The IELTS speaking test is a formal interview with an examiner, not just any ordinary conversation. The whole test is recorded, but you shouldn’t worry about this because the recording is used to assess the examiner, not you. This part of the test lasts for 11 to 14 minutes, and it has three parts:
- In part 1 you answer questions about familiar topics (your family life, work or study and interests).
- In part 2 you get one minute to prepare a topic and then you have one to two minutes to speak about it. The examiner will not interrupt you, but will ask you a few questions when you have finished talking.
- In part 3 you have a discussion with the examiner on more abstract ideas related to your speech in part 2.
Since the speaking test is quite complex, you may hear things about it which aren’t actually true. If you understand why these rumors are false, you will have a better chance of getting a high score.
10 Myths about the IELTS Speaking Test
1. The speaking test is the easiest part of the exam.
This part may look easy because the examiners are friendly. In the other parts of the exam you are on your own, so it may seem like you have someone to help you in this part.
However, the examiner has to follow very strict rules so that all the candidates get the same treatment to ensure fairness. They evaluate all the candidates based on the same criteria.
The truth: All the four sub-tests have the same level of difficulty, but you may find one part of the exam easier than others depending on your language skills.
2. You need to have a native-like accent to get a high score.
Your accent is not an evaluation criterion. Pronunciation is assessed, but you are not expected to have a native accent.
When evaluating pronunciation, examiners pay attention to the candidates’ pronunciation of individual sounds, word stress and intonation.
You can make sure your pronunciation is good by checking every new word’s pronunciation when you learn it. Online dictionaries have this feature. You can click on the little speaker sign to hear the word pronounced correctly.
You can also read out loud to improve your pronunciation, or try to imitate native speakers and ask them to correct your pronunciation. If you don’t know any native speakers, you can always use the Internet to connect with English teachers online.
The truth: Your accent is not evaluated, just your pronunciation.
3. Don’t use complex grammatical structures if you’re not sure they are correct.
It’s actually best to attempt complex grammatical structures and make a few mistakes, rather than to just use very simple sentences.
For example, a candidate who just uses short and simple sentences will get a lower score than a candidate who is trying to use a conditional clause, even if they make some mistakes. Of course you should only use complex grammatical structures that accurately reflect what you want to say.
Here are some examples of complex grammatical structures:
- Conditional clauses: If I had the chance to study a new subject, it would probably be astronomy.
- Time clauses: As soon as I take my IELTS exam, I’ll move to Australia.
- Reported speech: My friend said she would help me study for this exam.
- Modal verbs: She might have arrived by now.
So as you learn the grammar rules, don’t be afraid to try and use them when speaking. When practicing, record yourself and then go back and listen to yourself carefully. Write down the grammar mistakes you hear yourself make, so that you can improve your use of grammar when you speak.
The truth: It’s better to use complex grammatical structures with a few mistakes than to only use short, simple sentences.
4. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you cannot get a high score.
Your knowledge of certain topics is not tested on this exam. The examiners are more interested in how you say things than what you say.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong answer. If, for example, you are asked “How do teenagers have fun in your country?” and you have no idea what to say, you can explain why you don’t know. You could say:
“I’m not sure I can answer the question accurately, as I’m not a teenager anymore, but I could tell you about how I used to have fun when I was teenager. I expect this has changed a lot because…”
This proves to the examiner you can speak and develop your answers, even if you are out of your comfort zone.
The truth: If you don’t know the answer to a question, explain why you don’t know. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer.
5. Always take notes while preparing for part 2.
You may want to take notes, but sometimes it’s better to just think about the topic. You only have one minute to prepare. If you spend that time writing, you may waste valuable thinking time.
Every topic card has a few ideas that you should use, so you need to organize your speech around these ideas. Spend that minute thinking about brief answers to each sub-question.
Once you have a brief answer in your head, you’ll be able to develop it while you speak, by giving examples and talking about how those answers relate to you. Most people have no problem talking about themselves because it’s an area they know well.
The truth: You might want to take some notes, but since you only have one minute, it could be better just to think about the topic in part 2.
6. If you’re very good at grammar, you’ll do well.
Grammar is just one of the four evaluation criteria used to give you a score in the speaking test. The others are fluency and coherence, lexical resource (vocabulary range) and pronunciation.
All of them are equally important. So if you are very good at grammar, one fourth of your final score will definitely be high. But if you want an overall high score, you need to also prove you have a wide vocabulary range. If you can use a lot of words to correctly express what you want to say, you’ll score high here as well.
You’ll also need to score high in pronunciation. As mentioned earlier, this refers to your ability to pronounce individual sounds correctly and to use intonation and word stress appropriately.
You also need to be fluent and coherent, which means you must be able to speak without too much hesitation and connect your ideas logically.
Here are some connectors you can use to structure your speech in an organized manner:
- Firstly, secondly, last but not least
- Moreover, furthermore, in addition
- Consequently, therefore, as a result
- In order to, so as to, so that
The truth: There are four evaluation criteria on the speaking test: (1) grammatical range and accuracy, (2) fluency and coherence, (3) lexical resource and (4) pronunciation.
7. If you don’t hesitate when speaking, you’ll make a good impression.
Fluency is important, but so is coherence (being logical, making sense). Trying to avoid hesitation is a good tip, but you also need to keep your answer logical and organized.
If you keep talking and talking without making much sense, you are fluent, but you are not coherent. The overall impression will not be a good one.
Remember, though, that some hesitations are normal. You are not supposed to speak without breathing or thinking. Try using some of these filler phrases to make your hesitations sound more natural:
- To put it differently…
- What do you call it…wait a second…I have it right there.
- You see…
The truth: Fluency (talking smoothly without hesitations) on its own will not make a good impression. You also need to speak coherently (logically, organized).
8. You should answer questions even if you don’t understand them.
If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to ask the examiner to repeat the question or to ask it in a different way. You could use some of the phrases below to do this:
- I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean. Can you repeat the question, please?
- I don’t think I know what you mean. Do you mind repeating the question, please?
It’s best to clarify the question before answering it. You don’t lose points if you do this a few times, but if you ask the examiner to repeat every single question, they may think you have a problem with understanding spoken English, so you get a lower score.
The truth: If you don’t understand a question, you should ask for clarification.
9. You don’t need to cover all the parts of the task in part 2.
Your topic/cue card in part 2 will have a main topic and around four questions on it. You actually have to speak about all of the questions, and spend an approximately equal amount of time on each of them.
If you have four questions on the topic card, you should spend around 30 seconds on each of them, speaking for a total of two minutes.
After practicing giving several such short presentations, you will start to have a feel of how long 30 seconds are, and when you should move on to the next point.
The truth: You need to answer all of the questions in part 2, spending an equal amount of time on each question.
10. If you run out of ideas in part 3, you should repeat ideas from part 2.
Part 3 tests your ability to take the topic from part 2 further away from you, to speak more abstractly about areas of general interest. You should prove you are able to describe things in detail, compare and contrast ideas, generalize and draw conclusions. So repeating your ideas from part 2 will probably not answer the questions in part 3.
Here are some example phrases you could use in this part of the test (and other parts):
- As far as I’m concerned,…
- What I think is this:
- I strongly believe that…
- From where I stand,
Comparing and contrasting:
- On the one hand…, on the other hand…
- The bottom line is…
- In a nutshell,
- All in all,
- To sum up,
The truth: Part 3 wants you to discuss more abstract issues with the examiner, so repeating your ideas from part 2 likely won’t answer the question.
Once you understand what’s expected of you in the IELTS speaking exam, this part will seem much clearer. You can now practice more effectively for the big day!