Top Tips and Checklist for IELTS Speaking Preparation

The speaking part of the IELTS exam is often the one that fills many  hearts with dread! It really doesn’t need to. Yes, the examiners are looking at a number of criteria. 4 to be precise! They are looking for fluency and coherence – how well you link your sentences and ideas together and how fluently and naturally you speak, grammatical range and accuracy – how varied and how accurate is your grammar, pronunciation – how clear and how accurate is your pronunciation? This is not the same as accent, we all have accents! And, finally, lexical resource – how varied and how accurate is the vocabulary you use?

So, these are all the criteria you need to keep in mind when you are preparing for your speaking test. What you do not need to do is to use excessively sophisticated or complex vocabulary or overly formal structures. You need to speak clearly, fluently, naturally and to avoid repetitive vocabulary as far as possible.

Below, I have provided a list of what I believe, after six years of experience of IELTS preparation with students all over the world, on skype and face-to-face, are the most important things you can do to improve your speaking score. It is quite a long list, but I think that it can provide a very useful checklist.

Tell me if you think I have missed anything that you have found useful if you have already passed your IELTS.

·         Understand the structure of the speaking test. Familiarise yourself with what kinds of questions you will be asked and what is required of you in each of the 3 parts.

·         Practice as much as possible and record yourself speaking. If you are taking skype English lessons or having lessons or language exchange with a native speaker, listen closely to their intonation.

·         Never, never give one word answers, always develop your answers. For example: ’Where do you live?’ ‘I live in Athens, which is the capital city of Greece,  in the south of the country.’

·         Keep to the point. Make sure you have understood the question and answer only that question. Your answer may be wonderful in terms of vocabulary and grammar but if it is not the answer to the question the examiner can only assume you have not understood.

·         If you are not sure you have understood the question in part 1, you can ask the examiner to repeat it, do ask. But, you cannot ask them for clarification. In part 3 you can and you should if you are not absolutely sure.

·         Do not try to memorise answers. The examiners are experienced and will recognise prepared answers. Familiarise yourself with the types of questions you may be asked, but do not give prepared answers.

·         If you know you have made a mistake do not ignore it, if you know how to correct it, do. Don’t think that correcting yourself will draw attention to the mistake. The examiner will always notice and will also notice if you do not or cannot correct the mistake.

·         Thinking time – in part 3 you may need time to think about your answer, this is natural and normal for native speakers too. But, don’t just keep silent, use fillers. Such as: well, let me think, that’s a good question, I’m not sure, I have to think about that, Uhmm, umm, err, well, native speakers do this all the time. Just don’t overuse and don’t let the umms and the errs be too frequent.

·         Link your sentences together using connectors such as, although, because, but, besides, in addition, similarly. However, be careful not to overuse as this may sound unnatural and forced. Listen to examples of native speakers answering example questions, how do they connect their sentences and how do they make their answers coherent?

·         Speak naturally, not informally, naturally. Don’t try to force over-complicated vocabulary into your answers. Don’t fill your answers with idioms, use them sparingly and only when you are sure they are appropriate. This is not a time to experiment with vocabulary, use only what you are totally confident with.

·         Listen to the structure of the question carefully, this will help you enormously when deciding which verb tenses you should use in your answer.

·         In parts 2 and 3 use examples and your own personal experiences.

·         Remember that the IELTS questions do not require specific knowledge about any subject, they only require opinions and ideas and your own experience. Look at this part 2 question: Do you like music? What music did you listen to when you were young? When was the last time you went to a concert? Would you like to participate in a live music show? If you are tone deaf, for example, music is probably not something important to you! Don’t panic! You don’t have to make up an answer, you simply have to show that you have understood each part of the question and responded to each part. It is perfectly acceptable to respond negatively. You don’t have to please the examiner.

·         Do not use slang!!! It will not sound more fluent or more natural, it will sound inappropriate! The words ‘kid’ and ‘kids’ are slang, by the way!! You don’t have kids you have children!

·         Be polite, this not only demonstrates greater understanding of language but also the culture of the language.

·         Try to use more descriptive language and avoid such common adjectives as ‘good’, ‘nice’, ‘bad’. Don’t overuse adjectives, this won’t sound entirely natural, but do try to demonstrate some knowledge of descriptive language.

·         Sit up straight and don’t cover your mouth with your hands. Sitting straight makes you sound and feel more confident, it also helps you to speak more clearly. Covering your mouth will obviously only make it more difficult for the examiner to understand you.

·         Speak a little bit slower than you think is necessary, believe me!

·         Finally, relax. Obviously not to the point where you are horizontal! But the examiners are not going to try to confuse you, trip you up and the time will go much more quickly than you think.


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