IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 2)

In Part 1, you read about four ways in which you could improve your IELTS Speaking score – avoiding prepared answers, warming up before your test, wearing comfy clothes, and reminding yourself of the exam format.

In this part, you’ll get to know of some more things to do on Speaking test day.

5. Speak more than the examiner does

To score well in the IELTS Speaking section, it’s important that you show a willingness to speak at length, especially in Parts 2 and 3. For starters, a high score on fluency will only be possible if you’re able to keep going without much effort. Besides, the longer you’re able to speak for, the wider range of grammar and vocabulary you’re likely to produce. Finally, if you need to be seen using various pronunciation features, the discourse needs to be long.

6. Be spontaneous – No right or wrong answers

Contrary to popular belief, there are no right or wrong answers in IELTS Speaking. It’s the language that the test taker produces during the interview that determines their fate. With this in mind, respond to questions with a certain degree of spontaneity, expanding upon the ideas you present.

7. Treat the test like a friendly chat

Having your stomach in knots during an exam is perfectly normal. However, do remember that it’s important to steady your nerves so that you perform as best as you can. Luckily, the IELTS Speaking session is designed to resemble a real-life conversation, so all you need to really do is treat it like a chat with a friend. That way, you’re likely to come across as confident and spontaneous.

8. Ask for clarification

It’s generally agreed that in a language test, answering questions without having the need to hear them again is a good sign. But as an IELTS test taker, you do have the option to ask the examiner for clarification. And if you think seeking clarity might decrease your score, think again! In fact, it is better to make sure what the question being asked is before answering than to blurt out something based on a false assumption.

Don’t forget to read the final part in this series for more Speaking test day advice.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 1)

The Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interaction between the test taker and examiner that lasts around 14 minutes. There’s no doubt that it is as close to a real-life situation as a test could possibly get.

Here are some handy tips that’ll help you give a good account of yourself on test day.

1. Avoid prepared answers

Many of the questions that examiners ask, especially in Parts 1 and 2, tend to be highly predictable. Naturally, the idea of rehearsing answers beforehand might be a tad tempting. But remember that prepared answers won’t get you too far – you wouldn’t sound natural when you speak, and the examiner is likely to notice this.

2. Have a good warm-up

Just like how on a cold day you’d rev your car engine to warm it up before driving off, it’s important to have some warm-up exercise before your Speaking interview. This could be a friendly chat in English with a friend, or some quick practice with your teacher. As well as getting rid of pre-test jitters, it should also help you get in the zone, ensuring that you’re performing at your best.

3. Wear something comfortable

The IELTS Speaking interview isn’t a formal affair, so it’s best not to approach it like you would a job interview. There’s a popular misconception that you need to be dressed formally to form an impression on the examiner. That’s so not true – the examiner will only be interested in how much language you produce and how skilfully you do it. So, don’t let others pressure you to go overdressed for the occasion.  

4. Remember the test format

Once the venue staff register you, it may be a while before you’re ushered into the test room for the interview. This is precious time, so make it count. Run through the different parts of the Speaking section and remind yourself of what to expect in each. For example, Part 1 tends to focus on familiar topics, which means the responses here can be shorter and more personal than the ones in subsequent parts.

We’ll be back with more useful tips that can help you up your Speaking score. You can check other Speaking tips here.

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 3)

So far in this series, we have dispelled quite a few myths surrounding IELTS Speaking, facts that actually have little impact on your final score.

Read on to discover what other misconceptions people commonly harbour about the Speaking section.

Myth #7: Examiners aren’t interested in what test takers say

I think my examiner had little interest in what I was saying. He/she kept interrupting me.” It’s a grumble that test takers often have on completing the Speaking interview.

The truth: In IELTS Speaking, the examiner has between 11 and 14 minutes to assess a test taker’s language level. So, f they feel that the test taker has spoken enough in response to a question, they will want to move him or her on so that conceptually harder questions can be asked. Such an approach allows test takers to produce more complex language, opening the door to attaining higher scores.

Myth #8: Always use formal vocabulary

IELTS is a high-stakes test that is internationally recognised, so many wrongly believe that they should use formal language throughout the test.

The truth: Part 1 of the Speaking interview gives test takers the perfect opportunity to settle their nerves, as they are asked questions on familiar topics. While responding to questions on topics such as home, work, friends, or interests, it’s quite natural to use words and phrases that appear in our everyday conversations (e.g. chat with friends, have a blast). In fact, too many formal expressions at the beginning of the speaking interview could be perceived as a sign of rote learning, which doesn’t exactly help.

Myth #9: All prompts in Part 2 must be covered

In Part 2, the test taker will receive a task card with the topic they’ll need to speak on. The card will also have 4 prompts, each beginning with a wh-word (e.g. who, when, why). Many mistakenly believe that including all the prompts in their answer is a must.  

The truth: While the prompts can help test takers speak at length effortlessly, they are under no obligation to use them. What’s important is to produce a well-rounded answer that lasts 2 minutes; using the prompts given on the task card is a matter of choice.

The next time you spot any of these myths anywhere, do bust them. And when you need IELTS Speaking advice, see that you get it from an authentic source.   

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 2)

In the first part, we busted some myths surrounding the IELTS Speaking section, proving how speaking too fast, faking an accent, or putting on formal clothes don’t really help you get a higher band score.

Here are some more notions about the Speaking interview that you should reject straightaway if you happen to hear them.

Myth #4: Never disagree with the examiner

In the last part of IELTS Speaking, which will be a discussion, the examiner might challenge you on your views. Quite often they play devil’s advocate to have a good discussion about a topic. The end result is that you, as a candidate, receive enough opportunities to speak at length and substantiate your claims. A common misconception is that you need to agree with whatever the examiner says.

The truth: Do not feel obliged to agree with the examiner’s views. It’s worth remembering that the views you hold DO NOT get assessed. It’s the language you use to communicate your views that determines the final outcome.

Myth #5: Always speak the truth

Sometimes questions in the Speaking section require the test taker to draw on their own personal experiences. For instance, in Part 2, you may be asked to talk about ‘a time when a vehicle you were travelling in broke down’, but what if you’ve never had such an experience? Whilst it is a plus to be able to fall back on past experiences, this may not always be possible.      

The truth: There’s nothing wrong in using your imagination if you don’t have much to say on the topic that you’ve been asked to talk about. The Speaking examiner’s job is to test your level of English, not to check the authenticity of the details you choose to include in your answers.

Myth #6: The test is easier at some centres

Being an internationally acclaimed test, IELTS is available at as many as 1600 locations around the world. However, a considerable amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the test experience remains the same irrespective of where it is taken. 

The truth: IELTS speaking examiners are qualified and experienced English language specialists who work to clearly defined criteria. They undergo extensive training and are subject to ongoing monitoring, quality control procedures and re-certification, all of which make ratings consistent across test centres. 

There’s more to follow in the final part, so do watch this space.

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 1)

Since its introduction almost three decades ago, IELTS has emerged as the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration.  

Over this time, some myths about the test have also been established. In this series, we’ll attempt to dispel some of the myths about the IELTS Speaking test.      

Myth #1: Speak as fast as you can

In the Speaking section, test takers are marked on four criteria, one being fluency and coherence. A common misconception among test takers is that it’s good to speak as fast as you possibly can in order to show the examiner that you are a fluent speaker. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful – if you focus on speed and say whatever comes to mind, you may soon start sounding incoherent. Besides, speaking fast can also make you breathless, affecting your delivery and resulting in a lower band on pronunciation. 

The truth: While it’s important to speak at a reasonable pace and without hesitation, what you say should be well organised and logical. A higher rate of speech DOES NOT automatically mean a higher band score on fluency. What you should aim for is producing answers that are sufficiently developed.

Myth #2: Put on an accent

The IELTS test accepts all standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian, and New Zealand English. However, this doesn’t mean that non-native speakers are expected to sound like native speakers of the language. Trying to fake an accent could have a boomerang effect – some of the sounds you produce might become unintelligible.

The truth: Pronunciation is assessed in IELTS, accent ISN’T. As a test taker, you need to ensure that you’re intelligible to the examiner throughout, and that’s all that is required!

Myth #3: Dress formally

It’s surprising how many test takers feel pressured to dress up and look their best in the hope that it might fetch them a higher speaking band score. Nothing could be further from the truth: the examiner closely monitors what you say during the test, not what you’re wearing.

The truth: Your choice of clothing has absolutely NO bearing on your final scores, so DO NOT agonise over what to wear to the speaking test. Choose something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. We’ll be back soon to bust some more speaking myths.

Improving Intonation (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of why it’s useful to better your ability to use various intonation patterns while speaking. We also looked at two common types of intonation, falling and rising.

In this post, we’ll first consider some more intonation types and then give you tips on how to improve your intonation.

Types of intonation

3. Rise-fall intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice and then drop it. This pattern is often found in:

  • alternative questions
    E.g. Would you like tea or coffee?
  • lists (pattern in the example – rise, rise, rise, fall)
    E.g. We’d need milk, sugar, flour, and eggs.
  • conditional sentences
    E.g. If you seeDanny, please ask him to call ➘ Rebecca.

4. Fall-rise intonation
In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice and then raise it. This pattern is commonly used to suggest that something is uncertain or incomplete. Have a look at these examples:

I don’t like drinking tea in the morning.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker enjoys drinking tea at other times of the day)

The first half was exciting.

(perhaps hinting that the second half was boring)

Do you think this is allowed here?

(perhaps hinting that the speaker is not sure if something is permissible)

I can’t afford a car at the moment.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker may be able to buy one in the future)

Ways to improve intonation

Here are some tips to help improve your ability to use various intonation patterns.

  • Listen carefully to short recordings of native speakers of English, paying particular attention to the way their voices rise and fall. Then, imitate their intonation by just humming along, without saying the actual words. Remember to focus on the melody, not the words.
  • Record yourself saying a sentence with absolutely no intonation, just like how a robot would do. Later, repeat the same sentence by using stress and intonation. Listen to both versions to know the difference that intonation can make.
  • Record yourself saying any common word over and over again, changing your attitude each time. For example, repeat the word ‘coffee’, giving it different meaning each time to indicate different emotions, such as enthusiasm, displeasure, surprise, and relief.

Remember, it’s difficult to listen to our own pitch, so working with audio materials is the way forward for improving your intonation.

Improving Intonation (Part 1)

A key pronunciation feature that helps you convey your thoughts and feelings with precision is intonation. In its simplest sense, intonation can be described as the melody of spoken language, i.e. the rise and fall in your voice when you speak. The focus here is on how we say things, not what we say.

It goes without saying that the concept of intonation is common to all languages; yet not many pay attention to this area while they speak, as they are so caught up in choosing the right words to express what they want to say. What they don’t realise is that intonation can be as important as word choice if not more.   

Why improve intonation

Here are a few good reasons why it is worthwhile to work on your intonation:

  • Bettering your understanding of intonation helps you become a skilled communicator.
  • Failing to use intonation could mean that listeners may soon lose interest in what you’re saying and switch off.
  • Getting your intonation patterns wrong might give rise to misunderstandings, with listeners even taking offence.
  • Not having enough awareness of intonation can impair your listening comprehension too, as you’re likely to misinterpret what others say.

Types of intonation

Here are some common intonation patterns found in English speech.  

  1. Falling intonation
    In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is usually found in:
  • statements
    E.g. I’m going for a stroll on the beach.
  • commands
    E.g. Get your hands off my coat!
  • wh-questions that seek information
    E.g. What’s your name?
  • question tags that invite agreement
    E.g. It was such a lousy film, wasn’t it?

2. Rising intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is generally found in:

  • yes/no questions
    E.g. Do you like my newdress?
  • question tags that seek an answer
    E.g. You haven’t had a fight with Tom,have you?

We’ll be back with more in the next part. Meanwhile, think about whether your pitch goes up and down when you speak in English.

Understanding the IELTS Speaking Section

Being able to speak with confidence and clarity is a reliable indicator of an individual’s language proficiency. Naturally, all language tests have a component that assesses the test taker’s oral skills.  

Here’s an overview of the IELTS Speaking test.

Parts

Part 1: Introduction and interview (four to five minutes)

This part aims to put test takers at ease by getting them to talk on familiar topics, such as home, work, studies, family, and interests. Being the easiest part of the test, it’s a great chance to overcome nerves.

Part 2: Individual long turn (three to four minutes)

The test taker receives a task card with a particular topic. They get one minute to prepare, after which they have to speak for up to two minutes on the topic. They may need to draw on their personal experiences and feelings to do well.

Part 3: Two-way discussion (four to five minutes)

Thematically linked to the previous part, here the examiner asks the test taker questions about more abstract issues and ideas. Since questions tend to be of a complex nature, it gives test takers the perfect opportunity to show off their language skills. 

Skills tested

Over three parts, IELTS Speaking assesses a wide range of skills. Initially, test takers get to communicate opinions and information on everyday topics. Later on, they need to exhibit an ability to speak at length on a given topic without much effort, organising ideas coherently as they go along. Towards the end, they also have to express and justify opinions, analyse situations, and speculate about issues.

Marking

Speaking interviews are conducted and assessed by certificated IELTS examiners, who hold relevant teaching qualifications and have sufficient teaching experience. Tests are marked according to the IELTS Speaking test assessment criteria (Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, Pronunciation). To do well, test takers have to produce a wide range of language throughout with accuracy. The wider the range you display, the higher the accuracy, the better the outcome.  

Unlike other tests, the Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interview that is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get, so prepare well to make the most of it.

Sounding Polite (Part 3)

So far in our series of posts on politeness, we’ve looked at four different approaches that can be adopted to communicate appropriately in English.   

Read on for more tips on how to sound well-mannered when you speak or write.

5. Question forms

Using question forms is a great way of sounding diplomatic when giving advice or suggestions. One option is to form yes/no questions when requesting people to do things. Another is to use negative questions in order to introduce your views gently. Here are examples of both:

Close the door.

Could you close the door, please?

I want directions to the airport.

Could you possibly give me directions to the airport?

We need a better proposal to win the contract.

Don’t you think we need a better proposal to win the contract?

We should paint the cabin blue.

Wouldn’t it be better if we painted the cabin blue?

6. Qualifiers

If you make a direct statement to express your thoughts, the chances are you’ll upset others. This is particularly true when what you’re saying is something negative. In order for you to sound more diplomatic, you could use qualifiers, such as a bit, a little, or kind of. A qualifier can decrease the intensity of anything negative that you say. Here are some examples of how qualifiers can decrease the intensity of your words when you complain or criticise.

This curry is too bland!

This curry is a bit bland.

Jeez, it’s so hot in here!

It’s a little hot in here. 

Derek is extremely boring!

Derek is kind of boring.

7. Passive voice

We can use the passive voice to shift the focus of a sentence from the doer of the action to the action itself. It’s particularly handy when we wish to avoid blaming people for things that they fail to do. Using the passive structure makes the sentence impersonal, creating distance from the immediate present. Here are some examples:

You forgot to switch the outside lights on last night.

The outside lights were not switched on last night.

Looks like you have made a lot of spelling errors.

Looks like a lot of spelling errors have been made.

Remember, more often than not, non-native English speakers sound impolite unwittingly, because they take the wrong approach. 

Sounding Polite (Part 2)

In English-speaking cultures, great importance is attached to avoiding language that others may find offensive. In a previous post, we considered how using softening expressions and avoiding negative words can go a long way towards helping you sound polite.

Here are some more ways in which you can appear courteous while speaking English.

3. Distancing verb forms

When we ask questions, make offers, or give suggestions, it is possible to use the past tense instead of the present. In such contexts, past tenses indicate ‘distance’ from the immediate present, thereby making what we say less direct. Do note that there’s no difference in the basic meaning expressed when the past tense replaces the present. Here are some examples to help you understand this better.

When do you want to check in, sir?

When did you want to check in, sir?

Do you want more sugar in your tea?

Did you want more sugar in your tea?

In the same way, sometimes progressive (continuous) verb forms are used in place of simple forms to sound more casual or less definite.

I hope you can give me a lift after the concert.

I’m hoping you can give me a lift after the concert. (less definite)

I look forward to doing business with you again.

I’m looking forward to doing business with you again. (casual)

4. Modal verbs

Another way to avoid being too direct is by using modal verbs. The past forms of modal verbs will, can, and may are commonly used in everyday communication to exhibit good manners. When making requests or asking for help, the word ‘please’is often added to make a better impression on the listener or reader.

Will you need my car tonight?

Would you need my car tonight?

Can you please call the security?

Could you please call the security?

May I please ask you to wait for a few minutes?

Might I please ask you to wait for a few minutes?

Remember, being polite helps us build good relations with the listener or reader, so it is definitely worth the effort. We’ll be back with some more tips.

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