Common questions about IELTS speaking

ielts speaking18 commonly asked questions about the IELTS speaking test.

Updated: September 2023.

There is a lot of misinformation, wrong advice, and myths out there surrounding IELTS writing and speaking, so hopefully, this blog post should help clear up any confusion before you go into the IELTS exam. This post goes over common misconceptions and common questions about the speaking part of IELTS. Click on the blue buttons to see the answers to the questions.

If there are any questions not listed or if you have any suggestions, leave a comment in the comments section at the bottom of this post. I will try to answer them for you.

1. How long should my answers be in Part 1 of the speaking test?

In part 1 of the speaking test, the examiner will ask general questions on 3 topics on various themes such as: hometown, daily routine, hobbies, work, weather, food, sport, TV, family, pets, internet, shopping… and so on. Click here for a list of tricky topics that could come up in part 1.

Your answers do not need to be too long and detailed because in part 1 of the test, the examiner has only 5 minutes to get through around 9 to 12 questions. Simply answer the question directly in around 1 or 2 sentences. In some cases, you may feel that you need to give longer answers and that is ok, there is no set rule here but do not go into a tangent.

However, if you give very short one or two-word answers you could lose marks. Answer the questions directly and concisely.

See the video here on how long your answers should be in IELTS speaking.

2. Do I have to speak for a full 2 minutes in Part 2?

Yes, but in some cases the examiner may have enough information to evaluate you in part 2 and may stop the talk before 2 minutes. Don’t panic if the examiner does this as he or she now wants to move to part 3 of the speaking test to ask more broader questions. The examiner will keep the time so you don’t need to worry about timing.

Tip: When you are practicing speaking in part 2, aim to keep the talk going for 3 minutes so that you will feel confident in the test.

3. Can I ask the examiner questions?

You can ask the examiner to repeat the question or to rephrase the question if you can’t understand it. However, don’t do this too often as it indicates that your comprehension and vocabulary are poor.

In part 2 of the test, you can’t ask any questions about the topic on the cue card. If you find any words hard to understand the examiner will not be able to help you. In part 1 and 3 you do not lose marks for asking the examiner to repeat the question or explain a word.

Examples of questions you can ask:

  • Could you say that again?

  • Could you rephrase that?

  • What exactly do you mean?

  • I didn’t quite catch that, could you repeat it please?

4. Do I need to use idioms to get a higher band score?

No, you don’t need to use idioms to get a high band score. Some teachers recommend students use idioms but I do not recommend this in the speaking section. The reason is that you must know their precise meaning and how to use them naturally and appropriately in a conversation.

If you have a higher level of English and you feel comfortable using idioms accurately then you can use them.

My advice would be to develop your idiomatic language such as fixed expressions, phrasal verbs, and collocations.

To learn more about what idioms are exactly see this page here

5. Is my accent going to be a problem?

The examiner is not judging your accent unless it causes problems with pronunciation and the examiner cannot understand you. If you have a strong accent that is affecting overall communication then that will be an issue and will lower your score. Apart from that, your accent should be of no concern as long as you are easy to understand and speak clearly.

6. Do I have to talk about every bullet point on the cue card in part 2?

No, those bullet points are there to help you with ideas. You can use them if you want to but you can also use your own ideas. However, make sure to stay on the main topic on the cue card, don’t change the overall topic.

Tip: In the 1 minute preparation time for speaking part 2 you should add your own points to the cue card so that you have more things to talk about. If you just stick to the points on the cue card you will run out of ideas very quickly.

7. What if I can’t answer a question in part 3?  Can I say ‘I don’t know’ ?

Never say ‘ I don’t know’, one way around this is to use a fixed phrase such as:

  • I haven’t really thought about it before, but I reckon….

  • It’s not something I have considered, however, I think…

  • To be honest, I don’t really know, but I would say…

In this way you are admitting you don’t know but are still offering some kind of opinion and demonstrating that you have grammar and language skills for a difficult question. You could just make up an answer, you do not have to be an expert on the topic.

For example:

Question: What do you think can be done to reduce the crime rate in urban areas?

Possible Answer: To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it before, but I would say that the government needs to take action, such as increasing the number of police officers or maybe giving more funding to local communities to reduce poverty, which tends to be a major cause of crime.

8. Are body language and eye contact important for a high score?

No, the examiner is judging your English according to 4 criteria: Fluency, Pronunciation, Vocabulary, Grammar … Nothing else. Obviously, when someone asks you questions you won’t be staring at the floor. Eye contact and body language will not give you a higher score.

9. Will I get a higher score with a British accent?

No, you are not being judged on your accent. If you have good pronunciation then do not worry about trying to speak with a British accent as you will not get extra marks.

10. What should I wear for the speaking test?

Wear what you like. You could wear a gorilla outfit if you wanted to, the examiner doesn’t care. They are only judging your English abilities according to the 4 criteria of vocabulary, grammar, fluency, and pronunciation.

11. What kinds of questions come up in part 3?

The questions in Part 3 of the test are connected to the topic that you speak about in Part 2. There are also 7 common types of questions in part 3, they could be questions about: other people in society, a hypothetical question, a future prediction, an opinion, comparing the past with the present, cause and effect, advantages and disadvantages…. for more information on this  click here to see the video lesson.

12. How long does the speaking test take?

It takes around 12 to 14 minutes. Part 1 is about 5 minutes, part 2 is around 3 minutes and part 3 takes about 5 minutes. You will be asked around 9 to 12 questions in part 1 and about 4 to 5 questions in part 3.

13. Which part of the test gives the most marks?

There is no specific part of the speaking test that carries more marks. You are judged on the overall ability to answer the questions in all parts fluently with a good range of grammar and vocabulary as well as clear pronunciation. As mentioned before, you will be marked on these four criteria: Fluency, Pronunciation, Grammar, and Vocabulary.

14. If I self-correct will it be a problem?

Self-correction if done too much will lower your score in the fluency section of the marking criteria. Make sure you have practiced well and that you can minimise self-correction, so don’t worry too much about one or two mistakes.

In fact, your grammar and vocabulary do not have to be 100% perfect to get a good score. Stress and anxiety will also cause you to self-correct often, fix this issue if it is a concern to you.

15. Is the IELTS speaking test formal?

No, it is an informal test so you can relax and use everyday language. For instance, if you are giving an opinion you can begin with these phrases below:

  • As far as I’m concerned…..

  • If you ask me I think….

  • To be honest I think….

  • I reckon…..

Bear in mind that these phrases would not be appropriate for the writing section of IELTS as that is formal.

16. Is paraphrasing important in the speaking section?

Yes, if you can paraphrase the questions by using synonyms and rearranging the sentence structure in your answers accurately you can get a higher score in grammar and vocabulary. Click here for more details on how to paraphrase in IELTS speaking.

I advise working on this skill for a better score. If you feel paraphrasing is stressful in the speaking section then just answer the question as best you can.. Try to relax and speak in a natural conversational way.

17. How can I develop my speaking for free?

You can develop your speaking skills at home for free by following these steps:

  1. Get your smartphone or recording device.

  2. Ask a friend to play the role of examiner asking the questions.

  3. Record yourself answering the questions as if in the exam.

  4. Playback the recording, and make notes on weak areas that need to be improved

  5. Do this regularly and you will see improvements.

18. Should I just learn common topics and questions?

This might help you but it is not the way to approach the IELTS speaking exam. Sometimes the examiner will ask unusual topics such as in this link-> unusual speaking topics in part 1.

This is to make sure you are not memorising answers. So common topics may come up in the test but then again maybe not.

You will often be asked questions about your studies or job and sometimes about your hometown, but it is very difficult to predict which topics will come up in the exam.

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Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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