After you have finished the Interview, the examiner will hand you a card with 3 or 4 questions on. Usually the card asks you to describe a place, an event or a situation from your experience. You have 1 minute to prepare a little speech that answers all of the questions on a card. You also receive a paper sheet and a pen to write your notes.
The speech should take from one to two minutes. In the end the examiner might ask you a couple of additional questions. The tricky part here is to know when 2 minutes have passed. You need to get a feeling what is it like to talk for 2 minutes. My suggestion is to practice at home with a clock, recording yourself while you are speaking on a particular topic. You can use MP3 players that can record. This way you can evaluate your own speech without any help from other people.
How to use your 1-minute preparation time. Here is some advice:
1. One minute is a very short amount of time! I found it just as difficult as my students did.
2. A simple list is probably faster and easier than a diagram or mind map.
3. You need to decide on your topic as quickly as possible. Then spend most of your time making notes.
4. Try to write at least one key idea for each part of the question.
5. Don’t write sentences, and don’t waste time erasing “mistakes”.
6. Try to use a topic you have already prepared.
7. Forget about grammar. Focus on answering the question.
8. Finally, fast preparation is a skill that you can practise. Why not train yourself by making notes for a few different questions every day?
Describe a film you saw recently.
You should say:
- What kind of film it was
- When you saw it
- What it was about
- and why you liked or didn’t like it
Notes (1 minute)
1. The Social Network
2. True story
3. 2 weeks ago
4. Creator of Facebook
5. Simple idea
6. Global branding and fame
Part 2 Main Topics
For part 2 of IELTS speaking, I encourage my students in Manchester to
prepare ideas for 6 main topic areas:
1. Describe an object (a gift, something you use etc.)
2. Describe a person (someone you admire, a family member etc.)
3. Describe an event (a festival, celebration etc.)
4. Describe an activity (e.g. a hobby)
5. Describe a place (somewhere you visited, a holiday etc.)
6. Describe your favourite (book/film/advertisement/website)
Most questions fit into one of these topics. For example, “Describe a river, lake or sea which you like” is number 5 – you could describe a holiday by the sea, or a city with a river. Don’t take the test without preparing some ideas for these topics first!
It’s impossible to prepare for every question that you might get in the speaking test, but what are the essential things to prepare for?
Here’s a list of essentials:
1. Favourites: Don’t go into the test without knowing what your favourites are. Prepare to talk about your favourite book, film, music, and website.
2. People: Be ready to talk about a famous person and a member of your family.
3. Activities: Have you prepared some ideas about a hobby? Can you describe a typical day in your life? Try to remember some special
moments in your life, such as birthdays, festivals and weddings.
4. Places: You need to be able to talk about where you live. Also, think about the places you have visited, what you did there, and why you liked or didn’t like them.
5. Things: Can you talk about the things you use every day, something you would like to buy, or a present that you received?
Remember that in part 2 you are always asked to “describe”. Make sure you prepare some good adjectives for each topic, make sure you can talk about your opinions and feelings, and think about some examples or stories to make your descriptions more interesting.
How to talk for 2 minutes
Students often ask whether it’s necessary to speak for the full 2 minutes in part 2 of the speaking test. The instruction is: speak for between 1 and 2 minutes, so it’s not strictly necessary to speak for the full 2 minutes. However, the best advice is that you should try to keep speaking until the examiner stops you.
Here are some tips to help you keep talking:
1. Go through the bullet points on the task card in order.
2. Try to develop each point, even easy ones. For example, if the first bullet point for the topic “describe a person” is “who is it?”, don’t just say “I’m going to describe my father”. Add more information, such as your father’s name, age, what he looks like, where he is now, how often you speak to him…
3. Give examples and tell stories.
Use real examples
To improve your IELTS speaking score, use good examples to extend your answers. Real examples or stories about yourself are the best.
Use examples in part 2 when you need to make your presentation longer. Use them in part 3 to support your opinions.
Here’s an example that helps me to extend a part 2 presentation about my mobile phone:
“For example, yesterday I used my phone to call some friends to arrange a gettogether this weekend. Some of them didn’t answer, so I either left a message in their voicemail or I sent them a text. I also replied to a few emails while I was waiting in a queue at the bank.”
Use the right tense
- Can you use the past tense when describing a person who is still alive?
- Which tense should you use when describing a person?
The answer to the first question is yes. You can say: “My father was always a good role model for me when I was growing up.” This doesn’t mean that your father is no longer alive; it just means that you are no longer growing up!
The answer to the second question is it depends. As we saw above, you can use the past tense, but it would also be easy to add the present and/or future tense: “My father was always kind to me when I was a child, and he still helps me whenever I need something. I’m sure he will always be there for me.”
3 important tips
Here are three quick tips for IELTS speaking part 2:
1. Use the 1 minute preparation time well
Think about how you would answer the question in your own language, then write down as many ideas as possible in English.
2. Give real examples
Say what you really think, talk about your real life, and give real examples. Examples are really important; whenever you don’t know
what to say, give an example from your own experience.
3. Don’t worry about grammar
You haven’t got time to think about passives or conditionals. Focus on answering the question – ideas and vocabulary.
Forget about the eye-contact
Many students worry that they need to maintain eye contact with the examiner. This is a good idea in part 1 and part 3, but not necessarily in part 2. In part 2 of the speaking test, you don’t need to worry about eye contact. It’s more important to look at the question and the notes you made.
- Use the question to organise what you are saying. Answer the question point by point, and make sure you cover all parts of the task.
- You should also look at your notes. Hopefully you wrote down some good ideas during the preparation time.
Remember: the examiner will not reduce your score for lack of eye contact, but he or she will reduce your score if you don’t answer the question well.
Take ideas from other topics
If don’t need to prepare for all possible topics. Instead, try to take and use the ideas you have already thought about from other similar topics. Look at the example below.
Describe a time when you received some money as a gift. You should say:
- who gave it to you
- what the occasion was
- how you felt
- and explain what you did with the money.
If you think about some of the topics you have already prepared, the question above should be quite easy. Some ideas:
1. You could say that you received money for your birthday and took your friends out for a meal.
2. You could say that you bought yourself a new phone.
3. You could say that you used the money to pay for a holiday or trip.
Note: We are not recommending that you learn my answers word-for-word. Just try to take some of these ideas and adapt them to your own answers.
Don’t use formula phrases
Students often ask whether the following formula is useful for speaking part 2:
- I guess I could begin by saying something about (point 1) and I think I would have to choose…
- Going on to my next point which is (point 2), I really need to emphasise that (explain point 2).
- And now with reference to (point 3), the point I want to make here is that (explain point 3).
- And so finally, if I have time, in answer to the question of (point 4), really I should mention that…
So, are these ‘formula phrases’ a good idea? The answer is no! IELTS examiners will find these phrases annoying. It’s obvious that they are
memorised, and they do not address the question topic. Please don’t expect the examiner to be impressed by this kind of thing.
There are a couple of benefits to learning a formula: it gives your answer some structure, and it might make you feel more confident during the test. However, the disadvantages are greater:
1. Your focus is on the phrases you have memorised, when it should be on answering the question with relevant ideas.
2. The examiner thinks that you are using memorised phrases because you are unable to produce good language spontaneously. In other words, your use of long formula phrases suggests that your level of English is lower.
How to score higher?
Record, transcribe and analyse Here are some steps that you could follow when practising for the speaking test:
1. Choose a real speaking test from one of the Cambridge books.
2. Record yourself answering one or all of the parts of the test.
3. Listen to the recording and transcribe it (write down everything you said).
4. Analyse the transcript. How could your answers be improved?
5. Take some time to prepare better answers for the same questions.
6. Try the same questions again! Record yourself, transcribe and analyse.
7. Repeat the process a few times until you are happy.
Imagine if you did this kind of hard work every day for a month. You’d definitely be more confident and better prepared than you are now.
Useful speaking strategies
1. Try to develop each bullet point in detail. If you don’t say enough for the first two or three points, you’ll find yourself with too much time for the last point.
2. Tell a story! My second point tells the story of how I was given the chair by a friend, and I could probably speak for 2 minutes about this point alone. When you tell a story about something real that happened, you’ll find it easy to keep talking. Stories are also interesting for the listener (the examiner).
3. Add examples. In point 3, you can see that I added an example at the end (“last night I fell asleep in my armchair while I was watching a film”). I could easily take this example and develop it into another short story.
4. When describing an object, don’t forget the simple things like size, colour (I forgot that one!), shape, material, position (“just under my
living room window”).
Don’t worry about the examiner’s attitude
Some students feel worried that their examiner seemed rude or angry in the speaking exam. Maybe the examiner didn’t smile or make much eye contact, interrupted a lot, or kept looking at his or her watch. Does this mean that you will get a low score, or that you should complain?
The answer is no! Don’t worry, and don’t think that you need to complain. The examiner’s attitude is not important at all, and you should ignore all of the things I mentioned above. Focus only on answering the examiner’s questions as well as you can.
Remember: it’s possible to have a very nice, smiling examiner who gives you a low score. On the other hand, an examiner who seems impolite or disinterested might give you a higher score than you expected!
How to feel more confident
Here are some tips to help you feel more confident when you go for your IELTS speaking test:
- Be prepared: you should know exactly what to expect in the 3 parts of the speaking test, and you should have read the suggestions on this website about how to answer.
- Lots of practice: a student who has practised answering all of the questions in all eight Cambridge books, as well as the questions on this site, will feel much more confident than a student who hasn’t.
- Write it down: when studying at home, you have time to prepare ‘perfect’ answers to practice questions; write your answers down, and
- ask someone to help you check and improve them.
- Speak aloud: start by reading the answers you wrote down (like an actor uses a script), then gradually stop using the script.
- Record yourself: this allows you to analyse the quality of your answers, as well as your pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
- Focus on ideas: it’s difficult to think about grammar when you are speaking, so I advise students to stop worrying about grammatical
- structures, and focus on expressing good ideas (which means good vocabulary).
The importance of pronunciation
In the IELTS speaking test, 25% of your score is for pronunciation. Many students confuse ‘pronunciation’ with ‘accent’. These are not the same thing! Nobody expects you to speak with a perfect British English or American English accent. In fact, the examiner will not judge your accent at all.
Your pronunciation score is based on these things:
- clarity (speaking clearly)
- speed (not too fast, not too slow)
- word stress
- sentence stress
- intonation (the rise and fall of your voice)
It’s not easy to improve these things quickly or through deliberate practice. Good pronunciation is usually the result of lots of listening and copying. The best tip is: stop worrying about your accent, and focus on speaking clearly. The importance of grammar and vocabulary
It’s difficult to think about grammar when you’re trying to speak. It’s much easier to improve your vocabulary score than your grammar score. Remember:
- Grammar is only 25% of your speaking score.
- If you are thinking too much about grammar, you will lose fluency.
- If you try to use memorised grammatical structures, your speech will not sound ‘natural’.
- You will not avoid small grammar mistakes unless you have lived in an English speaking country for many years.
Note: You can easily get high scores if you focus on vocabulary, ideas, opinions and fluency