The purpose of the IELTS speaking exam, often referred to as the ‘interview’, is for you to show the examiner the extent to which you can express yourself in English. So it stands to reason that if you don’t speak enough, the examiner will not have much to assess and therefore you will score low.
One of the most common pieces of advice you will hear about the speaking exam is that even if you get what seems to be a yes/no question from the exmainer, you must give a full answer in response. But what does this mean and what is the best way to do this?
Consider the question:
Let’s talk about your home town or village: what kind of place is it?
You could give an answer like this:
It’s quite small and it’s quiet. Not many people live there.
This is not sufficient as an answer because you do not talk for long enough therefore you do not demonstrate a range of vocabulary or an ability to form complex sentences.
Now compare it with this answer:
Actually, my home town is a city. It has a population of around one and half million so it is crowded and the traffic is really bad. But it has a great atmosphere and there are so many interesting places to visit. The south side is the business district, which has some very modern architecture, as well as some great restaurants and shopping malls. I prefer the north side – it’s older and has more history and I love the traditional architecture. I was born on the northside and I like the slower pace of life there.
This is what we call a developed answer because you have responded by describing the place clearly, giving examples of the size, the atmosphere, the architecture and the facilities. You have also expressed a preference and explained why you feel that way. There is much more language here for the examiner to assess.
Some candidates worry that they will not be able to think of anything to say in response to questions and won’t have any ideas to develop their answers fully. But you needn’t worry – there are various strategies you can use for expanding your answers in Part 1 and Part 3 of the test.
For Part 1, where you are asked about your personal experiences, daily life and family, you can access your memories, especially your memories of sights, sounds and feelings to expand your descriptions and add details.
For Part 3, where you are asked for your opinions and views on a variety of common topics, you can try paraphrasing the question before answering – this is an interesting way to show the examiner that you can use English well. When you give your opinion, you should explain it further, perhaps by giving a reason why you think that as well as an example to back up your point.
A good piece of advice I once read was ‘be prepared to speculate’ which means suggest a few alternative possibilities, as this will give you several ideas to talk about, therefore expanding your answer.
Another helpful strategy for both Parts 1 & 2 is to ask yourself the questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? and use the answers to add details to your response.
Candidates often wonder how they will know if they have given an appropriately long answer. Well, it is usually obvious from the examiner’s manner. You can usually tell from their facial expression and body language whether you have said enough or that they are expecting to hear more. If an examiner pauses and continues to look at you after you have finished speaking, they may be signalling to you that you should continue a little longer, so make sure that you are alert to these visual clues.