Let’s talk about the speaking part of the exam
First of all, be well prepared. Be familiar with the format and the time allowed. In part 1 and part 2 of the speaking exam, the examiner cannot re-phrase the questions. This is not because they trying to be unhelpful, but are simply following the rules set for examiners. And, oh boy, those examiners have so many rules they have to follow. I’ve heard them say” Oh, I wish I could’ve helped that candidate, but it’s not allowed”. The examiners really do want the best for the candidates. In Part 3, the examiner can re-phrase the questions. I know this, because my human has been doing IELTS examining since I was a kitten.
The speaking exam is designed to give you many opportunities to use the English you know by asking you different kinds of questions. So, don’t worry if you don’t answer a question well, move on. The next question may be easier for you and a better opportunity for you to show your English ability.
So to get a minimum of a target band score of 6.0, what are the examiners looking for?
- Can you speak fluently and coherently? That is, without pauses, not too many “erms” and “umms”. Is what you’re saying making sense?
- Can you answer the questions with natural responses? Don’t memorise English expressions that you don’t really understand and throw them into your responses thinking you will impress the examiner. You won’t!
- Use the highest level of vocabulary that you are confident using. Don’t try to use advanced vocabulary that you don’t fully understand. Trying to use vocabulary you’re not totally confident with, will lead, to you, making grammatical errors.
- Answer the question that the examiner asks. Don’t just answer with a memorized response. Although the language in the memorized response may be perfect, if it isn’t a natural response to the question, that is, it must make sense, you will not get any extra marks. In fact, you would lose marks for lack of understanding the question.
So, to re-cap on the criteria that the speaking examiners use, to mark your speaking exam:
fluency – speaking without hesitation and providing an answer that makes sense. Use vocabulary appropriate to the question and also use it flexibly. That is, in a way that shows the examiner that you understand what you’re talking about.
vocabulary – must be appropriate and pronounced correctly
grammar – must be accurate and appropriate.
pronunciation speaking with an accent is totally acceptable and candidates do not lose marks for speaking with an accent. However, in order for the examiner to understand you and give you, your target band score, you need to pronounce your words clearly.
A word about pronunciation…
Record yourself speaking English – about two to three minutes. Then play it to a friend who is also learning to speak English (or a native speaker of English) and see if they can understand what you‘re saying.
Speak at even pace – not too fast and not too slow. English is spoken by so many people for whom English is not their native language and thus speak with an accent. In order to understand you, it’s best if you slow down a little. Don’t speak at the same speed you speak in your native language.
HOT TIP: If you don’t understand a question the examiner asks, you can:
Ask them to repeat the question – they can only repeat the question once but it can be helpful to hear the question again, especially if it’s a particularly long question.
You can ask them the meaning of one individual word in the question! (bet you didn’t know that!) For example: “ Describe a celebration that you really enjoyed”. You could ask them “what does “celebration” mean?’