You practice lines for hours under no pressure and are absolutely “nailing it”…then the speaking test part of IELTS comes around and suddenly everything that flowed before becomes a horrible tongue twister and nothing seems right….right? You wouldn’t be the first to experience this – pressure does funny things to you; just ask any professional golfer about that! So this post is about preparing for the speaking test so that you can handle anything that is thrown at you…but first a look at the test itself, so that you are familiar with the structure.
Speaking Test Structure
The IELTS speaking test is divided into 3 separate sections and tests your ability to speak clearly, accurately and meaningfully in English. The first section of 4-5 minutes is an introduction and conversation about familiar topics; the next section of 3-4 minutes involves a longer monologue or extended speaking exercise; finally there is a 3-4 minute two-way discussion on a selected topic. The first section is usually quite conversational and most students should be relatively comfortable with this; in the second section you will be handed a card with a topic on it and given a minute to think about it and make notes, before talking for a minute or two on that subject; section 3 will be related to the same topic, but you will be asked more detailed questions to test your ability to expand on a subject. Note that the examiner interviews you alone and the conversation is recorded.
7 Test and Preparation Tips
1. Know what to Expect! Part of good exam technique is eliminating surprises as much as possible. Know what’s coming so that you are not thrown off-balance in the actual exam; you should familiarise yourself both with the structure of the test and also sample topics that you may be asked to talk about; then you can expand appropriate vocabulary for a variety of topics and become more comfortable talking about them.
2. Go through Recent Exams Familiarising yourself with questions and topics is easily done by going through recent exams (which are available online). In the speaking test the same topics can and do come up year after year, so there is a chance you can practice the very topic you will be handed.
3. Don’t try to learn speaking English from a Book You will only be able to prepare for speaking in a test by speaking in practice; don’t pretend that you can prepare adequately from a book or by speaking to yourself. An important part of speaking English well is pronunciation, so even if you have a great vocabulary and can write about a subject intelligently, it won’t help in the speaking test unless you clearly pronounce your words.
4. Practice with a Native Speaker for Feedback As with all parts of the IELTS test, it’s no use repeating the same mistakes over and over and not having them corrected until the exam comes along; rehearsing is great but you need to do that with a tutor or a native speaker, who can correct your mistakes and help you to build confidence in talking at some length about a variety of topics and ask you appropriate questions. If you can’t get a tutor or native speaker at least have access to a talking dictionary to learn correct pronunciation of words.
5. Practice Whole Sentences Don’t make the mistake of just practicing saying words; you need to construct sentences that are clear, coherent and meaningful. A talking dictionary can only help you with single words or phrases – not with delivery of sentences.
6. Use the Mirror… and Record it Practice speaking in front of a mirror and record yourself; if you look assured and deliver your sentences with confidence the examiner will be impressed; it’s easy nowadays to record yourself on your smartphone and improve your delivery; don’t be embarrassed – it can help you sharpen your speaking greatly.
7. Don’t Try to speak too Fast As pressure builds many students make the mistake of speaking too quickly and falling over their words; it’s better to speak slowly and deliberately than to try to get too many words out at a time. When you practice, start speaking slowly and gradually increase speed until it sounds natural. Following the tips outlined above should mean you can stroll confidently into the room when it’s your turn to be interviewed and not worry about stuttering your way through or tripping over your lines…. Good luck!
Are you taking the IELTS test soon? Check out our free report. You will find tips and strategies to be well prepared when taking the test. You can download it here.