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IELTS Speaking

IELTS Speaking – Overview, Format and Preparation Tips

by Varalika Vij

IELTS Speaking – If you’re trying to improve your English speaking skills to score well in the IELTS Speaking test, this article is for you! It is well known that the best way to learn a language is to speak it, and therefore, the score value of this particular section of the IELTS test is at par with the other three. After all, your overall IELTS band score is a total average of all the 4 sections of the IELTS test. It is important to note that while the IELTS listening, reading and writing tests happen on the same day, the speaking test might be held either on the same day or seven days before or after that, based on the local scheduling. Hence, depending on the native examination arrangements, you might or might not get extra time to prepare for the IELTS speaking test. Either way, you must be well prepared. 

Let’s get to know a bit about the IELTS exam itself before getting into the several features and details of the IELTS speaking test:

If you’re a study abroad aspirant, aim to work or simply migrate to countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the USA, where the English language is a primary dialect of communication, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is crucial. The better your IELTS band score is, the better your chances are to get into the top universities abroad. Considered the most reliable way of judging English proficiency around the world, the IELTS test evaluates the applicant’s overall adeptness of language on the basis of his or her listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. 

In this article, we will discuss about the last held module of the IELTS test – the speaking test. Read further to know about the 3 different stages of this test, the 4 benchmarks on which you will be tested, preparation tips and more. 

Latest: Read now – IELTS Writing & IELTS Listening 

IELTS Speaking – Purpose of IELTS Speaking Test

The IELTS speaking test is carefully planned to assess a wide range of your language skills. The examiner tests how well you are able to:

  • put across your opinions and information and everyday experiences while you answer a series of questions orally.
  • speak at a stretch with the use of words and grammar appropriate to the topic provided.
  • put your ideas in an orderly manner articulately 
  • express yourself verbally while being for or against a subject. 
  • vocalise your thoughts in a natural flow.

IELTS Speaking – Format of IELTS Speaking Test

The IELTS speaking test is divided into 3 briefly held sessions/parts. Each of these parts are designed to check your strengths and weaknesses while speaking the English language. 

IELTS Speaking Part 1 (Introduction and General Questions): The examiner will begin with a self-introduction and ask you to follow suit and confirm your identity.  Then, the examiner will ask you basic questions about your home, family, work, studies and interests. This part of the speaking test helps the candidates to ease into the process of communicating with their examiner and talk more naturally. This session takes 4 to 5 minutes. 

IELTS Speaking Part 2 (Long Turn): In this part, the examiner will hand out a task card with a specific topic mentioned on it and the examinee is supposed to talk for 1-2 minutes on it. Your task card will also include the points you must include in your talk. You will be given a minute to quickly prepare and make notes. You must not expect any interruptions or added viewpoints by your examiner. Therefore, prepare to speak continuously without stopping. Once your time is up, the examiner will ask you one or two questions on the same topic. This session takes 2-3 minutes. 

IELTS Speaking Part 3 (Analytical Discussion): The examiner will take the topic of part 2 a step further by asking you further questions on the same. These questions are formed in such a way that one can discuss more general issues and ideas related to the same topic. This session takes 4 to 5 minutes. 

IELTS Speaking – Timing of IELTS Speaking Test

The entire IELTS speaking test lasts for just 11 to 14 minutes. The examiner has control over the time and length of your answers. 

IELTS Speaking – Scoring method of IELTS Speaking Test

A certified IELTS examiner will evaluate and assess your performance throughout the speaking test. You shall be marked based on 4 pre-listed criteria: fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation. 

Please note

  • There is a common speaking test for all the IELTS candidates. This means that the Academic and General Training candidates will take the same kind of speaking test with the same scoring. If you’re appearing for a computer-delivered IELTS, you will still have a face-to-face interview with the examiner. 
  • The scores are reported in whole and half bands. This means that your score might end with a .5 or a whole number. 

Below are the details of the 4 criteria of the IELTS Speaking test:

IELTS Grammar:

This criterion focuses on the test taker’s grammatical range and accuracy while speaking. The range of grammar includes using a variety of complex structures cohesively in a sentence. 

For example – “She got dressed in formal attire. She was going for an evening event. She met her favourite celebrity. She also enjoyed food and wine at the event.” Instead of the above multiple simple sentence usage, the examiner will see how much grammatical range you can use to include all the information in one go. So, you will be marked better if you say, “She got formally dressed for an evening event where she came across her favourite celebrity and enjoyed good food and wine experience.” 

Do keep in mind that it is not expected that the candidates are a 100% accurate. However, control of the language is important. More than the number of mistakes, it’s how seriously these mistakes block oral communication that counts. The band 7 definition for grammatical range and accuracy says – “Frequently produces error-free sentences though some grammatical mistakes persist.” 

IELTS Pronunciation:

This criterion focuses on the accuracy and variety of pronunciation features that may include:

Individual sounds: The examiner should be able to understand you correctly based on your phonemic awareness i.e awareness of sounds in spoken words. 

Word stress: Stressing on the wrong syllable in a word is a common mistake. Word stress changes with the form of the word. For instance – each of these words have been underlined at specific places to make you understand the syllables to be stressed – photograph, photography and photographic OR Monotone, monotony, monotonic. 

Sentence stress: The meaning of the sentence might change if the speaker stresses on the wrong part. For example – When there’s stress on the word ‘love’ in the sentence “I love studying English”, it means that one doesn’t just like, but actually loves learning English. On the other hand, when there’s stress on the word ‘studying’ in the same sentence, it means that the speaker particularly enjoys reading and training themselves in English language. 

Intonation: Intonation means the changes in the pitch of your voice as you talk. If your pitch is monotone or flat, it may result in lower scores. Monotone intonation is typical of someone who is not speaking naturally and has instead memorised long responses and is talking mechanically. 

Chunking: Talking in a steady manner while delivering chunks of words with short silences in between is called chunking. Good public speakers often use this skill to their best. The following example displays short silences in the form of hyphens to make you understand the concept of chunking – “Today – I’d like to discuss a key topic for managers – the one elusive ingredient called staff management.” 

IELTS Lexical Resource and Accuracy 

This criterion focuses on the range of vocabulary a candidate uses. The wider the collection of words a candidate uses while speaking, the better he/she scores. The test taker should have the ability to use vocabulary effectively including the right collocation i.e. words naturally used together. For example, dogs ‘bark’, dogs do not shout OR we ‘make’ a phone call, we do not do a phone call. When talking about connotation or word reference, this means correctly using the positive, negative or neutral reference that some words have. For example – 

Positive Neutral Negative
slim thin skinny
laid back inactive  lazy 
innocent juvenile immature
meticulous selective picky
confident secure egotistical

Lexical recourse and accuracy also gives emphasis to the use of less common vocabulary or expressions. While many candidates memorise an impressive list of vocabulary, they often end up using them in the wrong way because they haven’t understood them properly. 

IELTS Speaking

IELTS Speaking

IELTS Fluency and Coherence 

This criterion focuses on your ability to:

  • Express and justify opinions and to discuss and speculate about issues without long pauses and repetition of the same words. Many students try to cram up large portions of speech to repeat during the test, but this can add excessive stress and sound unnatural. Hence, this approach is not recommended. 
  • Speak continuously at length including organising ideas logically and appropriately signposting. Signposting is the use of words and phrases that indicate the direction of your thoughts. It is used to clarify to the listener what has happened and what is going to happen next. 

To understand the examples of signposting, check out the following table – 

Signpost expressions What they specify
“Firstly” The beginning of a set of points
“Lastly” The end of a set of points
“In other words” Rephrasing what has just been said
“Moreover”/”what’s more”/”besides”/ “additionally” Introduction to upcoming additional information
“However”/ “but”/ “this isn’t always the case though” Introduction to an alternative statement, contrast or exception
“As I said earlier…” Reference to a point made earlier
“Yes, I agree because…”/ “I’m not sure I agree with that, you see…” When you’re responding to a point
“I think we’ll probably see a lot of…”/ “Maybe there’ll be more…”/ “It’s unlikely that we will have…” When you have to speculate on the future

IELTS Speaking – Important Points to Consider during the IELTS Speaking Test

  • Keep in mind that the above mentioned four assessment criteria are the only ones on which you will be tested. You will not be tested on the basis of your appearance, body language or your creative ideas. IELTS examiners are very consistent with their assessment. It is the same basis of assessment everywhere in the world. 
  • IELTS speaking test expects you to have general everyday knowledge; specialist knowledge isn’t expected. The topics discussed in part 2 and 3 of the test are relevant to all of the 135 countries in which IELTS is used.

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IELTS Speaking – Test Practice Tips

While practice is important in all modules of the IELTS test, it is in the speaking test that it becomes the most pertinent. Let’s look at the ways in which you can improve different areas of your English speaking skills (depending on the scoring criteria) to achieve a perfect 9 band score in the IELTS speaking test. 

To improve your grammar, take these steps:

  • Be prepared: You must be thorough with the IELTS speaking test format and the kind of questions that may be asked in each of the sections. Remember that several tasks of the IELTS speaking test relate to the past, so you most likely use past tenses. You must know the past tenses of common verbs. Some questions in part 3 asks you to guess or speculate about the future. In this case, one must use the right tenses in the answers to reflect what they mean.
  • Practice: As mentioned earlier, practice shows in the most obvious of ways when a person speaks, particularly in the tenses that one uses. Ensure that your tense usage relates to the question. 

For example, if the question asked is – “What did you do this Saturday?” the main word here is ‘did’ which is in the past tense. In this case your answer should be in the past tense too, like – “I wrote a business brief this Saturday.”

  • Don’t fear: If you feel that you’ve made a mistake while speaking during the course of the test, don’t get anxious. It is completely acceptable and fine to correct yourself. You may try and record yourself while speaking. Then play it back to check your – 
    • Linking expressions
    • Hesitation/fluency
    • Words you might be repeating
    • Times when you were slow.

To improve your pronunciation, take these steps – 

  • Understanding intonation, sentence stress and rhythm: Since your native language might be poles apart in terms of intonation, sentence stress and rhythm, it’s important to understand where the English language stands on these 3 measures. Once you understand the difference, practice using these in different ways. Referring to a dictionary, listening from television, online sources helps and genuine English sources like the BBC Radio and the Voice of America will familiarize you with a range of pronunciation features. 

The sentence mentioned below is underlined under specific words to show the appropriate word stress while speaking and how it results in change of meaning: 

He sat on my desk yesterday. (not me)

He sat on my desk yesterday (not his own)

He sat on my desk yesterday (not any other day)

  • Don’t rush when you speak – This is another common mistake. When the candidates hurry while speaking, they tend to miss out on sounds and words. Such a mistake can again be avoided by recording oneself and listening to the mistakes. Try to apply what you learned about the different features of pronunciation in English. Chunking is a particular skill you can develop by recording yourself.
  • Improve your phonemics: Everyone has a few sounds that they find difficult to pronounce and by fixing them you will really improve your pronunciation. You may refer to the British Council’s interactive phonemic chart for this purpose. 

To improve your lexical resource and accuracy, take these steps:

  • Look out for new words: Make it a regular practice to look out for new words while reading or listening in English. Make sure that you see the words in their context to understand their meaning, usage and collocation. Online newspapers are a good choice that can also help you in keeping up with the vocabulary of current affairs. 
  • Make word trees: Instead of writing down a long list of unrelated words, try and make word trees i.e make groups of words that pertain to related subjects. For example, a list of words about flowers that can include petals, fragrance, blossom, pollen, wilt, wither, bloom etc. 
  • Learn more synonyms: Synonyms are words or expressions which have a similar meaning. Knowledge of synonyms will not only help with IELTS speaking but all other parts of the test. Try using a thesaurus. Make small word cards with a word written on one side of the card and a translation and an example on the other side. You may then test yourself.
  • Paraphrasing – While practicing to speak on different topics helps you in using the correct vocabulary for all situations, if you happen to not find an appropriate word during the test while talking about a particular subject, do not give up. It’s okay to take a little longer and explain what you mean. 

Finally, to improve fluency and coherence skills, take these steps:

  • Build on your point of view: While you’re speaking about a topic, build on your point of view by adding a few details. For example, when speaking about what you do, instead of responding with – “I am a writer” you might expand a bit and say – “I have been a fashion writer in New Delhi since the last 5 years. 
  • Make bullet points for part 2: For part 2 of the test, make quick bullet points about the subject given on the task card itself. This will help you structure your ‘Long Turn’. You will have to make these bullet notes in the one minute preparation time using keywords. 
  • Practice signposting for part 3: It is most important to speak at length and develop your answers in part 3 of the speaking test. You can do this by thinking of reasons, effects, comparisons, supporting examples and personal experience. For example, while discussing “excessive social media usage in today’s age”, you might mention reasons like “ease of information at a click of a button, as against old times”. You may talk about effects like “obesity” and “eyesight problems”. You may even mention a personal experience like “My 3-year-old nephew watches cartoons on his mother’s phone all the time!”. 

IELTS Speaking – Video Resources for Speaking Parts

Check out this video to know how to get a high score in IELTS speaking part 1. Part 1 of the IELTS speaking test is sort of a warm up section wherein your examiner gets to know your introductory skills, which might include your hometown, family, job, work, hobbies, study, food, friends etc. 

Check out the video below to learn 5 power packed words that candidates can use during their IELTS speaking test to get a good band score. 

Check out the video below to watch a candidate from Rajasthan, India score an amazing band 8 in a mock IELTS speaking test.

Check out the video below to get an overview on IELTS speaking part 3, understand the question types and strategies and enjoy a sample question round. 

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IELTS Speaking – FAQs

Q. How can I get 9 in IELTS speaking? 

A. You must be thorough with the IELTS speaking test format.

  1. Understand the kind of questions that may be asked in each of the sections.
  2. Practice to use the right tenses in the answers. 
  3. You may try and record yourself while speaking. Then play it back to check your linking expressions, hesitation/fluency, words you might be repeating, times when you were slow. 
  4. Listen to genuine English sources like the BBC Radio and the Voice of America to get familiarized with a range of pronunciation features, intonation, sentence stress and rhythm.
  5. Practice to not hurry while speaking to avoid missing out on sounds and words.
  6. Make it a regular practice to look out for new words while reading or listening in English.
  7. Instead of writing down a long list of unrelated words, try and make word trees i.e make groups of words that pertain to related subjects. 
  8. Learn more synonyms. 

Q. How can I improve my IELTS speaking?

  1. While you’re speaking about a topic, practice to build on your point of view by adding a few details.
  2. If you happen to not find an appropriate word while speaking during the test, do not give up. It’s okay to take a little longer and explain what you mean. 
  3. For part 2 of the test, make quick bullet points about the subject given on the task card itself. This will help you structure your one or two minute long speech. 
  4. Everyone has a few sounds that they find difficult to pronounce and by fixing them you can really improve your pronunciation.
  5. Keep the radio or the television playing in the background during your free time to get used to the rhythm and pitch of English language. 
  6. Practice to use the right tenses in the answers. 
  7. Practice to speak calmly while speaking to avoid missing out on sounds and words.
  8. Make it a regular habit to look out for new words while reading or listening in English.

Q. How do they score IELTS speaking?

The scores are reported in whole and half bands. This means that your score might end with a .5 or a whole number. For example, it may be a 7.5 or 7. You will get an individual band score for each section – listening, reading, writing and speaking and also an overall band score. The overall band score is the sum average of all the skills. 

Q. How long is speaking test in IELTS?

The entire IELTS speaking test lasts for just 11 to 14 minutes and is divided into 3 briefly held sessions/parts. Each of these parts are designed to check your strengths and weaknesses while speaking the English language. The examiner has control over the time and length of your answers. 

Q. Is there any dress code for IELTS speaking test?

There is no particular dress code for the IELTS speaking test. The candidates just have to look appropriate and stay composed during the speaking test. You will not be tested on the basis of your appearance, body language or your creative ideas. IELTS examiners are very consistent with their assessment. It is the same basis of assessment everywhere in the world. 

Q. Is it easy to get 6.5 in IELTS speaking?

The candidate should be able to judge their current speaking skills. Based on that self-assessment, any candidate can practice and score as well as 8 or 8.5 band score in IELTS speaking. 

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