The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a test that measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work in environments where English is used as a language of communication. IELTS provides an accurate assessment of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking.
We have put together some advice on how to prepare properly for your speaking and writing IELTS examinations.
Fly through your speaking test!
The IELTS speaking exam is a personal face-to-face conversation with a qualified examiner.
In the first part of the exam, Speaking Part 1, the examiner will ask you questions about topics such as your home, place of work or studies, and this is aimed to help you relax and feel comfortable in the exam. The best way to do well in this part of the exam is to smile, relax and speak as naturally as possible. Remember, spoken fluency is not about speaking quickly or giving perfectly rehearsed answers.
In Speaking Part 2, you will talk on your own about a given topic for 1-2 minutes. You will have 1 minute to plan your answers and make notes. Make sure you write down your ideas and refer to them when you are speaking. This will help you stay focussed on the topic and speak for longer.
Speaking Part 3 is a little bit more formal and you need to discuss worldwide issues and more abstract topics based on the topic from Part 2. You will be asked a range of questions and you can expand on the answers and give relevant examples. Try to use a wide range of grammar and vocabulary! This is your chance to show the examiners what you can do!
Another good idea is to spend some time before the exam speaking with a proficient English speaker. This could be a friend, relative, partner or colleague. This way you can get some useful practice and some helpful feedback on your responses.
Some useful points to remember are:
– Try to talk as much as you can – the examiners want to see that you can speak at length. But stay on topic.
– Talk as fluently as possible and be spontaneous – unlike writing, it is perfectly natural for speaking to be a bit ‘messy’
– Articulate your thoughts – If you need a moment to think, or you are struggling to remember a word, don’t be afraid to say so. Articulating your thoughts is very natural and buys you thinking time. As a result, it keeps you fluent (the alternative is that you say nothing – silence can be a killer in a speaking exam!)
– Relax, be confident and enjoy using your English – smile! It will relax you, and leave a good impression on the examiner
– Develop your answers – give reasons, examples and results to support your answers (not only does it keep you talking and keep you fluent, but you are also assessed on this)
– Ask for clarification if necessary – asking for clarification is a valid communication strategy (you will not lose marks unless you do it too much of it)
– Do not learn prepared answers; the examiner is trained to spot this and will change the question – your speaking should sound like spontaneous, spoken English (not planned, written English!)
– Express your opinions; you will be assessed on your ability to communicate – you are expected to have opinions and be able to justify them (e.g. As far as I’m concerned… I’m inclined to disagree with this because…etc.)
– The examiner’s questions tend to be fairly predictable; practise at home and record yourself – but remember that you are simply practising giving your opinions and speaking in a coherent way – do not try to memorise a script.
– Self-correct – even fully proficient speakers make mistakes with grammar and vocabulary. If you hear yourself make a mistake, self-correction shows that it was only a mistake (and not a lack of knowledge)
– Speak loudly and clearly – word stress, and unstress, are essential to be understood, but you need volume for this
– Don’t forget to use linkers – try to use some more complex ones (e.g. because => one of the reasons for this is …)
– Be honest – remember, you are tested only on your speaking ability (it would be an unfair test if you were tested on your ability to lie at the same time)
– Record yourself answering exam questions – did you actually answer the question? Did you repeat yourself? Do you make the same mistakes? (e.g. have vs. has), how many times do you say the word ‘actually’, etc.
– If fluency is a main weakness for you, practice focusing only on answering the exam question, rather than worrying about ‘perfect grammar’ – find a good balance between fluency and accuracy
Ace your writing skills!
The writing exam has two parts. Task 1 and Task 2. For the Academic IELTS exam, Task 1 is testing your ability to summarise and select data. You should spend around 20 minutes on Task 1 and make sure you write over 150 words. This is the shorter of the two tasks. Task 2 asks you to write an academic essay on a given topic. You should spend around 40 minutes on Task 2 and write over 250 words.
Here are some tips to remember for your writing exam:
– Analyse each task properly and spend some time making notes – good writing is always planned.
– Highlight or underline key words in the tasks to make sure that you focus on what you have to do – failing to notice a single key word in the question can be very costly (e.g. does the task ask you to outline ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’? Or just ‘solutions’? Is it what only governments can do to help, or should you mention individuals too?).
– Do not copy whole sentences from the question – you will receive no marks for this (you may even lose marks). Paraphrasing shows a good command of the language and is actually expected at higher levels.
– Avoid low-level lexis that gain you no points (e.g. there have been some big changes > there have been some significant changes).
– Plan your answers – especially in Task 2. How do you know what you actually think until you have thought it through carefully? Outline your ideas, reasons, examples and results; plan your paragraphs. Use paragraphs clearly; put one idea in each paragraph – you should ‘present a clear central topic within each paragraph’ (expected for a 7.0 score).
– Become familiar with the band descriptors (e.g. using ‘an adequate range of vocabulary’ is expected at band 6.0).
– Do not repeat ideas using different words – especially in Task 2. Although a range of vocabulary is good, you should avoid repeating ideas unless you are summarising them in the conclusion.
– Keep to the topic; do not write about unrelated subjects – analysing the question and planning your writing will keep you on point.
– Manage your time; remember, Task 2 is worth about 60% of the marks – spend approximately 20 minutes on Task 1 and approximately 40 minutes on Task 2.
– Avoid all informal ways of writing. There are some rules of writing you should follow. For example: no abbreviations, no 1st and 2nd pronoun or possessive (I, you, me, my, your), except in the conclusion where you have to state your opinion.
– Leave five minutes at the end to check for mistakes – most of the time you will spot some (e.g. spelling, grammar, etc.)
Find out more
IH London is the largest IELTS test centre in the UK, with tests taking place three Saturdays each month throughout the year.
Our language school also offers IELTS preparation courses to help candidates reach the IELTS band they need.