IELTS Speaking: the Long Turn

ielts speaking long turn

The long turn in IELTS speaking is the most daunting part of the exam. This is because you will have to speak for two minutes, without any input from the examiner. Understandably, many people get nervous about this. But if you keep calm and follow the steps we are going to outline in this post, you will be able to get through the two minutes and achieve the score you need. In this article we will discuss:

  • the long turn
  • how to use the preparation time
  • strategies to keep going

What is the Long Turn?

The IELTS speaking long turn is the second part of the speaking exam. Once part 1 is over, the examiner will thank you and move on to part two. He or she may do his quite abruptly. It’s important that you don’t take this as a comment on your performance. The examiner has to stick to very strict timing and if you have reached the end of the maximum 5 minutes for part 1, he or she must bring it to an end. At this point, the examiner will give you a booklet with a topic, a piece of paper and a pencil. The topic will consist of a short instruction and three bullet points, like this:

Talk bout a time when you received good service. You should say:

  • what the service was
  • where you received this service
  • how it made you feel to receive such good service

It’s not imperative that you cover each of the three bullet points. However, it’s a good idea to do so, because this will help you to frame your speech. You will get one minute to make notes before you begin speaking. Before we discuss that further, let’s briefly discuss the topics. The examiner will choose a topic at random from a set that contains many. But there are three broad categories of topics we can define.

Past Experiences

The topic in the example above deals with a past experience. For topics like this, you will speak mostly in the past tense. It’s not possible to make an exhaustive list, because the test is updated continually. But here is a partial list to give you an idea of the types of topics that come up in this category:

  • a long trip you took
  • the home in which you grew up
  • the town where you were born
  • a gift you received
  • an occasion on which you told a lie
  • a conflict you resolved
  • a book you read

Present Realities or Habits

The examiner might give you a topic about a habit, or something that exists currently. For this task type, you will spend most of your time in the present tense. Of course, you will probably use other structures to refer to the past and future as well. For example, if you are talking about a sport or physical activity you enjoy, you might briefly talk about when you started doing it, or future plans that relate to it. Here is a list of such topics:

  • a sport or physical activity you enjoy
  • your favourite room in your home
  • a tourist attraction in your town
  • the nearest mall to your house
  • your favourite piece of clothing
  • someone you trust
  • a popular festival in your culture

Future Plans

A third category of long turn topics we can call “future plans”. These topics will naturally involve more future tense structures and modal verb structures. This is especially true for topics that are purely hypothetical such as describing a famous person you would like to meet. Other structures will probably feature, such as the present perfect: “I have always wanted to learn Spanish, so I can’t wait to get started”. Here is a list of possible topics:

  • a skill you would like to learn
  • a plan for your personal life
  • a living famous person you would like to meet

What to do in the Preparation Time

Before you speak you will have exactly one minute to prepare. You should use this time to make notes on the paper so that you have something to look at if you run out of things to say. But you won’t have enough time to write sentences, so you have to be strategic. Take the opening statement and come up with a single phrase to jot down. Then, write one or two key phrases for each of the bullet points. If you still have some time remaining, add something else. Remember that anything you add should be at least relevant to the topic, because if you completely depart from the topic, your score for fluency and coherence might suffer. Here’s an example:

Talk about a sport or physical activity you enjoy doing. You should say:

  • where you do the activity
  • who you do the activity with
  • how the activity benefits you

Each of the three points is a direct answer to the bullet points. An easy way to do this is to turn each bullet into a question: “Where do you do the activity?”. When the examiner asks you to start speaking, develop each one before moving on. Two minutes is longer than it sounds, and you don’t want to run out of things to say. Each of the points should take around half a minute to elaborate. You can transition between each point with connecting phrases: “so when it comes to the people I do it with…”, or “as far the benefits go…”.

How to Keep Going

No matter how well you prepare, there is always a risk that you will run out of things to say. This is especially the case if you get a topic that you really don’t like talking about, or one that you don’t find interesting. The first time I took IELTS as a candidate, my long turn topic was to talk about a shopping mall. I go to great lengths to avoid shopping malls. I hate them. So, I had to think on my feet. After I had used up the bullet points, I had nothing left to say. I had described the location of the mall nearest to my home. I had spoken about the shops. What now?

Well, I decided to be authentic. I drew on my intense hatred of shopping malls to get me through the last 30 seconds. This turned out the be the best strategy, because as you can tell, I have pretty strong feelings about malls. I used up my time, the examiner politely stopped me and we moved on. Here are some questions you can use to prompt yourself if you find yourself in this situation:

  • How do you feel about the topic? Tell the examiner
  • Is there someone you know who has more experience with this topic? Speak about this person
  • If it’s a topic about a past experience, can you name another, similar experience?
  • If it’s about future plans, do you know someone who has done this thing?
  • For topics about present realities: can you imagine someone disagreeing with you? Why?

If All Else Fails: Lie

If none of this works, you can fall back on one last strategy: make it up! There will be no fact checking, and the examiner will have no way of knowing that you are inventing a story out of whole cloth. Even if the examiner could read your mind, there is no penalty for fiction. It’s advisable to practice doing this a few times before your exam, though, because unless you are a creative type, it might be a little difficult to spin a tale out of nothing.

Also remember that IELTS is not a test of the correctness of your views. The examiner is listening to the language that you use to express yourself. You don’t need to worry about what the examiner thinks of you. If you worry too much about this, it will make you speak less freely and you won’t do your best.

IELTS Speaking Long Turn Practice

To ensure success in the speaking exam, it’s best to get comprehensive feedback on your performance. This is the easiest way to dispel anxiety and approach the exam with peace of mind. If you are unsure about any aspect of the speaking test, Highway IELTS Speaking Development is a complete solution to get you ready for test day – a detailed and personalised learning experience to address all your needs and ensure your success.