100 IELTS Speaking tips

Summary: 100 ways to improve your score in IELTS Speaking Parts 1, 2 and 3

This article gives exactly one hundred tips on how to get a better mark in all parts of IELTS Speaking, including advice on exam tactics, useful language, self-study and practice techniques, and bad advice to ignore. You might also be interested in our 100 tips for teaching IELTS Speaking, and our ebook containing 300 pages of IELTS Speaking materials.

 

15 IELTS Speaking Part One tips

  1. If you get nervous during IELTS Speaking, try to think of Speaking Part One as a chance to relax and talk about yourself (because everyone loves doing that!)
  2. If you get nervous during IELTS Speaking, try to think of Part One as just a warm-up for the rest of the test (because there is no separate score for Part One)
  3. All IELTS Speaking Part One questions are personal ones about yourself, your family, etc, so you can easily prepare suitable vocabulary by thinking about how you can describe your own hobbies, studies, hometown, etc.
  4. The most common topics in Part One are friends and family, home and hometown, festivals and celebrations, work and studies, transport and travel, and free time and hobbies, so you should be prepared to speak about your own past, present and future related to all of those topics
  5. Although it’s very different from the exam task, it can be good to write out descriptions of your (past, present and future) accommodation, food and drink, etc as preparation for Speaking Part One, using a dictionary to help with very specific language to describe yourself and those things
  6. As well as the common topics like transport and travel, Speaking Part One often has one more unusual topic like “waiting” or “nostalgia”, so you shouldn’t skip those topics if you find questions on them
  7. A good way of expanding the language that you use in Speaking Part One is to learn and practise more complex time expressions like “the day before yesterday”, “someday soon” and “in the next couple of hours”
  8. To answer Speaking Part One questions on your future, you will need language to talk about your desires (“would like”, etc), plans (“going to”, etc), arrangements (“am …ing”) and predictions (“will...”, etc)
  9. You can often answer with the same tense as the question, as in “What do you think you will doing in 25 years’ time?” “It’s difficult to say for sure, but I’ll probably be …ing (…)”
  10. “Actually” is a very useful word to give unexpected answers like “Do you have any plans for this weekend?” “Actually, I’m flying to New York tomorrow” (often times when the answer is in a different tense to the question)
  11. Although correct use of complex tenses like Past Perfect (“had + PP”) and Present Perfect Continuous (“have been + v+ing”) will impress the examiner if used correctly, they are difficult to fit into IELTS Speaking answers, so vocabulary and phrases are much more important
  12. You will need to describe different present things in Speaking Part One, so it’s worth revising Present Simple for habits and Present Continuous for things in progress
  13. You will need to describe different past events in Speaking Part One, so it’s worth revising Present Perfect for things connected to the past and present and Past Simple for the things just in the past (including irregular verbs like “took”/ “taken”)
  14. You may be asked hypothetical questions like “What would you do if you had more money?”, so you’ll need to be able to use Unreal Past forms
  15. Make sure you don’t get confused between “How + adjective” questions like “How patient are you?” (asking you to rank something), and “How…?” questions like “How do you try to keep fit?” (about the way something is done)

 

18 IELTS Speaking Part Two tips

  1. All Speaking Part Two tasks ask you to talk about “a(n)…”, which means you should talk about one specific possession you have, one place you want to go, etc, not those things in general
  2. Make notes in English, not your own language, as that will help with fluency when you speak
  3. Make sure that you write just key words as your Speaking Part Two notes, as whole sentences will take too much time to write out, and there is a danger of just reading them out
  4. Although it’s also good to use language like “Can I ask about the second word of the third question?”, it’s logical to just point at anything not clear on Speaking Part Two task sheet with questions like “Does this question mean…?”
  5. If you are not sure that what you’ve thought of matches the topic sheet, you should check with “Does that include…?”, “Can I talk about…?”, etc (to which the examiner will almost always say “Yes”)
  6. The examiner will only hear you do Speaking Part Two once, so it’s okay to always start with “I’m going to talk about…” or “I’d like to speak about…”
  7. If it is true, it’s quite nice to start Speaking Part Two with more a specific phrase like “It was difficult for me to think of a suitable topic, but…” or “I’m really glad I got this topic, because…”
  8. The examiner can see your Speaking Part Two task, so it’s a waste of time to rephrase the question. Instead, you should get straight to the thing that you chose to speak about, e.g. “I’m going to speak about my grandfather” (not “I’m going to speak about an old person who I know”)
  9. You should only talk about the four questions/ sub-topics on the Part Two task sheet, not about the topic more generally
  10. You can talk about the four questions/ sub-topics on the Part Two task sheet in any order
  11. You don’t need to have spoken about all of the four questions/ sub-topics on the Part Two task sheet within two minutes
  12. Changing topic phrases like “Moving onto…” and “Turning to…” are useful for both Speaking Part Two and IELTS Writing
  13. Although it might seem like a presentation, Speaking Part Two is just a test of extended speaking, so it is natural and so good communication to fill time as you check the task sheet, go back to what you were talking about, and even change your mind
  14. You can refer to the task sheet and your notes at any time during Speaking Part Two, so there’s no need to memorise anything
  15. You can refer to the task sheet and your notes at any time, so it’s worth practising phrases for while you do so like “Just a second while I look at what I wrote down. Okay, got it.”
  16. There is no need to worry about the length of your answer in Speaking Part Two, as it will definitely be over a minute if you answer all four questions and it’s okay to be cut off at the end
  17. Although you can just stop if you have spoken for more than a minute, ending phrases like “That’s all I think can think of to say” and “I think I’ve covered everything” can be a nice way of finishing Speaking Part Two, and can occasionally be used to end long answers in Speaking Part Three
  18. Although you shouldn’t do it more than once or twice, it can be good to write out a whole Speaking Part Two answer, to make sure that it’s over one minute, and to practise adding useful phrases like “What was the next question? Just a moment while I look at the task sheet. Oh, yes,…”

 

IELTS Speaking Part Three tips

  1. There is no need to worry about if your Speaking Part Three answers are logical, intelligent and/ or persuasive, as stupid ideas with perfect English will still get IELTS 9.0
  2. Everyone finds at least one Speaking Part Three question very difficult to understand and/ or to answer, so be ready to check the meanings, and don’t get stressed if you still don’t understand after checking
  3. Like IELTS Writing Task 2, sitting on the fence is not answering the question, so make sure you come down on one side or the other if you are asked to agree or disagree
  4. A good way of expanding your answers, showing your level of language and making sure you answer the question is to only use strong and weak opinions language (not short meaningless phrases like “I think”)
  5. It’s fine to use personal experience to support your answers in Speaking Part Three, but make sure you also make a more general point about the world, and try to also use different support for your arguments such as logical arguments of cause and effect, other sources such as things you have read, comparisons, and generalising.

 

33 IELTS Speaking Parts One, Two and Three tips

  1. Although it can feel stressful, it’s a good sign if you are cut off while you are still speaking in the test, as it means that you found plenty to say
  2. If the examiner is trying to interrupt you, it’s fine to stop straightaway without finishing what you are saying (unlike most real-life situations)
  3. Try to fill all silence with phrases like “That’s an interesting question” and “Let me think”
  4. If you don’t understand, think of that as a chance to show your knowledge of checking/ clarifying phrases like “Do you mean…?” and “Sorry, I didn’t catch the last part of the question”
  5. It’s best to imagine that the examiner knows almost nothing about your country, region, town, etc, and explain everything that isn’t internationally famous, so you can show some good communicative language by saying “There is a thing in my country called…, which is a kind of…” etc
  6. There are no scores for individual questions or each part of the test, so don’t worry if you start slowly or get tired by the end of the test, as long as you have shown your real level at some point.
  7. Most students perform better in class than in the exam, so the main thing to do in the test is to relax and react naturally to the questions, as you would if someone asked you such questions during a lesson or in real life
  8. If you feel your answer is too short, the best way to extend it is usually to add a reason with phrases like “This is because…” and “The main reason is…”
  9. If you have taken the IELTS Speaking test more than once and are stuck at the same level, the most likely reasons are not answering the questions (and not checking when you don’t understand) and only using basic language
  10. IELTS Speaking questions are designed to be answerable by everyone, so if you think that the question doesn’t include you, you have probably misunderstood it
  11. You should attempt to answer all the questions, even if you have to double check the meaning and/ or start with “I’m not sure that this is really relevant to me, but…”
  12. To be able to answer “How + adjective” questions like “How important is…?”, you’ll need language to say how extreme something is like “absolutely…”, “extremely…”, “fairly…” and “not very”
  13. A good tip for filling silence is to start answering the question before you know what you are going to say with phrases like “If you ask me, I’d probably say that…” and “Well, in my case,…”
  14. Your listening will be tested in the Listening test, so there is no need to be stressed if you don’t understand questions, as long as you are willing to say so, preferably with a range of different phrases
  15. Although phrases like “Can you repeat the question (a little more slowly)?” can be useful, if you already know what the problem is, it’s best to point that out with phrases like “I’m not sure what the last word means”, “Sorry, I’ve never heard the word… before” and “Sorry, can you rephrase the question?”
  16. “But” is a really important word when answering tricky questions, as in “I didn’t study anything about that in school, but…” and “It’s the first time I’ve ever heard that idea, but I guess…”
  17. Although accuracy can affect your score, the bad effect on fluency and communication of often correcting yourself would outweigh the good effect of showing that you know the right form, so you should limit how often you correct yourself
  18. IELTS Speaking is a test of communicative English, so you should only usually correct yourself if what you said could be misunderstood (as a native speaker would)
  19. Although you should try to avoid going off topic, if you accidentally do so you can turn it around by quickly getting back on topic with phrases like “Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was supposed to be talking about…” and “Anyway, getting back to the question,…”
  20. One possible way of filling silence is to ask yourself questions like “What is the best example to give? Well,…” and “How can I best explain it in English? Well,…”
  21. If you are not 100% sure what the question means or think it is ambiguous, you can mention that in your answer with “Well, if the question means…, then…”, “If I understand you correctly, then my answer is…”, etc
  22. Unlike Reading and Writing, the same Speaking test is taken by both IELTS Academic and IELTS General candidates, so there is no fixed level of suitable formality, and both informal spoken language like idioms and more formal language like long academic words are good ways of showing your language knowledge
  23. Although the examiner won’t know or care if you’re lying, true but complex answers like “Well, I’m kind of between hobbies, as I’ve almost completely lost interest in my old hobby, which was baking” are more natural and communicative than the simpler language of made-up answers like “I’m really into playing squash”
  24. You should avoid saying “As you know” (because you know nothing about the examiner so they might not), but similar phrases like “As you may know” and “As most people know” are useful ways of filling silence
  25. It’s okay to use words in your own language such as names of local foods and famous sayings, as long as you instantly explain what they mean in English
  26. It’s fine to have a few short answers, as long as you are ready for follow-up questions
  27. The most common kind of too short answer is one which is grammatically correct but doesn’t say what the examiner really wants to know, e.g. responding to “Do you have a large family?” with just “Yes, I do”, so always think about what you’d say if someone asked you that in real life
  28. The most common kind of too long answer is one which is on the same topic as the question, but goes beyond answering what the question asks
  29. As long as you also answer the question, there is nothing wrong with making jokes like “I hardly studied at school at all! However, the subject that I did least badly in is…”
  30. Examiners are taught to give no feedback, so don’t be put off if they say “Okay” in quite a flat voice after everything you do
  31. Your main mark will come from a second examiner who will listen to a recording, so try to avoid communicating just with gestures (although gestures that go with what you say are good, because they will make your speaking more animated)
  32. It sometimes feels natural to ask the examiner questions like “Do you know…?” and it won’t have a negative effect on your mark, but they will refuse to answer any questions which are not about how you should answer the question, so it’s best to avoid asking them about anything else
  33. Although it won’t directly affect your mark, apologising for your answers might affect your confidence and therefore your fluency and should be avoided (outside of typical fixed phrases like “Sorry, can I ask just one question about the task sheet?”)

 

29 self-study for IELTS Speaking tips

  1. Although not making mistakes can affect your IELTS Speaking score, it is much easier to improve your range of language, so it’s best to concentrate more on learning useful new words and phrases than on typical errors
  2. If you practise IELTS Speaking with a one-to-one private teacher, tell them to concentrate more on practising higher level language than on error correction (as being corrected too much could affect your fluency)
  3. If you want to practise IELTS Speaking on your own, read the questions out loud and instantly answer them, making sure that you haven’t read through them before that practice so you don’t get too much thinking time
  4. IELTS is a closed-book exam (like most tests), so all useful vocabulary, phrases, etc that you come across have to be memorised and practised again and again until you can produce the language naturally in the test
  5. If you use a book, website or app that claims to teach useful vocabulary for IELTS Speaking Part One, select and memorise only the vocabulary which you can use to explain your own (past, present and future) hobbies, free time, etc, and totally ignore the rest
  6. Good ways of memorising useful vocabulary for the test include flashcards (and flashcard apps), with the word(s) to remember on one side and a definition, opposite, synonym, or example sentence on the other
  7. Good ways of memorising useful phrases for the Speaking test include gapped phrases to put words back into, key words to make phrases from, phrases with mistakes to correct, and descriptions of kinds of phrases to brainstorm
  8. A good way to combine exam practice and expanding your range of language is to answer a question straightaway with no preparation or thinking time, then find better language for answering it with a dictionary etc and finally answer it again without looking at that help
  9. A good way of combining exam practice and expanding your range of language is to learn useful vocabulary related to one typical exam topic such as technology or the environment, try to use that language as you answer as many exam questions as you can find on that topic, try to learn any extra words you needed and words you’d forgotten, try the trickiest of those questions again, then come back to them later on to make sure that you remember
  10. If there is a question which you have difficulty answering, make a note of it, leave it a few days, and try to answer it again until you can do so easily
  11. It’s worth starting an IELTS Self-Study Notebook (or electronic equivalent), with blank pages for topics like “Useful phrases for checking/ clarifying”, “Useful vocabulary for talking about my free time”, “Typical Speaking Part One question stems”, “Tricky Speaking Part Three questions”, and “The most important tips for Speaking Part Two” and “Good IELTS Speaking sources”
  12. You should be very sceptical about IELTS preparation tips, as some (such as recording your voice and listening back to it, or making a mind map in Speaking Part Two) could have negative effects
  13. Although all parts of English pronunciation can affect your score, the part that is easiest to improve is learning how to pronounce individual words, especially word stress and silent letters
  14. When you learn new vocabulary for the speaking test, make sure that you learn the pronunciation of each word by listening to models, writing the tricky sounds down with phonemic script, etc
  15. There is no point studying intonation patterns (when your voice should go up and down in English), but it’s a good general tip to speak with more of a range of intonation, not a flat voice
  16. The best preparation in the morning before your speaking test is free conversation to get your English brain warmed up, as actual study may confuse you and will definitely tire you out
  17. If you don’t have the chance to speak in English on the morning before your IELTS Speaking test, the next best prep is listening to some English without concentrating too much, e.g. watching a video that you’ve seen many times before or listening to radio station with an English DJ
  18. A good way to make sure that you understand IELTS Speaking questions is to try to make other questions from the same question stems and then to try to answer them
  19. If you are not sure if you understand an IELTS Speaking question and have no one to ask, try googling the question and see what answers come up
  20. When you reflect on how well you did in IELTS Speaking, the first thing to think about is if you answered the questions and stayed on topic
  21. If you are worried about giving answers which are too short and/ or too long, you could practise giving longer and longer answers to the same question, then think about which one would be the best answer to that question
  22. To practise the vital skill of checking and double-checking anything you don’t understand, you could pretend that you don’t understand every question in the exam, trying to use a different checking/ clarifying question each time
  23. If you only need quite a low score like 5.0, it’s best to mainly concentrate on practising the first parts of the Speaking exam
  24. It’s worth practising entering the room, handing over your ID, etc, as being able to do that smoothly will help your confidence
  25. If you listen to or watch models of candidates answering IELTS Speaking questions, remember that they are all either far from perfect or too perfect, so think critically about them before you try to learn any useful language that the speaker uses
  26. A lot of the IELTS Speaking materials online are unrealistic, so it’s best to stick to official Cambridge practice exam books
  27. A good way of doing a practice Speaking test on your own is to watch a video of one, pause it after each question, and give your own answer before you hear the one on the video, asking checking/ clarifying questions like “Do you want to know…?” if you need to skip back and hear the question again
  28. Traditional pronunciation points such as practising differences between similar sounds with minimal pairs like “ship” and “sheep” and looking at how words link together in fast speech are unlikely to have any good effect on your speaking by the time of the test (though they are useful for listening, if that is your weak point)
  29. Although it’s also fine to start with “Yes” or “No”, it can be fun and useful to practise trying to answer yes/ no questions without those words, instead saying “Of course”, “Absolutely not”, “I guess so”, etc.

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