Here are a few simple tips to help you succeed during the IELTS speaking exam.
- Don’t be nervous!
This is the most important thing, and yet also the hardest. I used to have a friend in China who spoke English phenomenally well. In the reading and listening exams he’d always score a band 8. He could talk to me for hours in fluent English and yet when he went into the IELTS exam he’d invariably score a band 4.5 or 5 for his speaking test!
Why did this happen? Because he was nervous. He was comfortable with me, but with an examiner he would find his mind going blank and he would panic. In the end we practiced daily until he was comfortable with the format, and then I introduced him to some more Western friends until he was comfortable with “foreigners.” Eventually he got his confidence up and scored a band 7.
- Remember that the examiner is a person
This is related to the story above. The examiner is not a computer or a robot. He or she is a human being and they are trying to have a conversation with you in order to assess your English. Most of the mistakes IELTS candidates make in the speaking exam occur because they are trying to impress the examiner. Just relax and have a conversation. The IELTS is a test of your English – not your memory, your mannerisms, or your general knowledge.
- Don’t show off
Again, the IELTS is a very clever testing system and it assesses your actual English level. You can’t beat the system by memorizing vocabulary or even whole answers. You can’t cheat the IELTS, so don’t try!
Avoid using difficult words unless you’re absolutely confident about how they’re used. Just speaking comfortably and use the words and grammatical structures that you truly know. It is better to speak basic English correctly than to say an unintelligible sentence full of jargon and gibberish. Think about how native speakers talk on television – do we always use the longest word we know? No. Communication is simpler than that.
- Avoid short answers
If the examiner asks you, “Are you student?” You shouldn’t just answer, “Yes,” or “Yes, I am.” You should try to say two or three sentences in reply. These are not yes/no questions. They are designed to facilitate conversation.
- Don’t talk too much
This is especially true for the first part of the speaking exam. While is important to avoid very short answers, you should also try to avoid speaking too much. The examiner doesn’t want to know your whole life story. Just have a normal, natural conversation. Aim for a few sentences – no more, no less.
- Don’t use memorized phrases
Your IELTS examiner sees thousands of students throughout his or her career, and they know all the phrases that are taught in IELTS schools. Many of these are not natural English, and they don’t express exactly what the student intended. Speak from your heart and from your own personal experience. Answer the examiner’s questions according to your own ideas, and not according to a script from a textbook.
- If you draw a blank, try to say something
Sometimes students don’t know what to say, or feel that they have no relevant experience. Remember that the IELTS exam isn’t testing your general knowledge or your logical deductions, and it is certainly not judging you on your life experiences. You can feel free to say the absolute truth if you wish, or to be more creative. I never encourage lying… but in the IELTS exam you are being tested not on honesty, but on English ability. You can, if you wish, embellish your answer. Moreover, be creative in your thinking. If you are asked about your work or study, but you are unemployed and not a student, that doesn’t mean you have to be silent. Say, “I’m neither employed nor am I a student right now, but I used to work for….” There is always something to say. Remember, you’re being tested on your English.
- Vary your vocabulary and grammar
One thing I always tell my students is this: “Avoid repetition!” It is funny that I repeat myself so much, but it is also serious. In many languages, repetition is normal and even desirable. However, in English it sounds terrible. Think of an annoying sound that drives you crazy – that is what repetition sounds like to English speakers! You don’t need to learn difficult vocabulary and use the hardest sentence structures, but aim to use a few synonyms and vary your grammar a little. This is also true for the writing exams.