The IELTS Speaking exam has a frightening reputation. Thankfully, this is totally undeserved. If you prepare in advance, the IELTS speaking test can be an opportunity to get a high band score on your certificate. For some industries, this can make a big difference. In this post we will look at one of the problems people experience: running out of things to say. Read on to find out how to handle situations like this.
IELTS Speaking: Part 1
The IELTS speaking test has three parts. The first part is a simple conversation on a variety of topics. Here, it’s important that you follow the examiner’s lead and answer the questions. Don’t give one word answers. Here’s an example of what not to do:
Examiner: Do you work or are you a student?
Now, being polite is not one of the criteria of the IELTS speaking test. But we all know that we speak more fluently, coherently and accurately when we are relaxed and happy, for example, in the company of friends. The words in bold are all actually criteria in the IELTS speaking test, so you should aim to relax and be friendly in order for your speaking to reflect all of these features. The examiner will take you through a series of everyday topics, ranging from hobbies to your daily routine. None of them will require specialist knowledge of anything.
Allow the examiner to change the topic and move to the next question. While you should avoid one-word answers, you also don’t have to monopolize the conversation. Let’s take the example above and look at a better response, adequately fleshed out but not overly wordy:
Examiner: Do you work or are you a student?
Candidate: Well, at the moment I’m studying but I’m in my final year, so hopefully I’ll be working by this time next year.
IELTS Speaking: Part 2
This second part is the one that carries the greatest risk of “running dry”. The examiner will give you a topic which you will have to speak about for two minutes, in monologue. Before you speak, you get a minute to prepare, with some paper to make notes. As with part 1, the topic will never be something that takes specialist world knowledge. It will be something that anybody can relate to. However, it is possible to get a topic that you are either uncomfortable with, or you simply struggle to say much about. Let’s look at these pitfalls and discuss some strategies.
I Can’t Think of Anything!
If the examiner gives you a topic that you really cannot relate to, you need to think, quickly. Let’s say you are asked to talk about your favorite book, but you are really not a reader and you haven’t read a book since high school. Worse, you can’t even remember the name of any of those books. The minute of preparation is ticking away and you have nothing. What do you do?
Well, let’s look at the topic. A book is something that you read. What other things can you read? This is a long list: magazines, newspapers, blogs, social media posts, etc. Do you read any of these? You can use any of these, as long as you tell the examiner that you are doing so: “Well I must be honest, I’m not much of a reader and I haven’t read a book since high school. But I do consume a lot of blogs, so I’m going to tell you about my favorite one…”
If All Else Fails, Just be Honest
Let’s say that even this idea doesn’t help you, because you don’t read newspapers, magazines, or anything else. You can still turn this around. When all else fails, just be honest: “In all honesty, I hate reading. It’s probably been about twenty years since I read a book. I think reading is a waste of time…” You could then go on to explain your reasons for believing that reading is a waste of time. Your talk will still connect to the topic and you will have shown a great deal of sophistication in your use of English in the process. Remember, your English is what the examiner is really looking for.
Can I Lie?
Yes! There is no fact checking in IELTS speaking. Truthfulness is not a criterion in the assessment rubric. The examiner is not going to investigate your story about how you broke your arm climbing a tree. However, for many people, improvising a story on the spot is difficult. You might lose track of what you said earlier and end up contradicting yourself. Or perhaps you just don’t feel comfortable doing this. If so, there are other things you can try.
Draw on Other People’s Experiences
You are free to draw on the experiences of other people, and you can even be honest about it: “I personally have never been overseas, but my friend travels all the time so I’ll tell you what he’s told me…”. This will be completely acceptable and it might be easier than lying. The rest of your account can flow once you have slightly modified the frame in this way.
IELTS Speaking: a Test of Communication
It’s important that you remember that the examiner is assessing your ability to communicate, not your knowledge of any particular topic. And as we’ve seen, there are things you can do to avoid problems. Let’s recap:
- Broaden the topic (books to magazines)
- Break the ice by being honest
- Draw on other people’s experiences
Once you get past part 2 (also known as the long turn), you are out of the woods. In part 3 the examiner will join you in conversation again, building on the topic you spoke about in part 2. At this point, if part 2 didn’t go as well as you would have liked, you need to cut your losses and move forward. It’s not too late to improve your score, but if you focus on an earlier mistake, you will just distract yourself from the task at hand. To get the most out of the speaking test, you need to make sure you’ve covered all the bases. Speaking about an unfamiliar topic to a total stranger can be daunting. Practice now to save cost and time later.