Understanding the IELTS Speaking Test

by Kali Thurber

by Kali Thurber

IELTS Expert


Table of Contents

The IELTS Speaking test is an opportunity to demonstrate your English communication skills to the examiner. While many IELTS candidates worry about making grammar mistakes or feeling stressed, you can absolutely overcome these obstacles. The best way to achieve the band scores (results) you need is by learning how the IELTS Speaking test works and by practicing sample questions.

Continue reading to discover how you can boost your confidence and be successful in your IELTS Speaking interview!

The IELTS Speaking interview lasts 11-14 minutes in a private test room with one examiner. All interviews are recorded.

What happens during IELTS Speaking?

If you take an IELTS test in Toronto, the Speaking interview will usually take place in a small test room or classroom – depending on the venue. At ILAC Toronto, the IELTS Speaking test takes place in one of our school’s classrooms with one examiner. The test lasts 11-14 minutes

Try to remain calm and speak in a comfortable manner, neither too fast nor too slowly. Remember that the examiner has a background in language education and wants to see you perform at your best level. Imagine you are sitting with a friendly and encouraging teacher, having a conversation after English class. 

They will begin by confirming your identity and checking your passport (or other IELTS-approved ID document). The examiner will use a device to record your IELTS Speaking interview – this is for marking and security purposes. 

Whether you take the IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training test, the Speaking section is the same. Although the test is meant to be conversational between two people, the examiner must still follow strict guidelines. This means they won’t respond to your answers in Part 1 or Part 2 of the Speaking test. Don’t let this worry you…it’s normal! Be confident and continue speaking until the examiner stops you. They will guide you through the test; your job is simply to demonstrate your language ability.  

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The Speaking test is designed to cover a range of everyday topics, including hobbies, interests, family, transport, holidays and more!

What type of questions will the examiner ask me?

It’s important to prepare yourself for the different types of questions the examiner will ask you. Here’s what you can expect.

Part 1: Basic Questions

The first part of IELTS Speaking is 4-5 minutes of basic questions on familiar topics. 

For example:

  • family and friends;
  • sports;
  • interests and hobbies;
  • celebrations;
  • TV and the internet;
  • clothes;
  • transport;
  • and more!

The intention is to make the test taker feel comfortable, but also to determine your baseline language ability. The examiner is likely to ask you about your home or work/studies followed by three other general topics. If the examiner asks you “Why?”, you should expand on the subject. Remember that this is your chance to demonstrate your speaking skills!

Part 2: Individual Long Turn

The next part is a two-minute speech on one topic. Here, the examiner is focused on your fluency (i.e. how well you can speak about a topic continuously and with little hesitation or self-correction). 

They will show you a question presented on a cue card. Under this question, there will also be a few specific points you should mention in your answer. Here is an example:

 “Describe a time of the day you like”. In your answer you should mention:

  • What you do at that time.
  • Who you spend it with.
  • Why you like it.

The key here is to keep speaking for the full two minutes. If you stop talking before the two minutes is up, the examiner will ask you a follow-up question. In addition, be sure to cover all the points on the card.

Part 3: Two-way Discussion

Finally, you will have a conversation with the examiner related to the topic in Part 2. 

Using the above topic of “favourite time of day”, the examiner might ask you follow-up questions such as:

  • “How do you think leisure activities have changed recently?”
  • or “How has technology changed the way we use our time?”

The examiner wants you to discuss complex social issues. Generally, they do not want you to speak about your personal experiences, although you could use an example from your own life only to help illustrate the point you are making. Try to use sophisticated vocabulary without jeopardizing your language accuracy. (Remember: if you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it!)

Your IELTS Speaking examiner will be listening for 4 separate criteria and grade you on each.

What will the examiner assess?

The examiner will use 4 assessment criteria to grade your speaking ability throughout your IELTS interview. 

You should learn as much as you can about how the examiner determines your band score. This can help you improve your weaker language areas beforehand so you’re ready to ace the test. The examiner will use band descriptors – descriptions of specific language abilities – to calculate your score. 

  1. Fluency and Coherence. The examiner is listening for your capability to speak at length without long pauses, hesitation or self-correction.
  2. Lexical Resource refers to your vocabulary range. If you use the appropriate language on a given topic and some idiomatic expressions (correctly), you will impress the examiner. However, be careful of using advanced language if you don’t know what it means – incorrectly using idioms and other advanced phrases can lower your score.
  3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy assesses the accuracy and complexity of your sentences. In order to get a high score, you should use some conditional sentences and connecting phrases to join ideas together.
  4. The last criterion is Pronunciation, which is focused on how easy it is to understand everything you say. As you practice speaking for your IELTS test, try to assess yourself in these categories. Better yet, ask a friend, teacher, or classmate to give you feedback on your speaking. Can they understand all the words you are trying to say?
Your appearance and clothing, opinions, accent and previous test scores are a few things that the examiner is NOT paying attention to.

What is NOT being assessed?

In addition to knowing what the examiner is looking for, it’s also useful to consider what will not affect your score. In other words, what does the examiner NOT care about?

  • The examiner will evaluate you based only on your speaking abilities. That means that your appearance or clothing on the day of the IELTS interview will not influence your band score. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident, as this may help you to bring a positive attitude. However, regardless of what you wear, the examiner will not use your fashion choices to judge your language ability. 
  • Moreover, your personal opinions are not under scrutiny. The examiner does not care about your opinions, and will not judge your language ability based on them. The examiner is only interested in the 4 marking criteria, mentioned above.
  • Furthermore, having an accent won’t lead to a lower score. Remember that accent and pronunciation are different; the only reason your score would be affected is if your accent changes the way you pronounce a word, meaning the examiner can’t understand which word you are saying. Be sure to speak loudly, clearly and not too fast.
  • Lastly, don’t worry if you have taken an IELTS test before (at the same centre or a different one). The examiner cannot see your previous results so they will not impact your score.
In order to be successful in the IELTS Speaking test, you must dedicate time to preparation.

Preparation Tips

In order to be successful in the IELTS Speaking test, you must dedicate time to getting yourself prepared and know what to expect.

Make a self-assessment and note which areas you need to improve on most. Is your vocabulary lacking? Do you have difficulty speaking for two full minutes about a topic without stopping? Do you struggle to use different grammar structures when you speak? To know where you need to improve, search online for IELTS sample questions and practice your answers in the mirror or with a friend.

To get ready for Part 2, try recording yourself giving a two-minute speech on a specific topic. Listen to the recording with someone else, such as a friend or teacher, and ask them for their opinion on your speaking.

All of these tactics will surely help you get prepared for the test. However, enrolling in an IELTS preparation course is the most effective way to prepare, like the one offered at ILAC through our ILAC KISS virtual program. The best thing about this type of course is that it can give you the chance to interact with others in English. In addition, you will have an experienced IELTS teacher to give you feedback on your specific strengths and weaknesses and teach you how to succeed on each section of the test. It’s also much more fun to learn and practice with a group!

Joining an IELTS Preparation class, such as our virtual group classes with ILAC KISS, means you can practice in a fun and convenient environment with an experienced IELTS instructor!

The IELTS speaking test is your challenge to conquer. Informing yourself about the format and how the test works is the first step towards successfully reaching your goal. The second step is practice, practice, practice. It’s the only way to improve. Try an IELTS preparation course with ILAC, where you can get ready for your test with the help of a skilled teacher and other IELTS candidates. Contact us to find out more or speak to an expert advisor.  

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