Getting it right by using the question
Speaking
Getting it right by using the question

IELTS is a test. This means that certain answers are considered 'right' and others are considered 'wrong'. In the Listening and Reading test, it's easy to see how this works. However, in the Writing and Speaking test it's more difficult to see what the examiner 'wants' and what is 'right' or 'wrong' as there are so many possible options. We should therefore think in terms of right or wrong for the situation. In a recent blog, we looked at how using the right future tense can make a good impression on the examiner. Today, I want to explore how this principle can be applied to any of the questions in the Speaking exam. For my examples, I have chosen a practice test from the Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS (page 245).  First of all, listen carefully to the tense the examiner uses in the question. If the examiner uses the present simple, there is a very good chance that your answer should also be in the present simple. However, if the examiner’s question is in the present continuous you might want to consider using that tense in your answer. Let’s look at these two examples: ‘What job do you do?’ ‘What subject are you studying?’ For the first example a good answer might look like this:  ‘I’m an engineer and I work for a company that restores old bridges.’ A good answer to the second question might be something like this: ‘I’m currently studying for a degree in mathematics at Seoul National University.’  The follow-up questions are often a little trickier grammatically: ‘How long have you been studying mathematics?’ In this situation you basically have two options. You could produce a suitable answer by staying with the examiner’s choice of tense and answer like this: ‘I’ve been studying for three years now.’ This is a good answer, but you may have missed the opportunity to show some grammatical flexibility.  The present perfect links the past with a present so there is the opportunity to jump to one of the other tenses with some adjustments. Here are some more suggestions for good answers: ‘I’m in my third and final year now.’  ‘I started in 2017.’ Similarly, you can gain some vital points in Part Two of the Speaking test by being disciplined about your use of tenses. For example, if the question card refers to a situation in the past, try to focus on using the past tense throughout this part of the test. Look at this example: ‘Describe a restaurant you enjoyed going to'. You should say: where the restaurant was who you went with what type of food you ate in this restaurant and explain why you thought the restaurant was good.’ In this question the examiner draws your attention quite clearly to the past tense, so a good answer might contain sentences like these: ‘The restaurant I would like to talk about was in my hometown. I usually went there with my parents for special occasions. My favourite meal was always the spicy chicken. I thought the restaurant was wonderful because it was connected with all those special occasions and the owners always treated us like family.’ This is a satisfactory answer because for all of the instances in the past the speaker used the past tense. However, if you need a higher score you might want to insert some more of that flexibility we saw above. Look at this answer: ‘The restaurant I would like to talk about was in my hometown. In fact, I believe it is still there. I usually went there with my parents for special occasions. My favourite meal was always the spicy chicken. It tasted amazing and I haven’t had any restaurant meal that I enjoyed so much since. I thought the restaurant was wonderful because it was connected with all those special occasions and the owners always treated us like family. It’s not quite the same with the restaurants I go to these days even though they may be a lot more upmarket.’ The speaker still uses the past tense to answer the questions from the card, but they expand their ideas by making reference to the present, too. Part three of the Speaking test usually gives you the opportunity to look at functional language beyond tenses. Here is an example: ‘Do you think that people eat healthier food than they did in the past? [Why? / Why not?]’ The ‘key grammar’ in this question is the comparative. This should prompt you to use comparative language in answering: e.g. ‘more money’, ‘less time’, ‘greater variety’, ‘better farming methods’, etc. The addition ‘Why? / Why not?’ should remind you to use expressions like ‘because’, ‘due to’, ‘means that’, ‘has led to’, etc.  There are many other pointers that tell you which answers are appropriate for any given question. During the exam, you probably won't have the time to figure out what response is appropriate. However, you can really improve your exam performance by preparing the type of language you should use depending on how the question is phrased, so why not try the language activity below? (Click to enlarge) Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

30 September, 2020

Getting it right by using the question

Getting it right by using the question

IELTS is a test. This means that certain answers are considered 'right' and others are considered 'wrong'. In the Listening and Reading test, it's easy to see how this works. However, in the Writing and Speaking test it's more difficult to see what the examiner 'wants' and what is 'right' or 'wrong' as there are so many possible options. We should therefore think in terms of right or wrong for the situation.

In a recent blog, we looked at how using the right future tense can make a good impression on the examiner. Today, I want to explore how this principle can be applied to any of the questions in the Speaking exam. For my examples, I have chosen a practice test from the Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS (page 245). 

First of all, listen carefully to the tense the examiner uses in the question. If the examiner uses the present simple, there is a very good chance that your answer should also be in the present simple. However, if the examiner’s question is in the present continuous you might want to consider using that tense in your answer.

Let’s look at these two examples:

  • ‘What job do you do?’
  • ‘What subject are you studying?’

For the first example a good answer might look like this: 

  • ‘I’m an engineer and I work for a company that restores old bridges.’

A good answer to the second question might be something like this:

  • ‘I’m currently studying for a degree in mathematics at Seoul National University.’ 

The follow-up questions are often a little trickier grammatically:

  • ‘How long have you been studying mathematics?’

In this situation you basically have two options. You could produce a suitable answer by staying with the examiner’s choice of tense and answer like this: ‘I’ve been studying for three years now.’ This is a good answer, but you may have missed the opportunity to show some grammatical flexibility. 

The present perfect links the past with a present so there is the opportunity to jump to one of the other tenses with some adjustments. Here are some more suggestions for good answers:

  • ‘I’m in my third and final year now.’ 
  • ‘I started in 2017.’

Similarly, you can gain some vital points in Part Two of the Speaking test by being disciplined about your use of tenses. For example, if the question card refers to a situation in the past, try to focus on using the past tense throughout this part of the test.

Look at this example:

‘Describe a restaurant you enjoyed going to'.

You should say:

  • where the restaurant was
  • who you went with
  • what type of food you ate in this restaurant and explain why you thought the restaurant was good.’

In this question the examiner draws your attention quite clearly to the past tense, so a good answer might contain sentences like these:

‘The restaurant I would like to talk about was in my hometown. I usually went there with my parents for special occasions. My favourite meal was always the spicy chicken. I thought the restaurant was wonderful because it was connected with all those special occasions and the owners always treated us like family.’

This is a satisfactory answer because for all of the instances in the past the speaker used the past tense. However, if you need a higher score you might want to insert some more of that flexibility we saw above. Look at this answer:

‘The restaurant I would like to talk about was in my hometown. In fact, I believe it is still there. I usually went there with my parents for special occasions. My favourite meal was always the spicy chicken. It tasted amazing and I haven’t had any restaurant meal that I enjoyed so much since. I thought the restaurant was wonderful because it was connected with all those special occasions and the owners always treated us like family. It’s not quite the same with the restaurants I go to these days even though they may be a lot more upmarket.’

The speaker still uses the past tense to answer the questions from the card, but they expand their ideas by making reference to the present, too.

Part three of the Speaking test usually gives you the opportunity to look at functional language beyond tenses. Here is an example:

  • ‘Do you think that people eat healthier food than they did in the past? [Why? / Why not?]’

The ‘key grammar’ in this question is the comparative. This should prompt you to use comparative language in answering: e.g. ‘more money’, ‘less time’, ‘greater variety’, ‘better farming methods’, etc. The addition ‘Why? / Why not?’ should remind you to use expressions like ‘because’, ‘due to’, ‘means that’, ‘has led to’, etc. 

There are many other pointers that tell you which answers are appropriate for any given question. During the exam, you probably won't have the time to figure out what response is appropriate. However, you can really improve your exam performance by preparing the type of language you should use depending on how the question is phrased, so why not try the language activity below?

Speaking Language Activity from Sophie

(Click to enlarge)

Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

Sophie has been supporting students on their IELTS journey since 2003 and feels privileged to have watched them succeed. While most people probably do not like taking tests, Sophie believes that preparing for the IELTS exam can be both interesting and fun. She loves language and structure and enjoys exploring both with her students to help them achieve their aims.

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