IELTS Speaking

The IELTS Speaking test can take place on a different day to the other parts of the exam, and is typically 2 days before or after the other parts.

Whether you are taking the academic or general version of IELTS, the speaking test is exactly the same.

Test Format

The speaking test consists of three parts, as in the table below.

Part Time Description Example Questions
4-5 minutes

Questions on familiar topics.

What type of sports do you like?

Do you prefer watching movies at home or at the cinema?

3-4 minutes
Talk about a topic for 1-2 minutes. You have 1 minute to prepare.

Describe a dish that is popular in your country.

Talk about a celebrity that you would like to meet.

4-5 minutes
Discussion questions linked by topic to part 2.

Do you think people in your country eat healthily?

Do celebrities have a responsibility to be good role models for their fans?

Guides and Example Questions

Click on the links below to see a guide and sample questions for each part of the speaking test.

Scoring

IELTS speaking scores are calculated in a similar way to the writing test, although slightly different criteria are used. There are four criteria for which the examiner gives a score between 0 and 9 (the examiner must give a whole number). The average (mean) of these scores is then taken and rounded up to the nearest half band.

For example, if you got 6 for each criteria, this will obviously average out to 6. However, if you got 6, 6, 6 and 7, it would average out to 6.25, which would then be rounded up to 6.5.

The four criteria are discussed in more detail below.

Fluency and Coherence

There are two things that the examiner is looking for here. Fluency concerns the rate of speech. To get a high score you need to show you can speak at length without a lot of hesitation and pausing.

Note that you don’t actually need to talk fast, just with an even pace. Some students make the mistake of thinking they need to speak really fast. The problem with this is that you will probably make more mistakes, may not be understood by the examiner and will run out of things to say quickly leading to a lot more hesitation.

Coherence concerns the organisation of what you are saying. There are a few ways you can ensure that your answer remains coherent:

  • stay on topic – this can be easier said than done;
  • in part one – aim for 2-3 sentences so you have a chance to show coherence;
  • in part two – tackle the parts of the question in the order they are given;
  • in part three – give a main idea, explain it and then give an example before concluding;
  • if you find yourself going off topic, bring yourself back to the topic with a phrase like “so what I’m saying is…”

Lexical Resource

Another word for this criteria is vocabulary. There are really two questions here: have you shown a range of vocabulary and have you used it correctly. It’s all well and good trying to get some word you heard into your speaking, but if you use it wrongly, it won’t impress the examiner.

If you want a high score however, you will need to use some less common or idiomatic vocabulary. Tread carefully with idioms; some can be useful such as saying you often “burn the candle at both ends”, whereas others are not really used such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

It’s also not just the long words in English that impress examiners. One of the most difficult things in English is the large number of phrasal verbs we have. These are usually short verbs with prepositions such as “stay up” or “come off” and getting these correct can help your score here.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

As with lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy is not just about using a lot of grammar, but using it correctly.

A common misconception among IELTS candidates is that they have to try and use every tense they know, such as the future perfect continuous in passive voice. Don’t worry, you don’t. The important thing is to use the right tense in the right place. 60% of English sentences use the present simple and a further 25% of English sentences use past or future simple, present continuous or present perfect. If you were using present perfect continuous a lot, it would sound very unusual.

Instead, the thing to focus on is complexity. You need to show you can make complex sentences, not just simple or compound sentences. Essentially, a complex sentence is one that has at least two clauses, one of which is the main clause. Not every sentence needs to be complex, but you should show you can make such sentences in a variety of ways.

Pronunciation

First things first, pronunciation does not mean accent. You can have an accent of your first language and score very highly in this criteria.

The most important thing here is to be clear. If the examiner can’t understand you, you will not get higher than a 5. This may be because you stress the wrong parts of words, or possibly you struggle to pronounce particular sounds.

The second thing to then lift your score even higher is to work on features such as connected speech, sentence stress and intonation.

Fluency and pronunciation are in some ways linked, since fluency entails pausing at natural moments and any irregular pauses will also interrupt intonation, sentence stress and connected speech.

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