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IELTS Speaking Part 1 - Format, Topics, Questions & Tips

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by Philip Askew

ILAC Pathway Teacher


One of the most worrying parts of the IELTS test is the Speaking test, a live interview with an IELTS examiner. The test takes 11-14 minutes in total and is divided into three parts. This blog post will speak about helpful advice and strategies to help you prepare and feel more confident for IELTS Speaking Part 1. 

If your answers are too long, the examiner will stop you. Don’t be worried if this happens! It will not affect your score.

Part 1 Format

Part 1 is the most general section of the IELTS Speaking test. It takes about 4-5 minutes. The topics will be familiar, the vocabulary will be basic, and your answers should be personal. You can think of this part as a ‘warm up’ for the rest of the test. 

After introducing themselves, the examiner will ask you about yourself, your background and your daily life. There are 12 questions in total in this section, so keep your answers around 10-20 seconds each. If your answers are too long, the examiner will stop you. If your answers are too short, the examiner might ask you to explain your response in more detail. Don’t be worried if this happens! It will not affect your score.  

In Part 1, you may be asked about any number of common, everyday topics like your routine or hobbies.

Topics in Part 1

The 12 questions of Speaking Part 1 are further divided into 3 different topics. Usually, these are general, everyday topics concerning your personal life and experiences. The examiner will start by asking you about your hometown, where you’re living at the moment, or your current work or study. Make sure you are prepared to talk about these basic personal details. 

Afterwards, the examiner will move on to more specific topics. Common topics for IELTS Speaking Part 1 can include: 

  • Free time 
  • Holidays 
  • Transportation 
  • Shopping 
  • Sports & games 
  • Friends & family 
  • Computers & technology 
  • Weather 
  • Hobbies & interests 
  • Reading 
  • Daily routine 
  • Living accommodation 
  • Music 
  • Pets 
  • Clothes & fashion 

The list of topics is always changing, so it’s impossible to know exactly what the examiner will ask you about in your own test. However, do not memorize any prepared responses as this may negatively affect your score. Just answer as naturally as you can.

Sample Questions for Part 1

Here are some example questions for the topics above. Try answering some of these to the best of your ability, keeping your answers to about 10-20 seconds each. 

Free time

  • What do you like to do in your free time? 
  • How were you introduced to this activity? 
  • Do you wish you had more free time every week? Why/why not? 
  • Is there some other activity you would like to try?


  • Do you enjoy shopping? Why/why not? 
  • Which shop(s) do you usually go to? 
  • What do you usually need to go shopping for? 
  • Do you prefer online shopping or in-person shopping? Why? 

Computers & Technology 

  • How often do you use a computer each day? 
  • Do you prefer computers or smartphones? 
  • How do you usually spend your time on a computer? 
  • Do you think people spend too much time online these days? Why/why not? 


  • What is your favourite kind of weather? 
  • Do you like the weather where you live? Why/why not? 
  • How often does bad weather cause problems in your life? 
  • Do you think the weather affects how people feel? Why/why not? 


  • Do you like music? Why/why not? 
  • What is your favourite kind of music? 
  • Can you play a musical instrument? 
  • Do you like going to live music shows? Why/why not? 

Daily Routine 

  • Do you usually have the same routine every day? 
  • What’s the first thing you normally do after you wake up? 
  • Do you feel like you need a change in your routine? Why/why not? 
  • Has your routine changed since you were younger? Why/why not? 
Your Speaking test answers should flow naturally, like a conversation in real life would.

Tips for success in Part 1

If you’re still worried about how to respond to the questions in Speaking Part 1, here are some tips and tricks to help you provide the best possible answers you can.

Tip 1: Practice answering without hesitating

Speaking Part 1 is a warm-up for the rest of the IELTS Speaking test. It provides familiar topics and personal questions for you to get used to speaking in English for an extended period. If you can show the examiner early that you are comfortable with basic conversation and speaking at length without effort, this will give them a good impression of you for the rest of the test. 

When you’re practicing at home, try to answer each question one by one, stopping as little as possible. You want your answers to be about 10-20 seconds, depending on the question. You can take a few seconds to consider your answer, but once you are speaking, try to avoid hesitating too long between words. 

Tip 2: Extend your answers

A common mistake is for test-takers to give simple one-word answers, without elaborating further.

For example: 

  • Q: “Which shops do you usually go to?” 
  • A: “The supermarket.” 

This answer is too short. In this case, the examiner will give you an opportunity to keep speaking. If they don’t, the examiner will move on to the next question. The test-taker here has shown that they understood the question, but they didn’t extend their answer and missed the opportunity to show the examiner their skills and fluency in English. Remember, this is a speaking test! Always feel free to add extra details and information about your answer, as appropriate. 

Remember: Extend your answers but try to keep each to 10-20 seconds, unless the examiner stops you. 

Tip 3: Answer naturally (no memorized answers!)

Avoid completely memorizing any responses to questions before the test. It’s more useful to pay attention and respond carefully to the question, instead of introducing advanced language just to improve your score. IELTS examiners are professionals, and will easily notice if your answers are planned in advance.

An example of a planned answer looks like this:

  • Q: “What is your favourite kind of music?” 
  • A: “Music is very important in my family, and we often listen to our favourite bands on the radio together. Sometimes we share new genres of music that we find online with each other, and this is a great way to keep in touch when we are abroad.”

This answer shows some excellent use of English vocabulary (“keep in touch”, “genres”), but failed to directly answer the question. The examiner may assume that the student wanted to show they knew this specific vocabulary. This makes the conversation unnatural and confusing and may affect the final score. 

The IELTS Speaking test may seem difficult but remember that the examiner also wants you to succeed. They will notice mistakes, but they are also listening for reasons to give you as high a score as possible. The IELTS Speaking examiners are trained to fairly and expertly evaluate your English speaking skills, according to the marking criteria. If you’re still worried, consider joining an IELTS preparation class for expert guidance and the opportunity to practice with a teacher and classmates. With practice, a good score on Speaking part 1 is achievable for anyone.

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