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How to prepare for the IELTS speaking test?

Feeling apprehensive about the IELTS speaking test? We take you through how to prepare, including top practice tips, how the test is marked and what questions you may get asked.

IELTS speaking test

The IELTS speaking test may be the shortest section of the exam, but it can feel the most pressurised. Not only is it taken separately from the other parts of the IELTS test, but you are also face-to-face with an examiner while trying your best to show your conversational skills and vocabulary. Don’t feel intimidated, with preparation and practice you’ll be well placed to demonstrate your skills. We take you through what the IELTS speaking test is all about, what to expect and what you can do to prepare and practice. 


How is the IELTS speaking test structured?


Knowing how the IELTS speaking test is structured gives you an advantage when preparing and on test day. There won’t be any surprises. The IELTS speaking itself is quite short, lasting between 11 and 14 minutes. The test is usually taken on the same day as the other sections. However, it can also be seven days prior or after, depending on scheduling. 


The test is taken in the presence of an examiner, usually at a table at the IELTS test centre. However, you may also be able to take the speaking test online using a video platform. You should always check the requirements before booking your test. Don’t forget that the IELTS speaking test is recorded for examination and quality assurance purposes. 


The IELTS speaking test consists of three parts. The first part is an introduction and interview that lasts approximately five minutes. The second part requires you to discuss a topic given to you by the examiner and should take about four to five minutes. Lastly, you’ll have a two-way discussion on the topic from section two.  


Find out how you can improve your English language skills with a pre-sessional English course


What types of questions are asked in the IELTS speaking test?


The types of questions that you may be asked and topics you need to speak on will vary depending on the examiner. However, how you answer depends on the test section. 


IELTS speaking test part one


For part one of the IELTS speaking test, you’ll likely be asked some questions about yourself such as your interests, family, studies and home. You can think of it as an introductory conversation and a chance to let the examiner know who you are. Some of the other common topic areas asked in part one include:


  • Work 
  • Hobbies 
  • Sport 
  • Television and films 
  • Weather 
  • Daily routine 
  • Technology
  • Shopping 
  • Socialising 
  • Food


Explore more on how to ace the IELTS listening test


IELTS speaking test part two


In part two of the IELTS speaking test, you are given a card with a topic on it and some information about the main areas you should try and discuss. You will get about a minute to write down some preparatory notes before speaking. You’re expected to talk about the topic for approximately one to two minutes, after which the examiner will ask some follow up questions. 


The topics for part two focus on your life experience and can include topics such as:


  • Art 
  • Books 
  • Advice 
  • Communication 
  • Hobbies 
  • Routines 
  • Sport
  • Family 
  • News 
  • Music and film 
  • Travel 
  • Values


For example, you could be asked about a sport you’re interested in playing. You would need to explain what the sport is, how you would train, what you need to play it and exactly why the sport appeals to you. A good tip for part two of the IELTS speaking test is to talk for as long as possible or until the examiner indicates that you should stop. 


Get up to speed on how to prepare for the IELTS reading test


IELTS speaking test part three


Part three of the test involves speaking about the same topic as for part two. However, the difference is that you discuss the topic with the examiner and have the chance to explore it in more detail. You’ll be asked for your opinion and insight on the topic. 


For example, if art was selected as the topic of discussion for part two, you could be asked questions such as:


  • What do you think the value of art is?
  • What art do you like and why?
  • What makes a piece of art good?
  • What is your opinion on the benefits of learning about art?
  • What are the artistic traditions and styles from your country?


Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or display the knowledge that you have about a topic. Remember that part three of the test is closely timed, so watch the cues given to you by the examiner. 


Improve your score for the IELTS writing test with our preparation guide.


How is the IELTS speaking test marked?


Examiners for the IELTS speaking test are looking for you to demonstrate several skills and competencies. These include:


  • Your ability to communicate opinions, ideas and information
  • Your choice of vocabulary and fluency
  • How long you can speak and hold a conversation for
  • How well you organise your thoughts and if you are coherent
  • Your ability to analyse and discuss topics


The IELTS examiner will make use of four marking criteria:


  • Pronunciation (25 per cent) – how you sound
  • Grammar (25 per cent) – accuracy of grammatical use
  • Fluency and coherence (25 per cent) – how clear and coherently you speak
  • Vocabulary (25 per cent) – your choice of words


Each of these criteria is marked on a scale of zero to nine. Your overall test score is constructed by adding the scores for each and dividing this by four. Remember that IELTS test scores are calculated using increments of 0.5, so if your score falls within a 0.25 or 0.75 range it is rounded up. 


Read more about how English language test scores work.            



What are the best ways to practice for the test?


One of the best ways to practice for the test is to speak English as much as possible. It’s great to practice with family and friends, or even strangers. You could even design a game with a penalty if you revert to another language other than English.  


Take time to familiarise yourself with some of the general topics you may need to speak about by reading English language websites, watching English language programmes and staying up to date with the news. You’ll be surprised by how many phrases and words you will learn. These can come in handy on test day. 


Practice speaking about common topics and answering questions from the freely available practice test on the IELTS website. Think about the vocabulary you could use and how long you could speak for on a particular topic. Try to practice answering all the potential questions on a topic that an examiner may ask you.


Are there any other tips that could help improve my IELTS score?


Some of the other top tips you can use:


  • Don’t memorise your answers. Examiners can tell, and this will affect your score. 
  • Use different grammatical structures, including simple and complex sentences, direct speech, passive voice, and different tenses. 
  • Practice your pronunciation but don’t stress too much about your accent. Examiners are looking for intonation and the correct emphasis on pronunciation. You need to be clear and enunciate your words well.
  • Try not to use filler words which may make the examiner think you can’t find the right words. Examples to avoid include “like”, “ahh”, “well”, and “umm”. 
  • Practice using phrases that allow you to gather your thoughts or process your response like “that’s an interesting question” and “let me think about that for a minute”. 
  • Try to vary your tone and the pace at which you speak. 
  • Practice extending your answers and including all the relevant information.
  • Develop both formal and informal ways of speaking 
  • Choose your words deliberately and accurately. Don’t use words that you don’t understand. Take time to develop your vocabulary. 


While the IELTS speaking test may seem daunting, remember that it’s a conversation between you and the examiner. They do not expect you to be perfect but to communicate ideas fluently, coherently, accurately, and effectively. 


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