All about IELTS Speaking

Overview 

The IELTS speaking exam lasts about 13-14 minutes and is divided into three parts. Each of these parts is different and we’ll look at them in turn, but first of all here are some general tips that apply to all three parts of the speaking exam.  

  • The most important thing you can do in the speaking exam is...speak! It’s an opportunity for you to prove to the examiner how well you can express yourself in English, so don’t be afraid to show off your language. Try to avoid using ‘easy’ language such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘nice’ when you can use adjectives like ‘wonderful’ or ‘awful’ instead.  

  • Similarly, avoid giving short, simple answers to questions. For example, if the question is ‘do you live in a house or an apartment?’, don’t just say ‘I live in a house’. A much better answer is something like ‘I live in a small house near the centre of my town, which I share with my sister….’. You don’t have to give an extremely detailed description of your house, but be prepared to add some extra information! 

  • If you don’t understand a question, don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat it. You will not lose marks if you do this – it’s much better to ask for repetition than to start answering a question which you think you understood, but didn’t! 

  • Also, don’t worry if the examiner interrupts you when you’re in the middle of a sentence – he/she has to do this sometimes because they have to follow the timings of the exam. Again, you won’t lose marks if you haven’t finished what you wanted to say.  

Let’s move on now to the different parts of the exam. For each part there are different things you can do that will help you to get a better score.  

Part One 

The first part of the speaking exam lasts between four and five minutes.  The examiner will first ask you your name and where you come from, and then comes the first set of questions. These are always about either where you live or what you do (in other words, if you work or if you are a student). You shouldn’t have too many problems here, as these questions are generally easy to predict.  

Next, the examiner will normally ask you questions about two other topics. These are generally easy to talk about as they are ‘every day’ topics, for example food, shopping, watching TV, weekends, the weather, colours, animals/pets, reading, clothes etc. 

Tips:  

  • Before the exam, make a list of all the possible questions that you could ask someone about their home, or their job or studies. This will help you to guess the questions you might be asked in the exam. Then think about how you would answer these questions. For example: 

                                       Home                    Work/studies 

Do you like where you live? Why/why not?  Where do you work/study? 

Do you think you’ll continue living there? Why did you choose this job/course? 

  • Be prepared to answer questions about topics that are very different, for example ‘animals’ and ‘reading newspapers/magazines’. 
  • Each topic usually has questions with different tenses, so listen carefully for the tense or verb form that is used. For example, if the question begins with ‘did........?’, you need to use the past simple in your answer, or if it begins with ‘would you like...’ the answer might be ‘Yes, I would, because….’ 

Part two 

In this part, the examiner gives you a topic which you have to talk about for two minutes. Before you start talking, you have one minute to think about what you’re going to say. The examiner will just listen to you during this time, and usually he/she will ask you a question when you finish about what you’ve said. It’s important to know that the topic can be anything, maybe even something that you’re not really interested in. Unfortunately, if you don’t like the topic you can’t change it – you’ll have to say something about it! 

This part can be difficult because talking for two minutes about a specific topic isn’t something we do every day so it might not feel very natural, and two minutes can seem like a long time if you feel like you don’t have anything to say. But again, there are things you can do to make it easier for you.  Every topic in part two has the same structure, with four different points that you need to cover, like in this example: 

Describe a special gift or present you gave to someone. 

You should say: 

  1. who you gave the gift to
  2. what the gift was 
  3. where you got it from 

and (4) explain why this gift was special. 

Tips: 

  • Make sure you say something about each of the four points as in the example above. It’s easier if you break down the task like this and talk about each point for 20/30 seconds. It’s also better if you talk about the points in order (1, 2, 3, 4) as this will give your talk a clearer structure. 

  • It’s important to know that you can also talk about other aspects of the topic that are not on the card. For example, in this case you could describe why or how you chose this gift, how much it cost, etc. This can really help if you feel that you don’t have enough things to talk about for two minutes.  

  • As we said above, you have one minute to prepare before you start talking – use your time well! Don’t feel that you should start talking immediately just because the topic seems easy. You should also think about useful language you could use – write down any words or expressions that come to mind.  

Part Three 

There are two important things to say about Part Three. First of all, the questions are always connected in some way to the topic in part two. So, in our example, you could firstly expect questions about giving presents or gifts, and then questions about related topics such as giving money to charity, helping other countries and so on.  

Secondly, the questions are much less personal and more general, or abstract, so you need to generalize much more rather than talk about yourself. A typical question about presents might be something like this: ‘in your country, when do people usually give presents or gifts?’ The way to answer this is by saying ‘in Japan/Saudi Arabia/Brazil people (or ‘we’) usually give gifts for birthdays….’. Don’t talk about when you give presents – the question is about ‘people in your country’, not you! 

Tips: 

  • Because of the types of question in Part three, it’s a good idea to make a list of expressions for generalizing which you can use, for example ‘in general’, ‘on the whole’, ‘people tend to…’, as well as phrases for giving opinions – ‘in my view…’, ‘I feel that…’, ‘I would argue that….’ 

  • Unlike Part one where the examiner asks questions and you answer, Part three is much more like a conversation – the examiner will respond to what you’ve said. He/she may ask you questions such as ‘can you give me an example of that?’  or ‘why do you think that is?’ Be prepared to respond quickly to questions like this. 

  • The questions in Part three are relatively easy at the start and then get more difficult, so you may be asked about something that you haven’t really thought about before – for example, ‘do you think richer countries have a responsibility to give aid to poorer countries?’ If this happens and you need time to think, you can respond with that’s a difficult question to answer/I haven’t really thought about that before…’ Hopefully this will give you the time you need! 

This post was written by Daragh, one of our trainers at The London School of English.


Test your knowledge of IELTS speaking

  1. Which part (one, two, or three) gives preparation time before you give your answer?
  2. Which part (one, two, or three) is like a conversation with the examiner? 
  3. Which part (one, two, or three) requires you to speak about a general, abstract topic rather than personal topic? 
  4. Which part (one, two, or three) focuses on where you live and what you do? 
  5. Which part (one, two, or three) requires you to talk for a few minutes on a single topic relating to your own experience? 

Post your answers in the comments section below, and we will tell you if you are right.  


The London School of English is the oldest accredited language school in the world. We offer four-week and eight-week IELTS preparation courses. These highly intensive courses focus on all the main language skills and exam techniques you will need to give you the best possible chance of getting the score you require. Find out more here.

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