Q: What happens when you’re given a question that has no simple answer?
A: Take it as a chance to show of your amazing English skills!

Answering the Question

Sometimes in the IELTS Speaking exam you will be given a very challenging question. This will usually occur in Part 3, when you’re presented with a difficult question and given no time to prepare an answer. So what should you do?

The first thing, of course, is to make sure you understand the question. Today I asked a student the following question:

“Why it is important to have national celebrations?”

She gave me a great answer about national holidays. What’s wrong with that? Well, the question is asking about celebrations, not holidays. They can be the same thing, but they’re not always exactly the same. She could have addressed the issue at the beginning of her statement and told me that she knew what a national celebration was, and that sometimes national celebrations include public holidays… but she didn’t.

Moreover, she didn’t explain why it is important to have national celebrations, or, for that matter, national holidays. She just said that it was important.

This student had a pretty impressive level of speaking, but she obviously misunderstood the question, and it cost her dearly. Don’t make that mistake. Pay attention, and answer specifically. You won’t get high marks for task achievement if you don’t answer what was asked.

So how can we answer the above question?

Here’s what I would recommend:

National celebrations are important for a number of reasons. The first is that they foster a sense of pride in one’s country. By celebrating our cultural heritage, or remembering an event from our shared history, we celebrate together and stay united as a country. Secondly, some national celebrations are given to the people as public holidays. As such, they give us time off from work or study, which we can use to spend with our family or simply relax. If we are well-rested and content, we are more productive when we return to work.

As you can see, it’s not as simple as it seems. But that’s the nature of IELTS Speaking Part 3. It’s a difficult area of the exam, and it requires careful listening, thoughtful answers, and a great deal of courage from the candidate.

How to Approach a Difficult Question

Even if you understand a question perfectly, it can still be challenging to provide an answer. Sometimes a question is deliberately vague so as to give the speaker a chance to use more complicated language. Look at the following questions:

  1. What clothes should I pack for a holiday to your country?
  2. What restaurant should I go to?
  3. How long does it take to become fluent in another language?
  4. What is the best age for people to get married?
slow mobius showing off his powers

Can you answer these questions simply? Probably not… and even if you could, it is a chance to show off your speaking skills.

Try using the following structure to answer the above questions:

It’s hard to say… It (really) depends on/if/how/what/when/where + clause

Let’s take a look at some sample answers to the above questions:

  1. It’s hard to say… It depends what time of year you visit, and what part of the country you want to see. If you come in winter, you’ll need some warm clothes because it can get pretty cold. In summer, though, it rains a lot so you’ll want something waterproof.
  2. It’s hard to say… It really depends what sort of food you like. If you’re into spicy food, you should check out a little restaurant across the road from my house – they have a wonderful range of dishes if you can handle the heat.
  3. It’s hard to say… It depends on a few factors. Firstly, you have to consider the difficulty level of the language you intend to study and the quality of available resources. Next, you have to honestly assess your ability to learn a new language and the level of effort you’re willing to expend.
  4. It’s hard to say… It really depends on the individuals. Some people are very mature from an early age and, if they’re truly in love, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get married in their early twenties. However, other people may not be ready for that sort of commitment until they’re much older.

Give it a shot. Try out this language with some difficult questions. Write your answers in the comment section below.