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! 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.
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 prepare for 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 IELTS Speaking sample video. The student is answering IELTS Speaking questions in Part 1 of the exam.
The 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 Format: Parts 1, 2, and 3
IELTS Speaking Part 1 is like a personal interview. Speaking Part 1 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 is called the “long turn.” In Speaking Part 2, 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.
Finally, you’ll have a conversation on the same (or similar) issue you spoke about in Part 2 in IELTS Speaking Part 3. Speaking Part 3 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.
Scoring and Rules for IELTS Speaking Test
IELTS uses four scoring categories to assess your speaking skills. Make sure to look over these official “Speaking Band descriptors (PDF)”, which IELTS uses to assign Speaking Band scores. These band descriptors go from 0-9, with 9 being the highest. Here are some key takeaways:
- To get a band score of 9 in each of the categories, you need to show fluency/a full range of skills related to that scoring area.
- You can make a handful of errors in any/all scoring categories and still get a band score of 8.
- Hesitating too much and making too many mistakes will knock your score down to a band score of 7 in some categories.
- If you show up and are able to speak at least a litte, the minimum score you will get is a 2.
- You can only get a 0 if you don’t show up 😉
For a detailed overview, check out our guide to Speaking band descriptors with score improvement tips! Now, 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 Speaking.
On the Speaking rubric, Lexical Resource 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 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 Speaking, see our guide to Grammatical Range for the Speaking section of IELTS.
Speaking also measures your pronunciation. Keep in mind that pronunciation involves more than just articulating or enunciating 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 guide to Pronunciation on IELTS Speaking.
IELTS Speaking Preparation Tips
Just knowing the band descriptors from the IELTS rubric for speaking isn’t enough to boost your score, though. You need to apply that knowledge to your responses!
Never fear! Listen to this podcast on how to prepare for IELTS Academic Speaking with our experts, Eliot and Naomi. Then, read on for the top five IELTS Speaking preparation tips to help you get ready for test day!
- Avoid common mistakes: Filler verbs, repetition…there are some habits that are common in everyday speech–but that will hurt your IELTS score. Learn more about which common IELTS Speaking mistakes to avoid to bring your score up on test day!
- Ask your examiner for clarification: If you weren’t sure what the question was or need to hear it again, don’t worry! You can definitely ask for clarification from your examiner. It’s far better than giving an off-topic response, which will seriously hurt your score. But don’t ask your interviewer to define a word!
- Use notes to plan your response for Speaking Part 2: It can be seriously tough to remember everything you want to say in Part 2. But don’t worry! You can use notes. Here’s how to take helpful IELTS Speaking notes.
- Work on overcoming test day nervousness: Test anxiety is real–but it can be overcome. Here’s what to do to make sure you beat stress on the IELTS!
- Try to make it sound natural: One of the best ways to do this? Use natural connectors in your responses.
IELTS Speaking Resources
Tips and Resources
- IELTS Speaking Strategies for Parts 1, 2, and 3 (PDF)
- IELTS Speaking Topics PDF
- How to Compare and Contrast in IELTS Speaking
- Giving an Opinion in IELTS Speaking
- How to Express Likes and Dislikes in IELTS Speaking
- Useful Prompt Phrases on IELTS Speaking
- Top 10 IELTS Speaking Tips
- How to Score Band 8+ on IELTS Speaking
- Self-Study Tips
- How to Greet the Examiner
- What to Do When You Get Stuck
Official IELTS practice tests and textbooks with practice exams can also be fantastic resources for IELTS Speaking preparation. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS includes a DVD with videos of Speaking sample responses representing a variety of Band scores. And don’t forget to check out our post on the best IELTS books and resources that may help you in Speaking and other areas of the IELTS.
We hope this guide on how to prepare for IELTS Speaking was useful for you. Be sure to bookmark this page so you can reference these resources and tips throughout your studies!