Top tips to improve your IELTS speaking score

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an exam that measures the English language proficiency of candidates who wish to study or work in countries or organisations where English is used as the means of communication. It tests the four language skills, listening, reading, writing and speaking. Please see my previous blogs about writing task 1 and 2 Academic IELTS. This blog will focus on the speaking test.

Firstly, familiarise yourself with the content and format of the speaking exam. You should know the exam inside and out so nothing comes as a surprise. This is good exam technique. The IELTS speaking exam is a face-to-face conversation with a qualified examiner in a designated official IELTS test centre. The test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes and is divided into three sections. Let’s look at each section.

Speaking – part 1

In part 1 of the speaking test the examiner will introduce themself and ask general questions on familiar topics. These will be questions you have answered many times before but obviously as this is an exam, you may be a little nervous and not used to the examiner. Therefore, this part of the exam is used to check your details and to put you at ease. They will ask you your name and maybe about your likes and dislikes. This part of the exam lasts for 4-5 minutes.

Speaking – part 2

In part 2 of the speaking test the examiner will give you a task card on a particular topic which will include key points that you should talk about. This is known as the long turn and lasts about 2 minutes. You have 1 minute to prepare to talk about the topic on the task card. You will obviously lose marks if you don’t talk about the topic on the task card or address the key points on the card. The topics will be quite personal in nature, for example, talk about your favourite book or tell a story about …….. You will be asked follow up questions. This part of the exam takes 3-4 minutes in total.

Speaking – part 3

In part 3 of the speaking test the examiner will open up the discussion in a more abstract and critical way. The questions will be connected to the topics discussed in part 2. This part of the test is more linguistically challenging and complex, it sorts the wheat from the chaff, meaning higher level students from lower level students. Lower level students usually struggle with their fluency in this part of the exam. They just don’t know the grammatical structures and vocabulary to excel in this part of the exam. Take note, this cannot be rehearsed or memorised. It must be natural and mirror real life communication. Seasoned examiners are very savvy to this. This part of the exam takes 4-5 minutes.

Speaking exam tips

Talk as much as you can, don’t give one word answers. Minimalism doesn’t work in a speaking exam.

Talk as fluently and naturally as possible. This is what real life speaking is like. It isn’t perfect. Native speakers lose their thread and sometimes refer back to something they said previously. Don’t get preoccupied with using perfect grammar. Focus on communication.

Do not learn pre prepared answers or memorise monologues. The examiners will see straight through this.

Speak loudly and clearly. Don’t be concerned about your accent. Your focus is to sound intelligible and understood by the examiner not to sound like the Queen. Work on word and sentence stress.

Don’t panic! If you are asked about a topic that you have no idea about be honest. The examiner’s questions are usually quite predictable but if for some reason they throw you a curveball then ask for clarification. It’s a test of your English ability not your general knowledge.

Before the exam practice speaking with a native/proficient speaker/teacher. Ask them for some feedback on your responses

Record yourself speaking and self-assess yourself. Did you answer the question? How was your fluency and pronunciation?

Good luck!


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