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IELTS Speaking Test Overview | Tips, examples and what NOT to do

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Ursula John Whelpdale

Ursula John Whelpdale

ILAC IELTS Teacher & IELTS Expert

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The IELTS Speaking Test is often mistaken to be the hardest part of IELTS test as it involves one-on-one interaction with the examiner.  Yet, if we’re honest, IELTS Speaking is the easiest section of the test if you want to improve your overall score.  Don’t worry: if you are reading this blog, know you are in a good place!  With correct advice, training, and preparation, you can achieve your dream band score in your IELTS Speaking test.  Here is a detailed guide of everything you need to know.

IELTS Speaking interview
With correct advice, training, and preparation, you can achieve your dream band score in your IELTS Speaking test.

Overview of the IELTS Speaking test

Before you delve into preparation, it is important to understand the structure and format of the IELTS Speaking test. 

General vs Academic - Is it the same test?

IELTS Speaking has the same structure, format and questions for both General Training and Academic tests. That is, test takers for both types of tests will take the same speaking exam.  

Length and format

IELTS Speaking lasts for 11 to 14 minutes.  In this time, you will discuss a variety of topics with an IELTS examiner in a quiet room.  The examiner will guide you through the three different parts of the IELTS interview, encouraging you to speak and express your thoughts. 

What happens in each part of the test?

Let’s look at an overview of what happens in each of the three parts.

Part 1 of IELTS Speaking lasts 4 to 5 minutes.  It is based on a general introduction and questions.  Some common topics include home, work, family, hobbies, and studies.

Part 2 of the interview is based around a task card.  The examiner will give you the task card and ask you to speak on a particular topic.  You have 1 minute to prepare your answer, after which you speak continuously for up to 2 minutes until the examiner stops you.  The examiner may ask you some rounding off questions to mark the end of this part, making the total time around 3-4 minutes for this part.

Part 3 involves a further discussion on the topic from Part 2.  The questions in this part will require you to discuss the topic in more detail, touching on some abstract ideas and issues.  This is the last part of your interview and takes around 4 to 5 minutes. 

Wondering how you beat it?  To be successful in the Speaking part of IELTS test you need to practice… lots!  The best approach is knowing about each part of the IELTS Speaking test in detail, and to practice under mock test conditions with sample questions and tasks cards.  Read on to find out more about how to do this.

person studying for test
Know the IELTS Speaking test format and be prepared.

Breaking down the IELTS Speaking format (with examples)

Let’s now look at each part of the interview in more detail, and what questions you may be asked.

Part 1 - Introduction and Interview

Being nervous on test day is natural and the examiner understands this well.  You will be greeted by the examiner as you enter the test room.  They will first introduce themselves and confirm your identification details with their records.  Soon after, your IELTS interview will begin. 

The examiner will ask you some questions about yourself, home, work or studies and some other familiar topics.  Some example questions may be:

  • What do you do?
  • Are you a student or a worker?  
  • How do you spend your free time?  
  • Do you enjoy traveling?  
  • How often do you visit your relatives?  

The aim of Part 1 is to make you feel comfortable and for the examiner to get a general baseline of your English language ability.  Remember to relax and be as natural as possible while communicating.  Part 1 usually lasts 4 to 5 minutes.

person mixing dough
The examiner may want to know about your job or hobbies in Part 1.
Part 2 - Individual 'Long Turn'

The second part of IELTS speaking test is a chance for you to show that you can prepare a longer response independently.  The examiner will give you a task card with a situation/context (main task) and some guiding questions (things to include).  You have 1 minute to prepare, after which the examiner will prompt you to begin speaking.  

Speak about the task continuously and for up to 2 minutes.  Once this time is up, the examiner will ask you to pause and may pose one or two follow-up questions to round off Part 2.  You can answer these questions briefly and that marks the end of this part.  Part 2 usually lasts around 3 to 4 minutes in total.

Here’s an example: 

Describe a special gift or present you gave to someone. 

You should say: 

  • Who you gave the gift to 
  • What the gift was 
  • Where you got it from 
  • And explain why the gift is special. 

Topics in IELTS Speaking are not knowledge based, meaning you do not need to have any specific knowledge about the topics given to you.  The examiner is only focused on the language you use and not how accurate the things you say are.  

Part 3 - Two-way discussion

The part 3 of your interview is an extension of the task card from Part 2.  In this part, the examiner will ask you some questions related to the same topic.  Give your answer to each question in 2 or 3 sentences.

Look at the example task in Part 2 above (Describe a special gift…).  Here are some possible questions that extend from that topic: 

  • What is the purpose of giving gifts? 
  • How has gift giving changed since your grandparents’ time? 
  • How important is gift giving in a relationship? 
  • What is more important when it comes to giving a gift – cost or effort? 

The purpose of Part 3 is to push you to use your best English language.  Doing so, the examiner wishes to elicit higher language functions in your responses.  Part 3 is a chance to show off your skills and maximize your score for the IELTS Speaking section.  This part of interview lasts for 4 to 5 minutes. 

woman speaking on swing
Part 3 involves a two-way conversation between you and the examiner, just like a real-life conversation!

Marking Criteria for IELTS Speaking

A comprehensive understanding of the marking criteria is essential for a successful IELTS interview.  

Overview of marking criteria and band scores

A comprehensive understanding of the marking criteria is essential for a successful IELTS interview.  The IELTS Speaking criteria is divided into 4 parts, namely:

  1. Fluency and Coherence,
  2. Lexical Resource,
  3. Grammatical Range,
  4. Accuracy and Pronunciation.

Based on your spoken English language skills, the examiner awards a suitable band score ranging from 0 to 9 across these 4 criteria.  Each band comprises of a set of assessment benchmarks known as band descriptors Read more about band descriptors for IELTS Speaking here. 

Here is a brief description of what the criteria above mean along with what the examiner is looking for during your IELTS interview.

Fluency & Coherence

Under this criterion, the examiner will observe how fluent you are.  Are you able to keep speaking or do you need to hesitate, self-correct or repeat yourself in order to keep speaking?  

The examiner will also evaluate how coherent your responses are.  Do your ideas, words, and thoughts string together in a logical way?  Are you using cohesive devices, linking words and transition words to connect your sentences and ideas together? 

Here are some examples of cohesive devices: 

  • Well, I believe… 
  • To be honest, … 
  • First, second, third, … 
  • On the one hand, … 
  • As far as I’m concerned… 
  • However, … 
  • Therefore, …  
Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)

This criterion is all about the vocabulary that you use during your IELTS interview.  The examiner will pay attention to how often you are able to use appropriate words and phrases to express your ideas.  

  • Word choice: The examiner will evaluate your word choice.  Are you able to choose the right word forms?
    • Example – I played/was playing basketball in Grade 9. 
  • Fixed expressions: Are you able to incorporate fixed expressions in your responses naturally and correctly?  
    • Examples – during the day, to say the least, for the sake of, many years ago, to keep track of, once in a while, etc. 
  • Collocations: How often and easily are you able to use collocations (words often placed together in speech or writing) while sharing your ideas?  
    • Examples – energy consumption, solo traveler, highly probable, crowd funding, a lost cause, etc. 
  • Paraphrasing: Your assessment is also based on your ability to paraphrase the questions in your own words and use different words/phrases to communicate your ideas when you can’t remember the right ones.
    • Example Question: What is your favourite childhood memory?  
    • Paraphrase: The most cherished memory of when I was a young boy is…
    • You want to use the word “chaotic” here, but can’t remember it.  Instead, you can say “complete confusion and disorder“.
  • Idiomatic Language & less common vocabulary: If you wish to score band 7 and above, you will need to showcase idiomatic expression and less common vocabulary on your IELTS interview.  Be very careful that you don’t over-use idioms, and only use ones you are confident and familiar with.  Using incorrect or inappropriate idioms will do the opposite and lower your score.
    • Examples – to be on cloud nine, to be on top of the world, to get on your nerves, a blessing in disguise, it’s a small world, etc. 
Grammatical Range & Accuracy

Using this descriptor, the examiner will evaluate if you are able to make simple and complex grammatically correct sentences.  Your ability to produce sentences free of errors can help you score well.  Avoid making mistakes in the use of articles, prepositions, and subject-verb agreement. 

Pronunciation

In this descriptor of IELTS Speaking, the examiner will assess the range of pronunciation features in your speech.  These include stress, intonation, rhythm, and chunking.  Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Is your speech understandable? 
  • Is your pronunciation clear? 
  • Are you stressing important words and ideas? 
  • Are you grouping words that belong together and making sensible pauses? 

Understanding what the examiner is looking for in your speech during your IELTS interview gives you a sure advantage.  One great way to prepare for your IELTS Speaking test is by joining a group preparation class to practice test questions, conversations, and advanced language functions.  ILAC IELTS offers virtual test preparation classes through ILAC KISS.

two women test speaking at table
It's important to practice speaking about general and familiar topics before your test.

What is NOT marked

Test takers often wonder how to avoid losing marks on their IELTS interview.  Let’s look at what is not assessed when you take an IELTS Speaking test. 

Results from previous IELTS tests

Firstly, any results from previous tests are not assessed.  If you have previously taken IELTS and are worried about a negative score, rest assured that previous scores won’t count.  You are allowed to take an IELTS test as many times as you want and your previous test scores do not impact or affect your current IELTS test in any way.  Only your performance on test day counts toward your score for that test.

Your accent

Second, your accent is not assessed (but pronunciation is).  Accent refers to the rhythm and melody of your voice and varies between people.  For example, if you are from India and speak English with an accent, it is completely natural and acceptable to sound like an Indian when you speak English.  This is different from pronunciation, which refers to the way you enunciate and pronounce each syllable of English words.  Test takers with any accent have the potential to achieve a high band score with correct pronunciation.

Your outfit and appearance

Third, your outfit and appearance is not assessed.  You are free to dress and look the way you feel comfortable with on your IELTS test day.  The examiner is only interested in your language skills, not fashion style. 

Your opinions and the length of answers

Last but not the least, your opinions and the length of your answers are not assessed.  Be confident to share your opinion; the examiner is there to listen to your opinions and not judge them.  Furthermore, how long your responses are do not affect your capacity to score marks on your IELTS interview.  Quality above quantity is important.

people celebrating ielts test results
There are guaranteed strategies and tips to boost your IELTS Speaking band score.

Tips for success

There is no shortcut to a successful IELTS speaking test but there are guaranteed strategies and tips to boost your score.  

Know the format
You can begin by familiarizing yourself with the format of your IELTS interview.  Knowing what to expect ensures preparation on your part that helps you to give your best on your IELTS Speaking test. 
Understand the marking criteria
Next, a wise approach is to know and understand the marking criteria.  In other words, know what kind of language production will get you a higher score, and will tell you what the examiner is looking for.  Use cohesive devices, transition words and linking vocabulary to make your responses coherent and logical.
Practice speaking under test conditions
You can also go through IELTS common topics, look into sample questions and practice them under test conditions. ‘Practice makes perfect’ stands true for successful speaking on your IELTS test. However, do not try to memorise answers or try to insert a lot of big words. Your answers will sound unnatural and scripted.
Learn with an expert
In addition, you can take an IELTS preparation course, learn from the experts while interacting in English with other similar-minded people. At ILAC IELTS in Vancouver, you can achieve your target score on your IELTS test and more! Join us and let us help you train your brain to produce ideas, generate impressive language and structures and beat the exam pressure.
online class

Now that you know what to expect in your IELTS Speaking test, you are one step closer to achieving that dream.  Remember, thousands of test takers are achieving their dream band score and so can you. 

If you like the idea of receiving guided help with every step of your IELTS journey, why not sign up for an IELTS preparation course with ILAC KISS, our virtual course provider?  Practice with classmates and your teacher from the comfort of home and make your IELTS dream a reality!  Contact us to find out more or speak to an expert IELTS advisor. 

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