The IELTS speaking test often fills candidates with apprehension because it requires sitting face to face with an examiner, answering unknown questions directly, and being graded on a wide range of skills. However, you should not worry too much. In this article, I will share with you some IELTS speaking tips to ace the test.
1. Stay calm
First of all, before we get into any technical details or study tips, please remember that the number one enemy for all exam candidates is nervousness. This is doubly true when the exam is a speaking test because it involves that face-to-face aspect.
It is important, though, that you learn some techniques to help you control your nerves and face the examiner with confidence.
Well, even more than the IELTS writing, reading, or listening parts of the test, nerves can affect your score in the speaking section. This is because, when we speak, our nerves can impair the quality of our speech. It makes our voice change and causes us to forget words. We panic and repeat ourselves or stutter and stumble over the sounds we need to make.
In short, find out some good ways to deal with stress and nervousness so that you can walk confidently into the exam room, do your best, and walk out knowing that you have given a good representation of your skills.
2. Don’t worry about little errors
Everyone makes mistakes when they speak. Even native speakers stumble over their words sometimes, particularly when speaking quickly, under pressure, or on a difficult topic. It is perfectly natural to mix up two similar verb tenses, for example, or confuse two prepositions.
If you catch yourself making a mistake while finishing your speaking cue-card, you can correct yourself, but if it is a very small mistake then sometimes it is better to ignore it. Remember, this is not like the IELTS writing test. The examiner won’t penalise you for every single little mistake in the IELTS Speaking module.
In the speaking exam, you can get away with making little errors and continuing because this actually improves your fluency. If you correct yourself too much, you will reduce the fluency and this will make your errors more noticeable.
As such, if you make one or two small mistakes, you can either correct them or ignore them, but don’t correct yourself too much. This will sound bad and may even destroy your confidence.
3. Hesitation is ok… to some extent
When you listen to native speakers talk, they often hesitate or fill gaps with certain sounds. They say things like:
- Ok, so today we’re going to talk about literature, which is, um, an important area of the arts.
Notice some of these words: “ok,” “so,” “um.” These are gap-fill words that serve no real function in the sentence. However, they are quite common in spoken English. Most other languages also have equivalent words.
It is ok to use these in IELTS because they are part of normal, everyday language, but you should definitely aim to keep them to a minimum – and use natural English ones rather than gap-fill words from your own language. Also, if you use these too much, then it will become very noticeable. Instead of being natural, it will sound like you are uncertain about what you want to say and struggling to find the words.
4. It’s ok to ask questions
The IELTS test is not a test of your knowledge and you are not expected to know absolutely everything about the English language. It is simply an English test that aims to give you a realistic score for your performance.
As such, it is fine if you hear a question that you do not understand and therefore want the examiner to explain a little. In that situation, you can just use your English abilities to inform the examiner of the problem. You can say something like:
- I’m sorry, but I don’t know what ___ means.
- Could you please explain the meaning of ____?
- I don’t quite understand the question. Could you rephrase it, please?
If you do this correctly, not only will it not harm your score, but it may actually help increase your chances of a good grade. This is because IELTS is all about communication. If a person does not know one word, that does not give any indication of their English abilities. The fact that they can articulate this to their examiner is far more impressive.
Turn a potential problem into an advantage by taking a word you do not know or a question you do not understand and making it an excuse to communicate openly and directly with the examiner. He or she will be more impressed with this than if you had talked randomly about something else based on a misunderstanding.
5. Avoid sounding like a robot
Ask any IELTS examiner or English teacher what the most annoying thing a learner can do is and you’ll likely hear the same answer:
- “Sounding like a robot!”
But what does this mean?
When people learn languages, it can take a while to figure out the natural intonations of the sentences they speak. English is not a tonal language like Chinese, but it certainly has its ups and downs. If you spoke with a completely flat tone, it would sound very unusual indeed. In fact, it can be quite difficult to understand people who do not use tone correctly.
This is a hard thing to learn, but you can pick it up from listening often. Listen to podcasts, TV shows, and YouTube videos. Pay attention to how native speakers use intonation to give subtle meanings. Over time, this will come naturally to you.
You can even record yourself speaking and listen to it. Does the sound of your voice rise and fall, or does it stay flat? If it stays flat, you need to change it.
6. Finally… don’t be too formal
When you do the IELTS writing test, you should aim to use very formal language, but speaking is different. Whilst an IELTS essay should have some formal transitions and avoid contractions, the speaking test is really the opposite. You should use minimal transitional words and lots of contractions.
This is because when people speak in English, they mostly speak informally. Of course, there are some situations where that might be inappropriate, but most of the time we use quite informal language for speaking, and you should do this in your IELTS test too.
Just please be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction! It could be tempting to use lots of slang and idioms, but this can equally sound weird, so you should aim to replicate common, everyday English speech as much as possible, being neither too formal nor too informal.