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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Top tips for IELTS Speaking

We’ve got top tips for the IELTS Speaking test from an ex-IELTS teacher and examiner. Find ideas, advice, and insights you don’t normally find in test resources.

International student sitting at a desk. He is smiling at the person sitting in front of him. The person has her back to the camera.


Does speaking in English under timed conditions with a stranger make you feel nervous? Of course, it does. An oral test is stressful, even for someone whose first language is English. This article aims to give you top tips and advice on how to do your best in one of the most stressful parts of the IELTS test. 


Let’s just quickly talk about what this article will not cover. It will not talk about the types of IELTS tests available, nor will it focus on how to prepare for the different parts of the IELTS test - reading, listeningwriting and speaking. There are plenty of articles on that already. My years in teaching and being an IELTS speaking examiner have given me insights that I’d like to share with you.


General advice


Listen to and read in English every day for at least a month (ideally more) before your test. Read, listen to and watch everything. Listen to online news, documentaries, and movies. Have English subtitles on to help you identify new vocabulary and expressions. Watch TED talks and read the transcript as you listen. 


Listen to a wide range of topics, from things you love to things that you’re not even slightly interested in. Listen to interviews and notice how the person answers the questions. Do they use expressions that you could also use in your speaking test? How do they express their opinion? How do they give examples or reasons? (More on that later.)


Why am I asking you to listen and read in preparation for a speaking test? Doing this every day will help expand your vocabulary and give you examples of different grammar structures and expressions to use. The more you read and listen to different topics, the more vocabulary you will have and the easier it will be for you to discuss a wide range of topics on the day of your test. It will also really help with pronunciation.


On the day of the speaking test, make sure you practise speaking in English before going into the test. Talk to family, friends, or yourself all morning/afternoon. View your speaking test as a session at the gym – you need to warm up first to make sure you do your best. 


Timings and being recorded


There are three parts to the speaking test, and it lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. That’s all you need to worry about. Focus on answering the examiner’s questions using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar. Don’t focus on or worry about the time, that’s the examiner’s job. Don’t worry if the examiner interrupts you to move on to the next part. This is completely natural and doesn’t mean you’ve spoken too much or have done anything wrong. 


Your speaking test will be recorded. This may make you feel a little more nervous, but the recording of your speaking test is there to benefit you. The recordings are used to ensure that all examiners follow the correct procedures and are allocating fair and appropriate scores. 


If there are any issues with your results, the organisation will be able to refer to the recording of your speaking test and check that all procedures were followed correctly. They check that the score that was given was an accurate assessment of your speaking ability. 


Key tips for IELTS Speaking test success


Doing these things will help improve your speaking score on the day: 

  • Make eye contact and smile when you enter the test room. Communication is eighty per cent body language, so make a good first impression. 
  • Speak clearly and not too fast. Sometimes being nervous makes us speak too quickly or too quietly. Take a deep breath to calm your nerves and slow down if you feel yourself speaking too quickly.
  • If you didn’t hear the question or didn’t understand the question, ask the examiner to repeat it. You won’t get a lower band score for asking for help.
  • Don’t try to memorise answers to questions. You won’t sound natural, and the examiner will automatically know that’s what you’re doing. You will get a lower score for a memorised answer. 
  • Always give your answer and follow it with a reason or explanation. Never give just one-word answers. The examiner can’t judge your level of spoken ability if you only give them short answers. 
  • In Part Two you have one minute to prepare to speak. You are given a prompt card with bullet points. Use your minute, don’t waste it. Write notes – keywords only and not full sentences. Write your notes in English. 
  • You will then have two minutes to talk about the topic, and your notes will help you remember what you’re going to say. Expand your answers by giving reasons, explanations, and/or examples. Don’t read from your notes though, just look at them to help guide you. 
  • Use your speaking time to show the examiner how much vocabulary and grammar you can use naturally. Use synonyms and paraphrase what you’re saying, use sophisticated grammar structures. The more sophisticated the grammar structure, the higher the score. (See what I did there? The more + adjective/verb, the + comparativeThe more you practise, the easier it gets.)
  • The questions in Parts two and three of the IELTS Speaking tests are designed to increase in difficulty. Test writers try to give the student every opportunity to use more sophisticated grammar structures and vocabulary. Listen to the question to help you decide what grammar and tenses to use. For example: Question: Do you think that governments invest enough money in education nowadays? Your answer should use vocabulary and expressions related to money and investing and government. You should talk about both sides of the argument (yes, the government invests enough in education because…. No, it doesn’t because/for example…). This answer is also asking you to perhaps compare investing in education in the past with the present – the use of nowadays is the key here. 
  • Don’t be afraid to disagree with the examiner. You’re being tested on your level of English and not on your knowledge of the subject. Disagreeing with reasons and explanations is a good way to showcase your English ability. 
  • Pronunciation is important. The examiner will be listening for the pronunciation of sounds and words. They’ll be listening to the rise and fall (intonation) of your voice and how the words flow together. 


Useful expressions


Below are some useful expressions for giving your opinion and expanding your answer by giving reasons and examples.


Giving your opinion

Reasons and / explanations


Agreeing & Disagreeing

My view is that


For example,

Yes, I think that’s right.

To be honest, I think 

what I mean is

For instance,

I totally agree with that

From my perspective


Such as,

I can see your point, but 

I believe that

In order to


I think it depends on

As far as I’m concerned 

Due to

In other words,

I completely disagree

If you ask me

Not only … but also 

In particular,

I really don’t think so


I hope you’ve found these tips and expressions useful. There are also further top tips for the Academic, Reading, Writing and Listening tests. We've also got some information on how to book your IELTS test when you're ready and where it’s accepted.

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