Preparing for the speaking part of the IELTS exam can be a huge challenge, especially if you don’t live in an English-speaking country. Whether you’re just starting out on your IELTS journey or have been studying for a while and just need a little extra encouragement, take a look at the following ten tips to help you boost your IELTS speaking score.
Understand the test format
Knowing what to expect on test day means fewer surprises, less mental stress, and more time to think about how to most effectively formulate your answers.
Familiarize yourself with the test format by reading and watching introduction videos from excellent sources for test preparation and advice, and by watching videos of actual IELTS speaking tests. To start, try the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rk-lKDJ0IY&list=PLBD8D6D69301F9A42&index=7 for a brief overview of the test format, http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-speaking-free-lessons-essential-tips/ for general tips and practice questions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRFEKvsw-vs for a detailed breakdown of each part of the speaking test, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBrFbXB7EAg for a video of an actual speaking exam.
The speaking part of the IELTS consists of three parts:
Part 1 is basically a warm-up, and questions are about your personal experience in two or three general topics such as hobbies, work, food, hometown, your house, school, pets, etc. You can expect at least one question each in past, present and future tense for each topic.
Increase your score by paying attention to the tense the question is asked in and using the same tense in your answer. Incorrect use of basic tenses, especially past simple, is one major reason for low scores in grammatical range and accuracy.
Part 2 consists of a strict 60 seconds of preparation time, followed by one to two minutes of the candidate speaking, with no input from the examiner. You will receive a card with the question written on it, and after preparing, are expected to speak, without much pausing or hesitating, for as near two minutes as possible. Part 2 questions usually require you to describe an event, a person, or an object, and answer several questions about it such as why the object was important to you or what effect the event had on you. Telling a story about the event, person or object is an interesting way to answer. There are several keys to success in Part 2.
Use your part 2 planning time wisely. Use the pencil and paper provided to jot down the main ideas and key vocabulary you’d like to include. Don’t write whole sentences, just one-word prompts to help you remember. Use the question’s several parts to guide you through a complete and coherent answer. Having a well-planned answer with clear connections between the parts will increase your score in fluency and coherence. Just don’t over-use connective vocabulary (such as therefore), as this will reduce your score.
Don’t memorize answers! Examiners will know if you are reciting a memorized answer, and you will lose points for this. Instead, practice and practice and practice answering questions on the topics you expect to encounter, memorizing and using advanced adjectives and expressions to use in each topic.
Part 3 of the speaking test expands on the part 2 topic by asking about the subject in broader, often abstract terms. These questions ask you to give your opinion about the topic in general, rather than your personal experience, and require you to use vocabulary related to making assumptions, giving opinions, and offering examples and explanations.
Keep to the appropriate answer lengths. A good guideline is to answer one to three sentences in part 1, two minutes in part 2, and three to six sentences in part 3. Short answers don’t give the examiner enough chance to assess your speaking ability, and long, rambling answers force him to interrupt you in order to proceed to the next section of the assessment.
Understand how the test is scored
Review testing rubrics to know exactly what examiners are looking for and how they grade candidates in each aspect of speech. You can find the official rubric here: https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/speaking-band-descriptors.ashx?la=en. A very helpful site that explains the assessment criteria in more detail can be found here: https://www.ieltsadvantage.com/2015/06/28/ielts-speaking-criteria/.
Practice using a formula which includes some complex grammar in each Part 2 question that you practice. *NOTE: Please be sure you understand the grammar and how and when it should be used before you try to use it in your answers. Incorrectly using complex grammar can lower your score.*
Most of the questions in this part require you to describe something. If you have a set format that you’ve practiced over and over, it may be easier to think under pressure and automatically use that grammar during the test. Below is a sample formula for you to practice. Try it out with several questions and see if it works for you.
- Introduction: I’d like to talk about …/In this part, I’m going to describe…
- Present perfect: I’ve had this item since…/I’ve known this person for X years…/ X is the most challenging sport I have ever practiced.
- Past: I used to (verb) this (person/activity/object) frequently…
- Present: …but now I only (verb) (him/her/it) once in a while.
- Description: Describe the person/place/object using three to five advanced adjectives
- Future: In the future, I hope to see a lot more of this person./ …practice this sport more often./ …give this special object to my grandchildren.
- Third Conditional: If I hadn’t met this person, my life would have been totally different./ If she hadn’t given me this object, I wouldn’t have started my collection. / If I had done something differently, this would have been the result.
Second Conditional: If I got the job (my dream job), I would be happy for the rest of my life./ If I ever lost this object, I would feel so sad. / If I ever gave up this hobby, I don’t know what I would do with all my free time.
Practicing as much as possible before test day is probably the best thing you can do to improve your speaking part score. Effective practice sessions will increase your confidence, help you learn and refresh crucial vocabulary, and prepare you for the actual conditions of the test. You can still practice, even if you don’t have a teacher or conversation partner.
The best way to practice for a speaking test is by speaking. If you have a native teacher or friend, but are short of conversation ideas, check out my favorite resource for conversation questions: http://iteslj.org/questions/. Find a topic that interests you and take turns asking and answering the questions giving 1-3 sentence answers to questions about your experience (Part 1 style), and 3-6 sentence answers for abstract or general questions (Part 3 style). If you’d like to practice for Part 2, go to http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-speaking-part-2-topics/ for some topic cards to practice with. Have your partner time you as you prepare and as you speak.
Even if you don’t have a someone to practice with, you can still use the question banks above to help you. Record yourself answering each question without worrying about grammar, just speaking as fluently as possible. Listen to your recording, thinking about other vocabulary or grammar structures you could have used, and noting your pauses. Record yourself answering the same question again, trying to incorporate your ideas for a better answer.
Practice under actual (simulated) test conditions to familiarize yourself with the format and reduce nervousness during the test. Find a quiet area where you will be undisturbed for the duration of your exercise. Turn off your phone’s sound and alarms. If possible, have a teacher or friend select three questions on three different general topics for Part 1, one Part 2 question from the question bank mentioned above, and three or four abstract questions related to the Part 2 question. Don’t look at the questions until you’re ready for your test. Read them one at a time, giving 1-3 sentence answers for Part 1. Strictly time yourself: 60 seconds preparation time and two minutes for answering Part 2. Give 3-6 sentence answers for Part 3. When you’ve finished, consider what went well and what you could have done better. If you recorded yourself, review the tape and look for specific areas to improve. Practice again with the same questions, if you wish.
Attend an IELTS class with a tutor for one-on-one assistance, targeted to your learning goals. On italki you can find many highly qualified teachers with experience teaching IELTS. Take a look at some teacher profiles, and find one that’s right for you!
What will you do today to help you achieve your desired score?