The IELTS speaking test has been around for ages, so there is a lot of information out there about the format of the exam. This article however, is more about strategies you can use to calm your nerves and give your best performance on test day.
However, as with any exam, the more familiar you are with the format, the more comfortable you will be when taking the exam, so this is your first challenge. There is a ton of information out there on the web, and there are a number of books you can buy to help familiarise yourself with the exam, including the speaking part.
Speaking Part 1 is a series of questions you are asked about concrete and familiar topics. So in addition to doing your own research on the web and buying a practice book, start to imagine how you would respond to questions about random topics. You can make lists of these topics yourself. Then write down questions relating to these topics. Then practise answering those questions. For example, write CARS, then ‘Have you ever owned a car? Why? Why not? Do you think owning a car will be more popular in the future? Why/ Why not? Are cars the cheapest form of transport? Why/Why not? Then continue with other concrete and familiar topics, such as LEARNING TO COOK, USING COMPUTERS, SWIMMING and so on.
Speaking Part 2 is the part of the test that really tells the examiner just how good your English is.
Unlike Speaking Part 1, the examiner has the pleasure of listening to you speak uninterrupted for two completely minutes.
This is a very strange situation indeed. Imagine for a moment that you’re single and you’ve lined up a date with a proficient English speaker. The big day arrives. You get all dressed up for the occasion and arrive on time at the restaurant. You are shown to your seat. Then your date arrives. They’re not as good looking as you had imagined. But still, your heart is beating fast and you want to seem cool, calm and in control. Then they suddenly they say ‘I’d like you to tell me about a time when you managed to do something that was really hard. You have one to two minutes for this. Don’t worry, I’ll stop you when the time is up!’
Your first instinct might be to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and never come back. However, if you took up this weird challenge, you would discover that:
when you ran out of things to say, your date just looked at you blankly
2. two minutes has never seemed so long.
So Speaking Part 2 is a very unnatural situation. But it’s a bit similar to public speaking. It’s just that in this case, only one person has turned up to listen to your talk. And they’re sitting across a table from you.
In Speaking Part 2 there is also a piece of misleading information that the examiner tells you. The examiner actually says just before you start speaking ‘Remember you have one to two minutes for this. So don’t worry if I stop you, I’ll tell you when the time is up. In fact it’s two whole minutes, and the examiner won’t stop until you complete those two minutes.
So when you get your task card with the topic you have to speak about, you need to pay attention to some of the ideas that are already printed on it for you to consider. The more time you can talk about the first idea, the better. Add as much detail as possible. That way you have used up a lot of the two minutes and you still have two ideas left to talk about.
Imagine learning to play the saxophone. You’ve bought the instrument, you’ve spent a few months just playing around with it. You can play a reasonable note and play a simple tune or two. But you realise that you are not making enough progress. So you buy a book about how to play it, and you work through all the exercises. You work out where to put your fingers in complex patterns to play complex tunes. But you never actually make a sound!
Obviously, if this was the case, you’re not going to be able to perform well in front of an audience.
One of the most important parts for dealing effectively with Speaking Part 2 is to actually speak out loud to someone you know or yourself for 2 whole minutes. Only in this way can you effectively practice pronouncing those words, phrases and ideas that you want to express. There’s nothing worse than knowing what you want to say but feeling like you have a mouthful of rocks.
Although it is considered rude in real life, expect to be interrupted in the IELTS speaking exam. This is not a bad thing! It’s actually a good thing. The examiner has to pay careful attention to the timing of the test and will need to cut you off at the end of each part if you reach the time limit. This simply shows that you are a fluent speaker, not that you are boring the examiner! So if you get cut off mid-sentence, you are might actually doing well.
It’s quite natural when you are nervous to speak quickly. But this is obviously a situation when you are likely to make a lot of errors, especially when the words are tumbling out of your mouth. Almost all IELTS candidates are nervous. But when you are asked a question, you don’t have to respond in the first millisecond. Listen to the question. Wait a moment. Consider your response. Then speak. You pronunciation and accuracy will be better.
If you keep these 5 strategies in mind and get lots of practice before the big day, you are bound to give the best performance you are capable of. Good luck!
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