STRATEGIES FOR IELTS SPEAKING SECTION (PART I: TALKING ABOUT FAMILIAR TOPICS)

The last section of IELTS test is the Speaking Section. Speaking Section is divided into three part:

First Part - Talking about Familiar Topic

The first part of the speaking will mainly consist of general questions about you, in which you will be asked about several topics such as your hobby, your job, your friends etc.

Second Part - Self Presentation

The second part of the speaking test is a self presentation, in which you will have one minute to prepare the speech and then present the speech for two minutes without interruptions. The things that you need to talk about are listed in a cue card, consisting of a main topic and several sub topics. Take a look at an example below:

Describe a time when you helped a person [this is the main topic]
  • Who was that person
  • Why he/she needed your help
  • How did you help him/her
  • What was the result of you helping that person
[and these are the sub topics]

Third Part - Discussion

The last part of the Speaking Sections is the discussion, in which you will have a reciprocal communication with the interviewer. The topic is usually still related to that of second part. The last part of the speaking is actually almost similar to your Writing Task 2, so I often consider it as the spoken version of Writing Task 2.

Strategies for IELTS Speaking Section

1. Speak naturally and confidently

It is important to note that IELTS requires you to do a real human-to-human communication, so make sure that you speak in English just the way you speak everyday

2. Talk as much as possible [and speak more than the examiner, whenever possible]

You have to avoid giving very short answers since it will make your score become really low. Imagine if the examiner asks a test taker: "do you usually enjoy your evening hanging out with your friends?" and the test taker just says: "I don't usually go out in the evening and prefer stay at home" [without giving reason or exception], what will happen then? Basically, there will be two things happening:

First, the answer is too short and thus the examiner will find it hard to assess your ability in speaking in English.

Second, your speaking score will probably be very low for you give no chance for the examiner to grade your speaking skill. I mean, seriously, how is she/he supposed to grade your vocabulary range if you only speak two words saying: "No, I don't". It will be a little bit different if the test taker answer:


"Yes, but not always. I usually hang out with my friends having some coffee or going to the cinema after work, since I am really busy during the daylight and definitely need to lighten up a little bit. It has been like a norm for me to go out in the evening, just to socialize with others, doing something fun, talking about little things in life, and forget anything about work for a while. Even though, it does not always go as planned. In some cases, I will have to take some paperwork to home and do it all night, and this makes it impossible for me to go out in the evening".


In this case, the examiner will have much more chance to assess your ability to speak in English since he/she can easily grade your vocabulary range, arrangement of ideas, grammatical accuracy, etc. By meeting all criteria required by the Speaking Section, it is more likely for you to get higher score.

3. Relax and do not get distressed

Some people are gifted with ability to comprehend your anxiety like they can smell it. Another thing that you need to pay attention to is the fact that you need to go with the flow when having the speaking test. If the conversation is casual, then you need to do it just the way you speak everyday. Do not be stiff, and worse, do not get distressed. The more you become anxious, the more difficult it is for you to think clearly and the more difficult it is for you to speak fluently. When the conversation becomes a little bit formal, just follow the pace and deal with it. The key strategy is to be moderate. You do not want to be too formal since this is not a job interview, but you definitely want to avoid becoming too casual, especially when having an argumentative speaking.

4. Develop your answers

You can do this by using this formula whenever you speak to the examiner:

a. Give a relevant answer

b. Provide reasons

c. Give examples (if you deem it necessary)

Take a look at this example:

Question: What do you like the most from your hometown?

Answer: Two things that I really like the most from my hometown is the tranquility and the fact that there is always a way for me to have fun [answer]. It is a good place for taking several days off working routine, since there are so many places that provide beautiful natural scenery, something that I don't see everyday in the city [reason]. For example, I often take a walk near the beach when I feel like I need to be relaxed [example]. I can also go to the city park with my family to enjoy the togetherness [reason], play games and try some traditional culinary [example].

5. Ask for clarification if you are confused

This is actually a real case when I took the IELTS test. I remember having the last part of the Speaking Section and got a tough question that almost set me up. Take a look at the conversation between the examiner and I below:

Examiner: Let's go talk about houses. Nowadays, how people spend their energy when they are at home? [First question]

Me: It depends on the person. Some people still have to do some work at home because they cannot finish it at the office. Students often have to study overnight. However, there are also some people who spend their energy for other activities like doing exercise, doing their hobbies, or gather with their family or neighbors, which are more fun, actually.

Examiner: Alright. What kind of energy, do you think,  that most people spend at their house nowadays?  [second question]

Me:.....

At this point, I was a little bit lost. I know that the word "energy" can lead me to the realm of semantic discrepancy, since the meaning is rather ambiguous either it refers to "energy [your energy] you spend at home for doing activities" or "energy [such as electrical energy of fossil fuel] consumed by electrical devices or any other household appliance. This makes me quite for a while until I innocently asked the examiner: "You mean like electrical energy or something?" and he just give me a nod and "go signal" with his hand.

You see, sometimes it is important to ask for confirmation when dealing with a delicate question. In some cases, you even need to ask for repetition. Remember, you have to do it real polite since you are the one who lost your way. You can say:

I'm sorry, could you please repeat? I don't follow.

6. Mind your fluency

Fluency is one of the most important aspects in Speaking. It will be quite compromising if you have what so called "the painful silence" in which you kinda want to say something but cannot find the best way to say it, formulate a good argument, or simply find the English equivalent for certain words (if you are not a native English speaker). To avoid this, you may want to consider thinking about French expressions: Il faut de réfléchir avant parler. Yes, thinking first before saying. Before you speak a word, try to do the thinking first. It is better to take some time thinking about the answer rather than answering the questions quickly but having painful silences in the middle of your speech. But remember, you don't have forever to formulate the answer on the mental state. You have to do the thinking quickly and try to develop the conversation as you talk.

7. Be a good listener

May be I should have told you this earlier. I'm afraid that we still have the same basic rule for the test.
To be a good speaker you need to be a good listener just the same you you need to be a good reader in order to be a good writer. Get used to it.

8. Express your opinion

You don't have to agree with the examiner all the time. It is okay to say no, it is okay to disagree and show your own belief [regarding the topic] as long as you can give profound explanations. IELTS speaking test requires you to speak in a real human-to-human communication and your ability to communicate is highly appreciated.

9. Be spontaneous and do not give prepared answers

It is definitely a bad idea to prepare answers for Speaking Sections since the examiners are trained to locate this. Be spontaneous and natural, the test wants to assess your ability in communicating, not memorizing.

10. Practice

The questions in Speaking are typical so it is better for you to have a lot of practice and record your own voice [it is necessary to help you deal with nervousness and time pressure]. You also need to have real communication and converse with other people [native speaker is preferable] and consult with somebody who can do linguistic surgery so that you can get any necessary feedback.

Other than some factors above, there are some other things you need to consider such as:

a. Pronounciation 

It doesn't matter whether you use American or British or any other types of English. There is just one thing to put in mind: You need to pronounce the words correctly.

b. Eye contact and gesture

I know, these do not sound like it has something to do with  language capacity at all, but these can make your speech more communicative

c. Grammatical Accuracy

This is another minor factor in spoken English, but I think we all agree that it is more convenient to talk to somebody whose grammar is accurate so that you don't have to deal with all grammatical discrepancy and eventually become a grammar Nazi.


Click here for Material on Listening Section
Material on Listening Section

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