By Kerrin Houghton & Chris Hall
The International English Language Test System (IELTS) is an important exam that is accepted around the world by a huge number of universities and government departments. This article will give a basic outline of IELTS and some simple tips.
IELTS Speaking Part 1
In the first part of the IELTS test, the examiner will introduce themselves and begin a discussion about familiar topics. They will ask you questions about things like yourself, your work or study, and your country. Topics may include:
The questions will be related to your opinion and your personal experiences so you should give answers that include your opinion and experiences. To give yourself the best chance of success, you should make sure that you are familiar with a large variety of topics and that you know the vocabulary to discuss them. You should aim to answer questions with a few relevant, connected sentences. It is important to practise with a language partner and it is very helpful to record your discussion so that you can listen to your answers, reflect on them, and ultimately improve your speaking.
IELTS Speaking Part 2
At the start of Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test, you will be given a card with a particular topic or task on it. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for between one to two minutes about the topic, with some follow-up questions from the examiner based on what you said. Timing is very important. It is a good idea to practise writing down ideas about topics in just one minute, so that you don't run out of time in the exam; likewise, you should practise a lot to build up your sense of how long two minutes really is – when you are feeling nervous in the exam, you want to be focusing on WHAT you are saying and HOW you are saying it, not worrying about how much time has passed. It’s best to practise with a partner (or at least a timer!) and record your speaking so that you can listen and reflect on it later. Here are some examples for Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking Test:
Remember that you need to address all sections of the topic you are given. You should start your talk in a clear way (for example, by starting with “I’m going to tell you about…”) and end with a statement that closes or finishes the topic. Don’t forget to use clear transition language between sections of the task so that the examiner (and you!) can keep track of what you are saying.
IELTS Speaking Part 3
Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test allows you to discuss abstract concepts and ideas in more depth. The examiner will ask several questions related to the topics from Part 2. This section lasts about 4 to 5 minutes, and you may find that the examiner will ask you to extend upon what you have said. This part of the test may challenge you to express and justify your opinion, identify causes or solutions to problems, evaluate advantages and disadvantages, or make speculations. The questions are designed to allow you to use a range of complex grammar and vocabulary. If you are practising this section, aim to speak for between 40-60 seconds, developing and expanding your answer in response to the question.
SOME GENERAL TIPS:
Remember that the IELTS test can be taken by people with any level of English, so you might find some of the questions a little simple. You should still aim to use your full range of language to showcase your abilities.
Use the first part of the test to get comfortable (or as comfortable as possible!) with the examiner. Smile, make eye contact and try to establish some rapport with them. They are mostly sympathetic people and want to give you a fair score.
Try to sound interested in what you are saying. Remember that the examiner will probably have been listening to test-takers for a few hours. They will be pleased to speak to somebody interesting!
There will probably be some recording equipment in the room. Don’t freak out! This is just to help the examiner give you the right score.
It’s important to understand the marking criteria and look at the descriptors of the band you hope to achieve. Speaking is scored based on fluency, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. You can find the official marking criteria on the official IELTS website.
Vocabulary is important! Try to improve your range of vocabulary on common test topics, but also focus on collocations and idiomatic expressions in the lead-up to the test. Avoid repetition of basic language.
It is okay to make up information if you feel you have nothing to say and feel comfortable doing so. You will not be fact-checked.
Similarly, it is okay to ask for clarification or ask the examiner to repeat a question. Build up some language to do this. (e.g. “Do you mean…?”; “Can I ask you to repeat the question, please?”)
Learn some phrases that you can use to give yourself some thinking time. (e.g. “That’s a really interesting question…” or “I’ve never thought about that before...”)
Watch some of the sample speaking tests on IDP Australia’s YouTube channel to get an impression of the test format and the different band scores. IDP Australia is part-owner of the IELTS test, so these are official tests with real examiners and trustworthy scoring.
Most importantly, read and listen to news and current affairs as much as possible, and practise speaking about a range of general topics in the lead-up to your exam. You cannot predict the exact topic of your exam, but you can build up your general knowledge. In fact, this will help you in all areas of your IELTS test.
All the best in your exam!