The IELTS speaking test can be really stressful and it causes many talented English learners to panic and perform poorly. However, it is important that you cope with this and do your best. There are so many things that you can do to prepare, and in this lesson I want to give you some handy IELTS speaking tips.
IELTS Speaking Tips
Below, you will find 8 useful suggestions to help you with your IELTS speaking test performance. These are not tricks or shortcuts! These are honest ideas to help you work hard and prepare intelligently.
1. 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?
It was 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 practised 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.
Get used to speaking English and practise calming your nerves with some simple breathing exercises. Practise speaking English with native speakers if possible so that the experience is not so overwhelming. (You can find an IELTS speaking partner to help you.)
2. Remember that the examiner is a person
This is related to the story above. The examiner is not a computer or a robot. They are 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.
3. Don’t show off
Again, IELTS is a very clever testing system and it assesses your actual English level. You can’t beat the system by memorising vocabulary or even whole answers. This isn’t a system that you can beat, no matter what some “teacher” on Instagram tells you.
Avoid using difficult words unless you’re absolutely confident about how they’re used. Just speak 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.
Which of the following answers is better?
- I often go out with my friends
- I – with a high degree of frequency – engage in social situations wherein I encounter my companions.
The first answer is much better because it is correct. This second uses longer words but they are either incorrectly used or sound overly formal.
4. 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. Think of it like this: Answer the question, then give one short point of detail.
Q: Are you a student?
A: Yes, I am. I study economics at the University of Bangkok.
5. Don’t talk too much
This is especially true for the first part of the speaking exam. While it 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. And don’t ask the examiner any additional questions, like, “What about you?” This is your opportunity to speak; not theirs.
Keep in mind also that long answers will likely contain a higher number of mistakes and if you are not careful they may also include a lot of hesitation. This is also why you need to keep your essays to a reasonable length.
6. Don’t use memorised phrases
Your IELTS examiner sees thousands of students throughout their 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.
Check out this list of common IELTS phrases to avoid. There are some more here (but they relate more to writing than speaking):
7. Just Be Honest
Sometimes students don’t know what to say, particularly on unfamiliar topics. However, you should 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. Once again: They only want to see evidence of your English skills.
Therefore, don’t try to please the examiner by saying whatever you think they want to hear. Also, don’t try to come up with a complicated lie to make your life sound more exciting. Just be honest. Speaking in another language is hard enough without inventing stories!
8. 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 exam.
For more grammar advice, check out my book:
Ok, I hope that you have found these IELTS speaking tips useful. Remember that there is no shortcut to success! These tips are all intended to help you with hard work and effort. Good luck and let me know any problems you face on your IELTS journey.