With testing resuming, and candidates looking to achieve the scores they need more than ever, how can you achieve the score you want in the speaking test?

1. Have the correct mindset:

When it comes to the speaking test, many candidates are usually aiming for at least a band 6,7 or 8. So, why do so many candidates struggle to reach a band 6,7 or 8? Is it a lack of speaking practice? A lack of vocabulary? A heavy accent? While some of these might affect your score, the biggest reason is that many candidates do not fully understand how the test is marked and how they will be assessed.

Just like a checklist, an examiner is looking for certain ‘items’ in your speaking to ‘check off’ their list. The first key to success is knowing not only what the examiner is looking for, but how to give it to them. As many candidates usually neglect this fact, they usually do not get the score they need, and then need to take the test again.  

It is also important to remember that the IELTS speaking test assesses your English language ability, and not how many big words you can recite or how many long phrases you memorize. You are not scored on how well you “answer the questions”, but for the content of your language. Even if you answer all the questions in the test, you could still receive a low score. Remember that there is no such thing as a ‘wrong answer’ in the speaking test, as you are examined on your language ability, not how well you answer the question.     

Here are two examples to illustrate:

  1. Answering the question:

Q. “How often do you drink water?” 

A. “Everyday.”

Now, look at the difference in the next example.

      2. Demonstrating your language ability:

Q. “How often do you drink water?” 

A. “To be quite honest, it isn’t something I keep track of. As a rule of thumb, I try to drink 4 or 5 glasses of water a day. I usually just drink water when I’m thirsty!”

            As the examiner scores you based on your language ability, example 1 would not receive a high score. there is very little content, and only one word in the answer. On the other hand, example 2 focuses on showing language ability, not answering the question. This is exactly the type of response you would need to demonstrate throughout the test to reach a score of 7 or above.

2. By being ‘aware’ of your first language:

Another problem many candidates do not realize, is that your first language directly affects how you use English. To achieve the higher scores in IELTS speaking, you would need to show a ‘native-like’ proficiency, which is difficult for many candidates. A majority of test takers usually speak English in the same way that they speak their first language, which has a direct on the score you achieve. The key is to think in English!

So how can you do this? Well, it is crucial to focus on the style of your first language and compare it to English. Once you can identify the differences in the spoken forms of the two languages, it will be much easier for you to speak in a more natural style, by not thinking in your first language. You can practice doing this by studying some basic questions and answers in your first language and then repeating them in English.

Let us think about the question: “What’s your favourite kind of weather?”

Now, a Korean speaker might answer with ‘hot, sunny weather’, a Chinese speaker might answer with ‘snowy weather’, and a Farsi speaker might answer with ‘sunny weather, with a slight breeze’. In your first language, you might be used to communicating using as few words as possible, or you might speak in a longer. more descriptive way.

However, English conversations usually contain lots of words, even to communicate basic ideas. Let us look at the same example again, answered by a native speaker:

Q: “What’s your favourite kind of weather?”

A: “Well it depends on the time of year, but I would probably say cloudy weather.”

In this example, only two words are needed, “cloudy weather”, yet the sentence is much longer. This means your responses in English should be different to your first language.

3. By knowing where to communicate key information:

            As mentioned above, English can be a very indirect and inaccurate language. This might not be the same in your first language. When responding to answers in English, examples, explanations and details usually come first, with ‘main ideas’ and key information coming afterwards near the end of the sentence. You can see this in the examples we have looked at so far. This could be very different to how you use your first language.

4. By using ‘Redundant’ language: 

            Spoken English language contains a lot of ‘redundant’ language – words that are not needed. These words have no meaning or function and are usually known as “conversation filler.” To be able to speak English at a native-like level, it is important to be able to understand and use these phrases in your spoken language. This might be very different to your first language, where the amount of ‘redundant’ language you use is much lower.

Here is an example of the question “Where are you from?”, using redundant language:

“So, I grew up in Toronto, Canada, which many people think is the capital of Canada, but actually it’s Ottawa. When I was about 5 years old, I moved to Vancouver, and have lived there ever since. I really like Vancouver, as it has a lot of diversity and cool stuff to do.”

Here is the same example, without the redundant language:

            “I was born in Toronto, then moved to Vancouver when I was 5.”

As you can see, the main idea and the meanings in both sentences are almost the same. There are a lot of words that are ‘redundant’ in the first example but are very commonly used in spoken structures by native English speakers.

Summary:

            To help you achieve your desired score in speaking:

  • It is important to understand how you will be marked,
  • To think in English,
  • To communicate key information in the right places,
  • To structure some redundant language into your responses.

Of course, there is more than just these steps, but these are the first steps towards success in your IELTS speaking exam!

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