7 essential strategies for maximizing your IELTS speaking test score

7 Essential Strategies for Maximizing Your IELTS Speaking Test Score

Relax. It’s only a test

Easier said than done, right?

If you’re preparing to take an English language proficiency exam, you’re probably freaking out a little.

These exams are challenging and can be very important for your future.

The IELTS is no different.

Luckily, we’ve rounded up 7 of the best ways to fully prepare yourself.

7 Essential Strategies for Maximizing Your IELTS Speaking Test Score

1. Remain calm

The more anxious and uncomfortable you are, the more difficult it’ll be to keep up your fluency and maintain coherence. It may feel overwhelming to have to use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures accurately and with the intended meaning. But you have to keep your mind under control. Tell yourself, “I can do this.”

Just remember, the examiner means to help you and it’s her job to make you feel comfortable. The test format is designed to foster (encourage) this as well, as you’ll first be asked some basic questions about familiar topics like family or your home. The examiner may feel a bit “robotic” at times, but that’s due to the scripted nature of the test and the fact that the examiner is focused on administering the test, reading the questions and giving instructions – all this while assessing and grading your language! No wonder they’re tense, it’s a hard job.

Just feel relieved that all you need to do is answer some questions.

In the final part of the test, the examiner will take a more conversational approach when discussing less familiar and more abstract topics. Again, just relax, smile and do your best to speak to the examiner as if you’re really having an interesting and engaging conversation with someone.

2. Know what’s coming

Are you taking IELTS for the first time? Do you honestly know how the Speaking test is structured? Even students who’ve taken the test multiple times can’t answer questions about the structure of the test and how the test is administered. What a huge mistake! Knowing how to take the test if half the battle. Once you know what to expect, you’ll answer questions faster and more easily. Here are some simple questions you should really know the answers to:

  • How long is the speaking test?
  • How many parts or sections are there?
  • What does each part consist of?
  • What areas of my language are assessed?
  • Who grades my performance – the examiner or somebody else?

If you weren’t able to answer all of these questions, read the test format info page from the British Council’s TakeIELTS site and locate the correct information:

3. Just answer the question!

At the start of the test, just give the information that’s needed rather than expanding too much on your answers. Wait until you hear questions about your home, work, school life and so on before giving more extended answers. Even then, provide relevant answers and avoid rambling on about everything you can think of. Candidates often stray from the topic by going off on tangents – avoid this. Think of structuring your responses this way:

Sample IELTS Speaking question: “What type of weather do you enjoy most?”

OPENING (optional)Hmm. It’s hard to say because I like all seasons but…
ANSWERI would say summer would have to be my all-time favorite.
REASON/EXAMPLEYou know, the summer is just great. There are so many things to do outside, you can be near the water, yes…if it’s too hot, it’s better to hang out at the beach. I really love the beach and watersports like surfing…
CLOSEso, yeah, if I had to choose one, it would be summer for sure.

It should be fairly obvious, but make every effort to answer the question. Don’t refuse or “give up” on the question:

RATHER THAN…

TRY THIS:

I don’t know… I can’t answer that question.Hmm, that’s a tricky question. Let me think about that… yeah, I guess I would say that…

Then do your best to answer the question! The phrases above are useful for giving yourself some thinking time and could get you out of a jam. Using these “filler” phrases also shows your ability to keep speaking despite facing a difficult question.

4. Remember that the examiner’s lips are sealed

It’s important to understand that the examiner reads from a script, and she can say very little beyond what’s written in her test booklet.

This can lead to some awkward moments if you try to ask the examiner a question.

For example, there are sometimes confusing issues that arise regarding some of the questions that refer to “your home.” Candidates often don’t know whether they’re supposed to talk about their home country or the place where they’re living at the time of the exam (many IELTS test-takers are living outside their home country).

If you don’t understand something, ask the examiner politely to repeat the question. Avoid asking too many questions – your job is to answer the questions and show the examiner what you can do in English. Rather than trying to clarify the “home” issue with the examiner, just indicate which “home” you would like to speak about and use appropriate language to do so:

RATHER THAN…

TRY THIS:

Should I talk about my home country or Boston? *It really doesn’t matter which one you speak about. It’s more important that you address the question and express yourself coherently.Well, I’d like to talk about Boston, because I’m really starting to feel like this is my second home… Well, I’m only here in Boston for a short time, so I’ll talk about my hometown in [country].

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t try to engage the examiner in conversation before nor after the exam. Just say, “good afternoon” and follow the examiner’s directions. When the test is finished, be polite and leave the room. Don’t try to seek reassurance from the examiner and definitely don’t ask her, “so, how did I do? Was it bad?” Remember, the Speaking test is recorded and the examiner cannot discuss the test or your performance.

6. Get in the habit of answering the question “why?”

If you’ve ever taken the IELTS exam before, you may have noticed that the examiner will respond to simple answers by asking, “why?”

This is because she needs you to say more so she can accurately evaluate your language. However, if the examiner feels like she has to coax information out of you continually by asking “why” all the time, you could be marked down for lack of fluency.

According to the IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors, in order to achieve a Band 6 the candidate must be “willing to speak at length.” Even Band 5 describes a speaker who “usually maintains a flow of speech.” Giving short, one or two-word answers won’t work. Short responses require the examiner to prompt you again and again. All this doesn’t do much to showcase (show off) your language ability. On the other hand, don’t be overly alarmed if the examiner asks you “why” a few times – it’s their job to keep you talking.

OKAY

BETTER

Examiner: What’s your favorite color?
Candidate: Blue, I think.
Examiner: Why?
Candidate: I don’t know. I just like it.
Examiner: What’s your favorite color?
Candidate: Blue, I think. Yeah, blue, because it reminds me of the ocean and the sky. I feel calm when I see the color blue. I also like to wear blue – it looks good on me.

7. Implement key phrases strategically

If you’re familiar with the format of the IELTS Speaking test and the types of questions asked, then you can start planning. Think about what you can say in various situations that may arise during the test. For example, the first part of the text will ask you about things like your home, family, work or your life as a student. This is a great time to show off your ability to use the present perfect.

homeI’ve lived in my apartment for two years.

familyWe’ve been married for only six months.

workI’ve been an engineer for fourteen years.

student lifeI’ve been studying English for five years.

After asking a few personal questions, the examiner will move on to questions about more general topics. However, you might get caught off-guard by a random question about sunshine, pets or trees in your country. If you’re not sure what to say, use a phrase like, “Hmm, that’s an interesting question…” to buy yourself some thinking time. Here’s a useful group of expressions that may come in handy during the exam.

to give your opinionto show another side of an issueIn my opinion,…I believe (that)…To me,…However,…On the other hand,…Having said that,…
if you didn’t hear/understand somethingExcuse me, could you say that again?Can you repeat the question, please?
if you don’t understand a term/wordWhat does . . . mean?I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with …. What does it mean?
facing a difficult / strange questionBuy yourself some time with these phrases:Hmm, that’s an interesting question… I’d say…Hmm, I haven’t thought about it before, but I would say…I can’t say for sure, but…

This is only meant to get you started. Come up with some other useful phrases and think about how and when you might use them on the exam!

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