IELTS Speaking

The Speaking test consists of a face-to-face interview between the test taker and a Speaking examiner. All Speaking tests are recorded.

Below you’ll find more information about the test format and scoring, as well as top tips, free videos and blog articles, and other resources to help you understand the Speaking test and achieve a high score.

If there’s anything else you would like to see, tell us on our social channels.

The Speaking test lasts 11–14 minutes and has three parts.

Part 1 – introduction and interview (4–5 minutes)

This part includes general questions on familiar topics such as home, family, work and studies.

Part 2 – long turn (3–4 minutes)

You’ll be given a task card with a topic and points to cover. You have one minute of preparation time and then you have to talk for up to two minutes.  The examiner will ask one or two questions on the same topic.

Part 3 – discussion (4–5 minutes)

You and the examiner will discuss issues related to the topic in Part 2.

Your score is marked by a certified IELTS Speaking examiner. You will be scored based on the following criteria:

Fluency and coherence

The ability to talk with normal levels of continuity and rate, and to link language together.

Lexical resources

The range of vocabulary used and how well meaning can be expressed.

Grammatical range and accuracy    

The range and accuracy of grammar used. 

Pronunciation

The ability to produce speech which is comprehensible.

1. Practise speaking as often as you can and make sure you can talk for two minutes on a topic.

2. Study all aspects of English including pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar as this will help improve your Speaking score.

3. Use a wide range of grammar and vocabulary during the test. The examiner can only award marks for the language you produce, so show them your full potential!

4. Don’t speak too fast because it can be difficult to follow. Don’t speak too slowly as you won’t have the chance to say much.

5. In Part 3 always give an opinion! It doesn’t matter what your opinion is – you're being assessed on your language not your ideas.

 

How to avoid being stuck for words in the IELTS Speaking test

In part two of the IELTS Speaking test, you will be asked to speak for 2 minutes about a given topic.

If you’re worried about not having enough to say, find out how to use the one-minute preparation time on test day to ensure you’re not stuck for words.

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How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: Individual sounds and syllable stress

In my last blog post, 'How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS', we looked at what we mean by ‘good’ pronunciation in the context of the IELTS Speaking test. We looked at the criteria IELTS examiners use to assess pronunciation, and identified two scales: pronouncing words and sounds correctly (clear pronunciation), and using a range of pronunciation features (effective pronunciation). In this blog post, we are going to look in more detail at the first scale – clear pronunciation of words and sounds. This depends on two features: Your pronunciation of individual sounds (phonemes) Syllable stress Two examples To understand how phonemes and syllable stress affect your pronunciation, I’d like you to watch two videos – the first is Tina, who we also saw in my first blog post. Start by watching the first part of the videos and answer these questions: What hobbies has Tina chosen? Why does she like shopping?   What kinds of people does Xin say become famous in China?   Tina likes shopping, picnics and volunteering, and she likes shopping because it helps her relax when she feels stressed out. Xin says actors, sports stars and rich business people become famous in China. Now, you probably found Xin easier to understand than Tina, but why is this? Watch the first part of the videos again. What do you think makes Xin easier to understand than Tina? The first difference between Tina and Xin is that Tina mispronounces sounds quite frequently. Firstly, the accent of her first language (L1) affects the pronunciation of vowel sounds, so ‘time’ sounds more like ‘tam’, and ‘picnic’ sounds more like ‘peekneek’. Secondly, Tina makes frequent errors with the pronunciation of consonant sounds: ‘interest’ sounds like ‘idrisde’; ‘shopping’ is pronounced ‘sopping’; ‘stressed’ sounds like ‘stret’. Also, like many Vietnamese speakers, she often misses the consonant sounds at the end of words: ‘clothes’ is pronounced ‘clo’; ‘think’ is pronounced ‘thing’; ‘friends’ is pronounced ‘fren’. The examiner calls this ‘systematic omission of word endings’. In contrast, Xin’s pronunciation is generally accurate and clear. He does mispronounce some sounds – for example, ‘rich’ sounds like ‘reesh’ - but these mistakes are only occasional, and the majority of sounds are accurate. But there is another important difference between Xin’s and Tina’s pronunciation: Xin’s stress is much clearer in words with more than one syllable. For example, the first syllable is clearly stressed in the words ‘actors’ and ‘famous’, and the second syllable is clearly stressed in ‘because’. On the other hand, Tina’s stress in words with more than one syllable is not as clear: in the words ‘hobby’, ‘shopping’ and ‘relax’, the syllables are evenly stressed. This is a problem because we recognise words partly because of their sounds (phonemes), but also because of their stress patterns (syllable stress). If the stress patterns of words are not clear, we have to concentrate much harder to understand what someone is saying. Based on this performance, an IELTS examiner would say that Tina frequently mispronounces words and sounds, and this ‘cause[s] some difficulty for the listener’ (Band 4.0). Meanwhile, Xin ‘can generally be understood throughout, though mispronunciation of words or sounds reduces clarity at times’ (Band 6.0). ‘Clear’ pronunciation (Click image to enlarge) Your pronunciation of individual sounds. If you make occasional errors with the pronunciation of vowels and consonants – like Xin – they will not have a significant effect on the clarity of your speech. However, if these errors are frequent – like Tina – the examiner is likely to find you difficult to understand.   Your syllable stress. If your syllable stress is not clear, like in Tina’s speech, the listener has to work much harder to understand what you are saying. This makes your speech unclear, even if individual sounds are accurate. Developing ‘clarity’ (Click image to enlarge) To improve the clarity of your pronunciation, take the following steps: 1. Learn English phonemic script – the characters that represent the sounds of English. There are several apps available that will help you to do this. Learning the phonemic script has two benefits: You will be able to identify important differences between the 44 English phonemes and those in your first language. This will help you to identify the sounds you are likely to mispronounce if you are not careful. For example, the difference between ‘I’ as in ‘rich’ and ‘i:’ as in ‘reach’ does not exist in Chinese, and this may be the reason why Xin says ‘reesh’ and not ‘rich’. You will be able to ‘read’ the correct pronunciation when you look up a word in the dictionary. Unlike many other languages, the pronunciation of English words does not follow how they are spelt. For example, the spelling of the word ‘knowledge’ – which we heard Tina pronounce correctly – tells us very little about how it is pronounced. 2. Make a note of the pronunciation – phonemes and syllable stress – when you record new vocabulary. For example, if you are recording the word ‘knowledge’, make sure you make a note of the phonemic script /ˈnɒlɪdʒ/. The ˈ symbol tells us that the first syllable /nɒ/ is stressed. You can mark the stress in the same way. Unlike many other languages, syllable stress does not follow regular patterns in English, so you have to learn it for every word.   If you are using an online or electronic dictionary, there is usually an audio recording modelling how the word is pronounced. In the example below, there are examples of both American and British pronunciation. Listen carefully and copy the variety of English you want to learn.   (Click image to enlarge) 3. Learn how to stress syllables. If we listen to the word ‘knowledge’ in the Cambridge Learners’ Dictionary, the first syllable is stressed. But how do we know it is stressed? What does the speaker’s voice do in order to create stress? If you can’t tell, try clapping the rhythm of the word. What do you notice? You probably noticed that your first clap was loud and slow, and the second was quieter and faster. This tells us that stressed syllables are louder and longer than unstressed syllables. However, there is one further way in which syllables are stressed: a higher tone. If you listen to the two recordings for the word ‘knowledge’, you will notice that the unstressed syllable - /lɪdʒ/ - is said with a low and flat tone. In contrast, the stressed syllable - /nɒ/ - has a higher tone. So, stressed syllables are louder and longer with a higher pitch.   What’s next? As we saw in Blog 1 in this series, the clear pronunciation of words and sounds is only one of two scales used to assess your pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test. In the next three blogs in this series, we will focus on the second scale – effective use of a range of pronunciation features - starting with word stress. Paul

Paul Dixon

17 August, 2021

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Speaking
How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: 1: ‘Good’ pronunciation

This is the first of a six-part blog series focusing on pronunciation: what 'good' pronunciation is, why it's important, and how to improve your pronunciation in preparation for your IELTS Speaking test. What is ‘good’ pronunciation? Why is it important? Before we begin, I want you to think about someone you know who you think has ‘good’ English pronunciation. Answer these two questions: What does it mean to have ‘good’ pronunciation? Why is ‘good’ pronunciation important? Most people would probably answer these questions as follows: 1. ‘Good’ pronunciation means pronouncing the words and sounds of a language correctly and clearly. 2. ‘Good’ pronunciation is important because it makes it easier to understand what someone is saying. If you answered the questions in this way, then you are partly correct: ‘good’ pronunciation is important because it affects how easy it is to understand what someone is saying. However, pronouncing words and sounds correctly and clearly is only one part of ‘good’ pronunciation.   Two examples To understand why ‘good’ pronunciation means more than pronouncing words and sounds correctly, I’d like you to watch two videos. First, watch the start of the videos and answer these questions: What hobbies has Tina chosen?   What kind of people does Anuradha say become famous in Malaysia?   Tina likes shopping, picnics and volunteering; Anuradha says politicians become famous in Malaysia now. You probably thought that Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’ than Tina’s, but why is this? Watch the first part of the videos again. What do you think makes Anuradha’s pronunciation ‘better’?   Perhaps the first thing you noticed about Tina’s speech is her strong L1 accent (an accent from her first language), which affects her pronunciation of individual words and sounds. ‘Interest’ sounds like ‘idrisde’; ‘shopping’ sounds like ‘sopping’; ‘stressed’ sounds like ‘stret’; ‘clothes’ sounds like ‘clo’ - she often misses the sounds off the end of words, in fact. The examiner comments, ‘She has a strong accent with a number of poorly formed sounds and systematic omission of word endings’. In contrast, Anuradha does not have a strong L1 accent, which means all words and sounds are clear and easy for an English speaker to understand. The examiner comments on her ‘clear pronunciation of individual words and sounds’ making her ‘effortless to understand’.     So Anuradha’s pronunciation of words and sounds is more ‘correct’ than Tina’s, and the examiners commented on this. This is one of the reasons Anuradha achieved a Band 9.0, and Tina a Band 5.0. But is this the only reason Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’? Did you notice any other differences? Use of ‘features’ If we look at the examiner’s comments on Tina’s pronunciation, they also say: The ‘rhythm’ of her speech is often ‘syllable-timed’ She speaks ‘too rapidly’ In contrast, the examiner says that Anuradha: Uses a ‘range’ of ‘features’ Has a ‘sustained’ ‘rhythm’ Uses ‘stress’ and ‘intonation’ to ‘good effect’ These are all quite technical words, so don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean at this stage – we will be looking at these terms in detail in Blogs 3-5. However, what these comments tell us is that IELTS Speaking examiners are interested in more than your pronunciation of words and sounds. In fact, if we look at the IELTS Speaking descriptors, we can see that candidates’ speaking is assessed on two scales:     1. Pronouncing words and sounds correctly. This is closely connected to not having a strong L1 accent, and how easy a candidate is to understand. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates pronounce most words and sounds correctly, and they are generally easy to understand.   2. Using a range of pronunciation features. This is related to the terms – stress, intonation and rhythm – that we saw in the examiners’ comments about Tina’s and Anuradha’s pronunciation. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates use a range of features effectively.   ‘Good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test Putting all this together, we can summarise the meaning of ‘good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test as follows:   (Click to enlarge) ‘Clear’ and ‘effective’ pronunciation If you are preparing for your IELTS Speaking test and you want to improve your pronunciation, don’t worry about whether your pronunciation is ‘good’ or not, or how you can make your pronunciation ‘better’. Instead, ask the following questions: 1. Is my pronunciation clear? Do I pronounce the words and sounds of English correctly so that they are easy to understand? 2. Is my pronunciation effective? Do I use a range of pronunciation features effectively to make my message clear? Whether you answer these questions yourself, or get feedback from someone you know, the first question is probably much easier to answer than the second. However, by the end of this Blog series, you will hopefully know the answer to both these questions, as well as what you need to do to make your pronunciation clearer and more effective.   What’s next?    In Blog 2, we will focus on what we mean by ‘clear’ pronunciation, and how you can develop it. In Blogs 3-5, we will focus on the pronunciation features we have identified – stress, intonation and rhythm – and how you can use these to communicate your message more effectively. Paul

Paul Dixon

7 July, 2021

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Speaking
Preparing for IELTS Speaking Part 3

The IELTS Speaking test is a face-to-face test that lasts approximately 15 minutes. Let's have a quick overview of the timings and tasks. (Click to enlarge) Today I will be talking about the third and final part of the Speaking test. If you want more detailed information about Part 1 or Part 2, take a look at my previous blogs: Preparing for the IELTS Speaking Test Part 1  Preparing for Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking Test So let’s look at Part 3 in more detail ... The final part of the IELTS Speaking test is a discussion between the candidate and the examiner. It is designed to give you a chance to speak in a more relaxed way. It lasts for 4 to 5 minutes and can be a two-way conversation. Many students feel nervous about this section of the test and worry that they won’t understand the questions. It is true that the questions will be more advanced in Part 3, but that is a positive thing. It gives you a chance to let your English language ability really shine. What is Part 3 about? Part 3 of the test will be related to the topic in Part 2. The examiner might ask you to explain the reason for something, the advantages and disadvantages, the future of something and so on. Basically, the thing to do is give an answer including your opinion and then explain why you think that. Add some real-life examples if you can too.   But what do you do if you have absolutely no idea what the examiner has asked you? Well, first, you can ask them to repeat the question, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t catch that, could you repeat the question?’. If you are still unsure and need some thinking time then say something like, ‘That’s an interesting question, let me think about that…’ or ‘ I have never really thought about that before, let me see…’ or even ‘I am not really sure but if I had to answer I would say…’ The worst thing you could do is to sit in complete silence and just not answer! In Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test you are expected to give opinions. Whether or not you have the same opinion as the examiner doesn’t matter, it is just important that you can express an opinion in clear and coherent English. Remember that you are not expected to have specialist knowledge about the subject and you are not being tested on your opinion, just your English. Well, I think/suppose/would say … I think most people would agree that … If you notice that you have made a mistake then you should definitely go back and correct it. This is what native speakers do all the time and it shows the examiner that you are able to recognize and correct your own mistakes, this is a good thing. I mean … What I meant to say was… What I want to say is … What I’m trying to say is … One way to think about the answers that you give in this part of the IELTS Speaking test is that they are more formal than an everyday conversation. The Examiner needs to hear you give a full answer. You can think of your answer fitting into this structure: Give an opinion (say what you think) Give a reason for your opinion (say why you think this) Give an example (show what you mean) Your turn… Have a go at answering some sample questions taken from the ‘The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS’. Remember to use the 3-part strategy ‘Opinion - Reason - Examples’. Do you think it’s more important to earn a large salary or to be happy in your job? Do you think some people spend too much time on their computers these days? (Why?) Pollution is a problem in many countries. What do you think governments can do about it? Remember, the examiner wants to give you the best possible mark in the test. Make sure you answer all the questions as fully as you can so that the examiner can assess your language. FREE WORKSHEET Today I am sharing some activities that will help you prepare for Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test. You will watch a video of an authentic IELTS Speaking test (Part 3) below to complete the tasks. This video is from The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS which I personally think is one of the very best IELTS preparation books available today. The test taker in the video is not a native speaker, his English is not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be, when you take IELTS you are probably not aiming to get a Band Score 9 so making a few mistakes is OK. Worksheet download Good luck in the test everyone. Emma

Emma Cosgrave

3 June, 2021

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How to use 'the thing is' in the IELTS Speaking test

'The thing is' is a really useful phrase to use in the IELTS Speaking test if you want to add an explanation to a point you have already made. It sounds natural in English and will help you to speak for longer on the same topic. Find out more about how to use it in Lucy's video.

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How to use 'let me see' in the IELTS Speaking test

Find out how to use the common phrase 'Let me see ...' in your IELTS Speaking test to give yourself time to think or decide about what to say next.

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How to use 'I have to say' in IELTS the Speaking test

In Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test, you will need to give your opinions and explanations in response to the examiner's questions. One way of giving your opinion is to use the phrase 'I have to say ...' or 'I must say ...'. Find out how to use this phrase in Lucy's video.

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