IELTS Speaking: Introduction
The IELTS 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! (NOTE: This guide is great supplemental reading for our IELTS study schedules. We even recommend it specifically for the Magoosh one week IELTS study plan.)
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. In other words, this aspect of the official Speaking band descriptors measures your overall skill and confidence, relative to that of a native English speaker. While this can sound a little intimidating, Magoosh has you covered. We offer a guide to mastering Fluency and Coherence for IELTS Speaking.
This category on the IELTS Speaking rubric measures your ability to use words effectively–your command of spoken English vocabulary, in other words. To get a top score, use words in the correct context, with the correct meaning. And your word use is not just tested at the individual word level, but at the level of idioms and phrases. Want to know more? Again, we’ve got you covered! Our guide to Lexical Resource for IELTS Speaking will tell you everything you need to know.
To score well on grammatical range, you should not only have accurate grammar, but also grammar that is varied, yet natural. For more information on how to cultivate and use top-scoring grammar in IELTS Speaking, see our guide to Grammatical Range for the Speaking section of IELTS.
IELTS Speaking also measures your pronunciation. 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.
For more information on how to truly excel in English pronunciation on the exam, see our complete guide to Pronunciation on the IELTS Speaking rubric.
IELTS Speaking: Guide to Parts 1, 2, and 3
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, this PDF contains an excellent list of Part 1 questions that one of Magoosh’s test prep experts, David Recine, put together to help you practice! You can also check out some of those questions, with example answers and advice, in Magoosh’s complete guide to IELTS Speaking Part 1. Try to implement the following strategies as you practice:
To help you with paraphrasing on the IELTS exam, check out our video below:
Part 2 IELTS Speaking Topics
In IELTS Speaking Part 2, your interviewer will give you a “topic card” that contains a detailed question. This question is meant to be a prompt for a short speech you’ll give. You’ll be asked to speak for 1-2 minutes, and you’ll have one minute to prepare your speech before you start talking.
Below is an example of a typical topic card. The notes on the card’s features don’t appear on a real topic card.
|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.
To learn more about IELTS Speaking Part 2 and see more example topic cards, along with sample notes, a sample response, and additional advice, check out Magoosh’s complete guide to Part 2 of IELTS Speaking. You can also check out some extra tips and tricks for IELTS Speaking Part 2 below.
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.
The first topic of part 3 will always be related to what you talked about in Part 2, so it should feel like a natural transition. However, note that you won’t have any time to prep your Part 3 response.
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. For example Part 3 questions, sample answers, and other advice, see Magoosh’s tutorial on IELTS Speaking Part 3.
In addition to that tutorial, here are some tips to help you prepare IELTS Speaking Part 3:
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
- Common IELTS Speaking Topics
- IELTS Speaking: Fluency and Coherence
- IELTS Speaking: Lexical Resource
- IELTS Speaking: Grammatical Range
- IELTS Speaking: Pronunciation
- IELTS Speaking Part 1: Questions and Interview (with video)
- IELTS Speaking Part 2 Topics and Questions
- IELTS Speaking Part 3 Questions
- 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?