IELTS Speaking Section

Good News and Bad News of Speaking Section

Speaking is the last section in IELTS and for me personally, is the most casual section in IELTS. This, however, does not always happen that way. In some cases, several problems may appear and we may find it a little bit difficult or even, frustrating. I have been discussing with some test takers one problem that they usually have during the Speaking Section is avoiding the long pause and painful silence. This usually happens when we are running out of ideas. Sometimes, it can also happen when we already have the ideas and know what to talk about but we are still processing like finding the equivalent English words or dealing with grammatical accuracy. In this case, a real quick processing is highly needed and the way we arrange our ideas (using certain layout) will often determine our overall fluency.

Problems related to IELTS Speaking - Arrangement of ideas

For your information, the arrangement of ideas in Speaking (especially part 3) actually resembles the layout of your Writing Task 2. Speaking is therefore like the spoken version of your writing. The thing is, you can prepare your answers in writing by doing a brainstorming and you can always revise your writing. And in the speaking, you are not supposed to give prepared answers and thus, the challenge is that you have to be spontaneous. You probably agree with the fact that it is sometimes hard to arrange ideas on mental state really quick without giving a clue to the assessor that you are still processing.

To cope with this problem, you need to use a simple layout that includes:

a. Answer

b. Reason

c. Example


a. Answer

b. Example

c. Reason


In answering the questions, you have to be highly relevant and for you to do this, keywording will be extremely important.


In some cases, you may find it difficult to think about the answer since the process is only in your head. To make it easier, you simply have to find a concrete example.


Reason is the part that is often misunderstood. Somebody once asked me: "The assessor does not ask us to give reason for each answer, so is it relevant if we give reason without being asked?". And the answer is: We need to give reason even if the interviewer does not ask for reason. It is really important that we develop our ideas and the easiest way to do it is by giving reason. This specifically happens in part three since it sounds a bit like an argumentative speaking for me.

Let's take a look at this example:

Topic: Occupation

Question: What kind of jobs the people have for living in urban area?

First of all, We need to pay attention to the keywords so that our answers will be relevant to the question.

What kind of jobs [keyword1] the people have for living in urban area [keyword 2]?

Secondly, we need to find a concrete example. There are so many jobs in urban area and it is not possible for us to mention them all. So we need to give a limitation for the answer and find a real concrete example of jobs (two examples are preferable), like:

People in big cities usually work in economic and business sector such as an entrepreneur or those having small shops. There are also some people who work in service sector.

Thirdly, sometimes it is really helpful to give examples that can be easily compared like when we divide jobs of people living urban area into:

a. entrepreneur x employee

b. selling goods x providing services

c. private sector x government officials/civil servant

and so on....and so on...

By doing this, we can use a layout that is almost similar to that of our Writing Task 2 in which we provide:

a. Argument 1

b. Contrasting statement

c. Argument 2

Hence, the answer for sample question above will be:

Argument 1

In many big cities, there are more and more people working as an entrepreneur [Answer], such as those opening a small shop or even big retail and franchise [Example]. They prefer to an entrepreneur because they feel like running their own business rather than working for other people. Sometimes, passion in business makes it more enjoyable for them to face challenges rather than doing a routine like most employees do everyday [Reason].

Contrasting statement

However, this is not always the case that people want to run their own business.

Argument 2

In some cases, people prefer to work as an employee [Answer] such as those working as an accountant working for private a company or probably a legal consultant [Example]. They prefer to be an employee because they feel like it is safer. They can earn decent salary and do not have to deal with the risks like fraud or bankruptcy. It is okay for them to work for other people and have the same routine every day. Employees are usually people with certain skill and knowledge and it is more likely for them to have a job that is related to their expertise [Reason], although it is still possible for them to have a shift in career and finally become an entrepreneur, especially when they are already prepared and have enough capital to start a business. This is probably another common case that happens nowadays, where people are competing to be successful in start up business by relying on their skill in..for example, the case of people in silicon valley, with their skill in computer programming that eventually start a business of their own [Example].

By doing this, we already meet the criteria number 2, 4, 6, and 8 explained in this material

Lastly, you just need to take care of other criteria explained in the speaking material above and I hope that you will get high mark on your IELTS Speaking Section.

For Writing Task 2 Material, please go to this link below


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]


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