. Lexical journals should include some alternatives to “Can you repeat please?” A phrase such as “Sorry, I didn’t quite get that” is more idiomatic than asking the examiner to repeat. Another option when seeking clarification is to paraphrase the questions “So, just to be clear…”. Candidates can even demonstrate their lexical resources when they are slightly unsure, by paraphrasing or asking idiomatically.
Signposting is outlining the logic and structure of your argument; giving a preview of what is to come. When the examiner asks a candidate “How has education in your country changed in recent decades?”, break the response down and signpost the answer. Here are some examples:
- As far as I’m concerned education in my country has changed in three major ways in the last few decades.
- The three major ways it has changed are X, Y, and Z.
- I will start by discussing point X…
Moreover, breaking down the answer this way adds structure and means candidates are less likely to exclude important points they want to raise.
A response in which a candidate includes their personal experiences is always important in Part 3. You will be able to expand more and show greater enthusiasm in your answer if you’re discussing an experience that is real to you. Wherever appropriate and possible, personalise your response and relate it to your own life.
For example, if the examiner asks about food with a question such as “Why do some people enjoy eating out?”, a personal response could be something like “Some people, like me, enjoy eating out because…” or “My best friend says she enjoys eating out because…”. If a candidate doesn’t have a personal experience or opinion on the topic then make it up! No one will ever check whether it is true or not.
A question related to health which you may be asked is “What makes a good doctor?”. You could answer this with “Recently I read an article in a newspaper titled What Makes a Good Doctor, which stated that…”. Even if you have never read an article about doctors, the answer has been personalised and is more likely to impress the examiner than “Some people might say that…”. The examiner is testing your ability to produce English, not whether you do indeed like eating out or not.
I am sure this is not the first time you have heard this word when it comes to exam preparation: relax. It may be easier said than done, but the IELTS speaking exam is a conversation, one which lasts no more than 14 minutes (with Part 3 lasting no more than 5 minutes). More than anything, this is a chance for you to show off your ability to produce English. Don’t forget; this is the final hurdle on the long road of IELTS preparation!
The above tips are based on my personal experience of preparing students with Part 3 of the IELTS speaking. There is a minefield of information out there from IELTS preparation videos on YouTube to publications by examiners, which offer their own advice and pointers.
I hope that this helps you in Part 3 of your speaking examination. Good luck!