IELTS Speaking: Introduction
The Speaking test is the shortest part of the IELTS exam, lasting only 11-15 minutes. However, for many test-takers this brief experience can seem to last an eternity! IELTS Speaking is a quick, but intense in-person interview. It requires focus, creativity, and strong English skills to think of responses to the interviewer’s questions quickly.
It is very important to relax and remain confident during the IELTS interview. Being alert but calm will help you do your best. How can you achieve this? The best thing you can do is study and prepare. Knowing what to expect on the IELTS Speaking exam, practicing a variety of strategies, and answering many, many practice questions will help you on exam day.
This Guide to IELTS speaking covers what you need to know about this short, but challenging part of the IELTS exam. We’ll start with basic (but important!) information to introduce you to IELTS Speaking and how it’s scored. The second half of the post focuses on each of the three main parts of the test, with tips and strategies to help you develop your approach.
Read on to learn how to tackle IELTS Speaking!
Table of Contents
IELTS Speaking: The Basics
IELTS uses either a test-booklet or computer format for its Reading, Writing, and Listening tests, all of which are completed together in one sitting. Speaking takes place separately. In most cases, Speaking interviews are scheduled on the same day as the booklet or computer test. However, sometimes the interview can be scheduled up to one week before or after you take the rest of the exam by booklet or computer. You will receive instructions about this when you register for the IELTS at your local test center.
When you take the Speaking test, you will enter a room where your examiner will be waiting to greet you. He or she will ask you to identify yourself, and your Speaking test will begin immediately after that. To get an idea of what the test is like, check out this short video. The student is answering IELTS Speaking questions in Part 1 of the exam.
The IELTS Speaking Test has three parts. We will look at each part in depth later in this post. For now, let’s just get familiar with each one.
IELTS Speaking Part 1: The Basics
Part 1 is like a personal interview. It lasts about 4-5 minutes. You will in introduce yourself and talk about IELTS Speaking topics related to your life and your experiences in response to the examiner’s questions. Think of this interaction as “small talk.” These are the kinds of questions you might exchange with someone you just met.
IELTS Speaking Part 2: The Basics
Part 2 is called the “long turn.” Here, you are given a question on a topic and some sub-points you must cover in your speech. You will have a minute to prepare a response, and your goal is to speak for about 2 minutes. The examiner may ask you some follow-up questions when you finish your short speech.
IELTS Speaking Part 3: The Basics
Finally, you’ll have a conversation on the same (or similar) issue you spoke about in Part 2. This will be a discussion, much like the first section of the exam (Part 1). However, the questions are more complicated because they require you to offer an opinion or some analysis. To illustrate, imagine your Part 2 topic is to describe a happy memory from your childhood. In Part 3, the examiner could ask you: “What are some important things a person should do in order to live a happy life?” Here, the theme of “happiness” connects both sections.
IELTS Speaking Practice Tests and Resources
- IELTS Speaking Diagnostic Test
- Our free IELTS Practice Test
- IELTS Speaking Topics list
- IELTS Speaking Interview Simulation video, below
Official IELTS practice tests and textbooks with practice exams can also be fantastic resources to help you prepare for the Speaking test. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS includes a DVD with videos of IELTS Speaking sample responses representing a variety of Band scores. Here is a list of excellent IELTS resources that may help you in Speaking and other areas of the exam.
IELTS Speaking: Scoring
IELTS uses four scoring categories to assess your speaking skills. Make sure to study these “Band descriptors,” which IELTS uses to assign Speaking Band scores. To help you understand the grading schema better, let’s take a look at each category.
Fluency & Coherence
Fluency and Coherence are measurements of a speaker’s ability to communicate logically, clearly, and without difficulty in English. For Fluency, a perfect Band score of 9 means the speaker doesn’t have to pause to recall words, or mentally review grammatical structures. The speaker can focus on the message she wishes to convey rather than the language needed to say it. Coherence is related to fluency, but slightly different. It measures how well a speaker’s ideas make sense together. A high Band score indicates that a person can use a variety of cohesive features and discourse markers with ease in order to articulate ideas in a clear and logical way.
This scoring category measures vocabulary. You will be assessed on your ability use words appropriately (in the right context) and accurately (with the correct meaning). IELTS Speaking rewards test-takers with large vocabularies. If this is a concern for you, Magoosh offers free IELTS flashcards to help you learn words you should know for the IELTS! We also have a handy vocabulary lesson video below.
The examiner will be listening carefully to assess whether or not you you can use a wide variety of words and phrases (which is good), or whether you use the same language over and over again (which is bad). Related to this, you will also be assessed on whether or not you can accurately paraphrase the examiner’s questions fluently. See the tips and strategies chart for Part 1 (below) to learn more about paraphrasing the examiner’s questions.
Your grammar will be assessed on the Speaking exam. You should try to use a wide range of grammatical constructions appropriately and accurately. Keep in mind that your grammatical range score is not simply about avoiding grammar mistakes. Limiting errors is important. However, you can only reach a very high band score if you can also demonstrate that you have mastered complex sentence structures, verb tenses, and other advanced grammatical features.
If your grammar skills are limited, or you have a lot of grammar mistakes when you speak, it is especially important that you record yourself when you answer practice questions. Listen for errors that you make regularly and think about how you can fix them. Get feedback on your grammar from a native English speaker if at all possible. If you have enough time before your exam (a few months or more), consider taking a class or investing in a good grammar book for self-study.
IELTS Speaking also measures your pronunciation. Top Band scores only go to those test-takers whose pronunciation is “effortless” for a native English speaker to understand. Scores are reduced for mispronunciation, especially if pronunciation problems make it difficult to comprehend a speaker’s message.
Keep in mind that pronunciation involves more than just articulating individual words correctly. Many students have even larger pronunciation problems at the sentence level. These problems occur when a student doesn’t have a feel for native-like rhythm or intonation patterns. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for most pronunciation issues. Generally, the best way to improve is to use your English in daily life.
If you can’t use English on a regular basis, then it can be helpful to listen to recordings of English speakers. Pause the recordings occasionally and attempt to pronounce entire sentences exactly the same way as the speaker. Try to copy the speaker’s tone (the rise or fall of the voice). Also try to copy how the speaker speeds up, slows down, and pauses throughout the sentence. Even try to mimic the speaker’s emotion! You may feel a little silly doing this exercise, but that is actually a sign you’re doing it correctly! Over time, you will develop your ear to hear the sounds of English and reproduce them more accurately.
IELTS Speaking: Parts 1, 2, and 3 in Depth
IELTS Speaking has three parts. In this section, we will take a close look at each one and consider some strategies and tips to help you boost your score. We’ve also compiled our tips and strategies for Parts 1, 2, and 3 into a cheat sheet, so you can take your studying on the go.
Part 1 IELTS Speaking Questions
If you’ve had an opportunity to interact with English speakers, it is very likely that you have already answered questions that would fit in Part 1. They target basic personal information about things like your school, hometown, family, or possibly even the weather in your hometown. Treat Part 1 like a warm-up for the rest of the exam. If you’re feeling nervous about the test, hopefully by the end of this section you will feel more comfortable and prepared to tackle Parts 2 and 3. To familiarize yourself with this section of the test, you can refer to an official IELTS Speaking sample. Take a look at this official Part 1 prompt, recording, and transcript.
The questions from Part 1 are noticeably easier than than Parts 2 and 3. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t prepare for Part 1! To the contrary, your preparation can really pay off. Getting off to a good start is important to show your examiner that you’re feeling comfortable and confident. With enough practice, you can feel very comfortable answering Part 1 questions without much effort. To help you, here is an excellent list of Part 1 and Part 2 questions that one of Magoosh’s test prep experts, David Recine, put together to help you practice! Try to implement the following strategies as you practice:
Part 1 Tips and Strategies
|Part 1 Tips||Explanation|
|Expand your answers||In Part 1, you may get questions that only require a very simple answer. For example, you may get a yes/no question like this: |
“Does your family have any special traditions?”
The answer may be “yes” or “no,” but you shouldn’t stop there. Always expand your answers and say more.
Example: “Yes. Every year my relatives travel to my family’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving.”
|Paraphrase the question||No matter the question type, it can be very helpful to begin your response by restating a portion of the question. However, you should try your hardest to paraphrase the question in your response rather than simply repeating what the examiner said. |
You can use synonyms where possible, but you can also rearrange the sentence structure of the question. Here is an example:
Question: Who helped you with your homework when you were in school?
Poor response: “My sister helped me with my homework when I was in school.”
(The words and structures are almost exactly the same as the question)
Better response: “My sister helped me study when I had difficult assignments in school.
(Good use of synonyms, but sentence structure is very similar to the question)
Best response: When I had a difficult school assignment, my sister was always there to assist me.
(Good use of synonyms and changes to the sentence structure)
|Stay on topic||Don’t allow your responses to wander away from the question the examiner asks you in Part 1. Your answers do not need to be long--a few sentences is fine. When you’ve answered a question, stop talking and let the examiner ask the next question. |
If you’re feeling nervous, it can be very easy to lose focus and take the conversation away from the original question. You may lose points for this. Also, the more you say beyond what’s necessary, the more likely it is that you will make mistakes!
To help you with paraphrasing on the IELTS exam, check out our video below:
Part 2 IELTS Speaking Topics
In IELTS Speaking Part 2, you will receive a “topic card” that contains a detailed, multi-part question. Take a look at this official IELTS Speaking sample prompt, script, and recording of a Task 2 question to get a sense of what to expect. You will have one minute to prepare a short speech in response to the topic card. Then you should speak for 1-2 minutes.
Preparing for Part 2 can really pay off. As noted above, Magoosh offers a great list of Part 1 and Part 2 IELTS Speaking topics to use as you practice. Obviously, it is impossible to predict the exact questions you will receive on exam day. However, the structure of Part 2 questions is very consistent. Each Part 2 card has three basic features that you should know well:
- Topic Introduction
- 3 Detailed Points
The right side of the card below shows the typical appearance of a Part 2 question. The notes on the left (not included on an actual IELTS topic card) highlight the three main features of this question type.
|Feature 1 →|
Feature 2 →
Feature 3 →
|Describe a time when you gave someone advice. |
You should say:
to whom you gave the advice
what the advice was
whether that person took your advice
and explain why you gave the person that advice.
You have one minute to plan your response before you speak. That may not seem like a long time to think of a response to all of these questions, but fortunately, planning a Part 2 response is simpler than it may look at first.
You will be provided with a pencil and some paper to plan your response. I advise students to read Feature 1 and Feature 2 first, BUT, avoid writing notes about these questions. The best approach is simply to use these points on the card as reminders about what you need to say. At the beginning of your short speech, go through each point one-by-one with a brief response.
Let’s look at an example that covers the points on the sample topic card above:
“When I was in secondary school, I told my best friend that he should be more serious about his studies. My specific advice was that the decisions he makes now could have serious consequence for his career opportunities in the future. Fortunately, he listened to me and after that we helped each other to remain focused on our schoolwork.”
This simple response answers each of the questions listed in Features 1 and 2 very directly. Without much planning or thought, you can go down the list and supply the necessary information to cover these points. Do not skip anything because you will be marked down for missing information. Nevertheless, you can move through these points quickly in order to get to the more detailed response you will provide for Feature 3.
You should use most of your one-minute preparation time to plan your response for Feature 3. This point requires more detail and depth than the other talking points on the card. As you prepare, your goal should be to come up with at least two main points for Feature 3.
Hopefully, you can also think of some details and examples to support these points during your one-minute prep time. Keep in mind that you won’t have time to write detailed notes with complete sentences. Just write down a few words as reminders of what you plan to say.
Below is a sample of some notes related to the topic card above. For clarity in this blog post, I added more language on these notes than you would have time to include on the real exam.
Sample NOTES: (Why did you give the advice?)
Reason 1: My friend was failing his classes.
- Detail 1: He was almost kicked off the basketball team.
- Detail 2: His college plans were in danger.
Reason 2: He was very smart and should have done better in school
- Detail 1: He hated to do homework, but he always knew the answers in class.
- Detail 2: He just needed someone like me to motivate him.
The following chart provides a summary of some of the key tips described above for Part 2 of the Speaking test:
Part 2 Tips and Strategies
|Part 2 Tips||Explanation|
|Answer all of the questions||As noted above, don’t skip anything listed on the topic card. |
|Stay focused||Make sure you respond very directly to the prompts on the page, and don’t discuss unrelated topics.|
|Timing||Use your preparation time to develop an answer to Feature 3 (discussed in detail above) of your topic card. This part of the card requires an extended response with main points and supporting details. |
Do not waste time writing out notes for the first questions (Features 1 and 2). Use the topic card as a reminder of what you should say.
|Write Simple Notes||You don’t have time to write out lengthy notes in one minute. Even if you had more time, your examiner would penalize you for reading responses that you wrote out ahead of time. Write notes as reminders of what to say.|
|Paraphrase||As with other sections of the Speaking test, make sure you paraphrase anything that is similar to the language on your topic card. You will be marked down if you use too much language taken directly from the card.|
Part 3 IELTS Speaking Questions
After Part 2, the examiner will ask you a few “rounding-off” or “follow-up” questions. These questions will be related directly to the topic of your short speech, usually requesting clarification or further detail about something you said. However, after one or two of these questions, the exam will quickly move to the final section: Part 3.
Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking exam should feel like a smooth transition from Part 2. The first topic of Part 3 will always relate to the topic of your Part 2 monologue in some way. Yet, this time you will not have any time to prepare your responses.
Part 3 questions can be tough to answer because they require detailed and complex answers. Here are some example Part 3 questions to give you a sense of what to expect:
- What are some qualities of an excellent teacher?
- What habits lead to success in school or work?
- In what ways will life be better for the generations that follow yours?
To succeed in Part 3, you must remain calm and focused on the examiner’s questions. Your only job is to demonstrate your English abilities by responding with as much detail as you can. Your goal should be 1) to provide a direct and clear answer to each question and, 2) to support each answer with at least 1 or 2 examples or details. When you’ve finished speaking, your examiner may ask you a follow-up question, or she may change the topic entirely! Just follow the examiner’s lead wherever the conversation goes.
As you might imagine, the number of questions you receive in Part 3 depends on how much you say in your responses. If your answers are very short, you may get a lot of questions. If you speak with more depth, you will receive fewer questions. In general, you can expect that the examiner will cover 2 – 3 different IELTS speaking topics in Part 3.
Here are some tips to help you prepare IELTS Speaking Part 3:
Part 3 Tips and Strategies
|Part 3 Tips||Explanation|
|Say what’s easiest….|
Say what demonstrates your English...
|Part 3 questions normally require you to respond with your perspective on a topic. There are no “wrong” or “right” answers to these questions. Furthermore, keep in mind that your examiner is not grading your ideas. You are only graded on your ability to answer the questions appropriately in English. |
Your Part 3 responses must always answer the questions directly, and they must be reasonable and logical. However, you are not required to express your “true” opinions. Since you don’t have much time to think during Part 3, it is often better to go with the first thing that comes to mind. Your goal should be to provide fluent responses. That’s it. As much as possible, respond by discussing ideas you know how to express in English so you can display your skills. Avoid saying things that you can’t discuss fluently, even if those ideas would represent your perspective more accurately.
|When necessary, buy some time to think….||The speed of Part 3 can be challenging. Sometimes, it may help you to slow things down so you can gather your thoughts before speaking. This is especially true if you don’t fully understand the examiner’s question. |
It can lower your score if you have too many long pauses, or if you stumble over a lot of words. It can also lower your score if you simply repeat the examiner’s question as you think of your answer.
Try to avoid this by using one of the tips below. They can help you to gain a few precious seconds to think about what you want to say! NOTE: You should only use these when truly necessary. Try your best not to use any of these tips more than once.
1. Ask the examiner to repeat the question.
Example: “I want to make sure I understood the question. Could you please repeat it?”
2. Comment on the question.
Example: “That’s an interesting question. I would say that….
3. Introduce your idea.
“Well, the first thing I would say is….”
“I haven’t considered that before, but one thing that comes to mind is…”
“People have many opinions about that in my country. I believe…”
4. Ask about the meaning of a word.
Example: “I didn’t understand the meaning of _____________. Could you please explain what that word means?”
Note: Only ask about the meaning of a word if you truly don’t understand.
|Just answer...||No matter what, you must attempt an answer to each question. Don’t give up!|
More Resources for IELTS Speaking Preparation
In case you missed it earlier in the post, make sure you check out this extensive list of sample Part 1 and Part 2 questions that we’ve put together at Magoosh. Magoosh IELTS Prep also offers lessons on IELTS Speaking to help you boost your score.
Many students who need guidance with Speaking also need some assistance on other sections of the IELTS. Here are some Guides to IELTS Writing Task 1 and Task 2, and here is a Complete Guide to IELTS Listening.
Good luck with your IELTS preparation, and happy studying!
To view all of our our Magoosh IELTS Speaking posts, take a look at the list below:IELTS Speaking: Academic & General Training
- IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors: How to Improve your IELTS Speaking Score
- IELTS Speaking Practice: Diagnostic Quiz
- IELTS Speaking Interview Practice | Video Post
- Complete Guide to IELTS Speaking
- Clear Enunciation in IELTS Speaking
- How to Ask for Clarification in IELTS Speaking
- How to Express Likes and Dislikes in IELTS Speaking
- How to Compare and Contrast in IELTS Speaking
- Dealing with Nervousness in the IELTS Oral Exam
- Natural Connectors in Speech for the IELTS Oral Exam
- How to Give Opinions in IELTS Speaking
- IELTS Speaking Exam: Useful Prompt Phrases
- Common Mistakes in IELTS Speaking
- How to Take Notes in IELTS Speaking
- How important is my pronunciation in the IELTS speaking test?
- Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Test: Introduction and Interview