What should I expect on the IELTS Speaking test?
The IELTS speaking exam is divided into three separate parts – 1, 2 and 3. For General and Academic IELTS the format and content used in the speaking test is the same. The exam will last 11-15 minutes in total. Your score will be decided by the examiner at the end of the exam. Note that your speaking test will also be recorded. In the event that you disagree with the examiner’s score, you may have grounds to request a remark.
A certified IELTS examiner must conduct your speaking exam face-to-face (this cannot be done online). The test itself is designed to be like a real-life conversation in English. This should be interactive, relatively informal, and perhaps even a little fun. Some candidates say it is so similar to having a conversation with a friend that you can sometimes forget you are being examined!
Download some practice materials for IELTS Speaking Part 1 and try recording your answers with a tutor or friend playing the part of the examiner. You can then analyse the recording and write down your mistakes to work on for next time. Need more tests like this? Check out our guide to the best IELTS resources online!
Bear in mind that IELTS Speaking examiners can come from a variety of different backgrounds. This means you need to be able to understand the various accents of English. Your examiner will communicate with you on a range of everyday topics and will then select a specific subject for you to speak about in more detail.
Before going in to your IELTS Speaking exam, you should be able to:
- Use appropriate and relevant language during conversations on different topics
- Comfortably express your opinions and justify them when requested
- Organise your ideas and discuss them coherently
- Speculate on issues that may arise during discussions (that perhaps you have little knowledge or understanding of)
- Adopt a natural and relaxed tone with clear pronunciation
IELTS Speaking Part 1
The first section of IELTS Speaking is designed to make you feel less nervous and more at ease with the examiner. This is like a mini interview and will last 4-5 minutes.
First, the examiner will introduce him- or herself, and then ask you to do the same. He/she will then bring you into the conversation more by asking some general questions on topics that are familiar to you – for example: your hobbies or your hometown. There will be a total of up to 12 questions based on 3 different topics.
While your examiner may know in advance which questions he/she plans to ask, these may change during the exam itself (depending on your depth of answer and levels of comfort). It is impossible to prepare answers for every possible scenario, but below is a list of common topics that your examiner may ask you about:
IMPORTANT! Candidates who have already passed the IELTS Speaking exam say there are four very common topics that examiners like to use. These are highlighted in the table above. Let’s take a look at them more closely:
Typical questions your examiner may ask you about these “popular” test topics:
What is your job title?
Where do you work?
How do you get to/from work each day?
What do you like or dislike about your work?
Are there many people at your workplace?
Why did you choose this particular job/career?
Is your job/profession seen as a popular one in your country?
Do you get along with your colleagues at work?
What is the atmosphere like at work?
Where do you study?
What do you plan to do once your studies are completed?
How long have you been studying?
How long do you have left on your current course?
If you could, would you change your chosen subject?
Is your course of study a popular one in your country?
What can you remember about your first day of school/college/university?
Where are you from?
How big is your hometown?
Have you ever lived anywhere else?
Is your hometown famous for anything in particular?
What do you like or dislike about your hometown?
Has your hometown changed much since you were a child?
What is there for a tourist to do in your hometown?
How often do you visit your hometown?
Do you think your hometown is a good place to raise a family?
What is the transportation system like in your hometown?
What are the leisure facilities like in your hometown?
How many people live in your house?
What is your (bed)room like?
How many rooms are there in your house?
Can you describe your home to me?
Have you always lived in the same place?
What type of house do you live in?
Do you plan to live there in the future?
What is your favourite thing about your house?
What home improvements would you like to make?
Below are transcripts of model answers that will help you to understand the differences between a band 6 and a band 8 score. Note how the higher band answer goes into more detail and uses more complex language. A band 7 score would be somewhere between these contrasting levels of fluency.
Speaking Part 1 example answer
(Hometown, Band 6)
Examiner: I’ll start by asking about your hometown. Can you tell me where you’re from?
Candidate: So, I’m from a town called Cascais. It’s a little town near Lisbon, about twenty five kilometres. It is the coast so we have there a lot of beaches. We have pretty good weather – hot summers and winters not too cold.
Examiner: Is your hometown a good place for tourists to visit?
Candidate: Yes it is. Mostly because of the beaches and we have a lot of sightseeing near Caiscia. In Sintra we have a lot of castles, and a lot of historic places and restaurants with nice views on the city.
Examiner: And has your hometown changed over the years?
Candidate: Not since I can remember. It always stays the same.
If you want to achieve a higher band score, you should learn some common idioms, similes and collocations before the exam. Choose expressions that can be used in a wide range of contexts (or exam questions). For example, ‘Sooner or later‘, ‘More or less’, ‘Once in a blue moon’, etc. For more help with this vocabulary, check out this list of the 150 most common idioms in English.
Speaking Part 1 example answer
(Hometown, Band 8)
Examiner: I’ll start by asking about your hometown. Can you tell me where you’re from?Candidate: Well, I come from Tehran originally, which is the capital of Iran. Tehran is a vibrant city with a population of about 17 million people. It’s a very busy and polluted city, but at the same time it’s also rather charming and you can meet people from many different backgrounds there.
Examiner: And what do you like about your hometown?
Candidate: Like I just said, you can meet lots of people from different backgrounds there. I find that interesting! My hometown of Tehran also has some beautiful mountains in the north so the views are great. It’s a fun place to live and there’s always something interesting going on in each neighbourhood. There are lots of young people in the city and I think they give energy to it maybe.
Examiner: What are the main professions or industries in your hometown?
Candidate: To be honest, I can’t say there are any specific professions or industries. This is probably because Tehran is the capital of the country and it has many responsibilities. This means we have many government workers, but also businessmen and shops and so on. All in all, we have a wide variety of jobs and activities going on there.
IELTS Speaking Part 2
The second part of the IELTS Speaking exam is known as ‘The Long Turn’. This is because you must speak at length about a topic chosen by the examiner.
Your examiner will give you a task card. You then have to prepare a solo talk on the subject described in the task. You are given 1 minute to make notes and prepare your talk on the topic. After this, the examiner will ask you to speak (i.e. present a monologue) on the subject for up to 2 minutes. There will be no interaction with the examiner while you are speaking and you will not be prompted or interrupted. Once you have finished your monologue, the examiner will ask you a couple of follow-up questions on the same subject.
IMPORTANT! IELTS Speaking Part 2 topics generally relate to:
- Something about you / your life
- Something that has happened to you in the past
The task card will look something like this:
Describe your first school
|You should say –||Where the school wasWhen you went to school|
What the building was like
What you liked or disliked about your school
What your teachers were like
Describe an interesting person you know
|You should say –||Who the person is|
How you know the person
How often you see the person
What you do together
Why you think this person is interesting
Describe your favourite part of the day
|You should say –||Which part of the day you enjoy most|
What is your typical routine for that part of the day
Who you are with at that time of the day
Why you enjoy that part of the day
Describe an interesting hobby you have
|You should say –||What the hobby is|
Who you do your hobby with
How long you have been doing your hobby
What you enjoy about your hobby
Why you find your hobby interesting
Describe an interesting place you have been on holiday
|You should say –||Where it was you went on holiday|
Who you went with
What activities you did there
How you travelled there
How long you went for
Why you enjoyed it
IELTS Speaking Part 2 example answer
(Childhood hobby, Band 6)
When I was child, I’m from countryside, so I always going out and sometimes go to mountain with my friend or river and sometimes catch bugs or fish with my friends. Sometimes, in seasons like spring we could get the fruit from the mountain and it’s quite tasty and exciting. I really like that play style, when I was young I was with my brother, my parents not always with me, so I had a lot of freedom for me. The weather is nice. I don’t usually talk to my parents but I think they felt it was safe. We always stayed with children so we never were alone. I always played with boys sometimes baseball and it was fun.
IELTS Speaking Part 2 example answer
(Childhood hobby, Band 8)
When I was a child, I was a keen swimmer. I was encouraged by my parents to swim regularly and my mother enrolled me for swimming lessons at an early age. My hometown’s very small so there wasn’t much to do during the school holidays and that’s why I often went swimming and developed a love for this sport. My friends and I played in the outdoor pool in the town when the weather was fine, and occasionally went to the local lakes too. When I was older, I won a place on a competitive swim team and had to train very hard, almost every day in fact. If I had a child, I wouldn’t ask him to train every day like I did. This can be too much pressure for a young kid I think.
IELTS Speaking Part 3
The third and final part of the IELTS Speaking exam continues the discussion topic from Part 2. However, in contract to the monologue from the second section, this is an interactive discussion with the examiner. This conversation element lasts 4-5 minutes. The main aim of Speaking Part 3 is to develop the previous topic further and to explore its more abstract details. Your examiner will want you to present your ideas clearly and justify them with examples (where relevant).
In this section of the IELTS Speaking test, your examiner will mostly ask questions that require you to express your opinion on the topic. You may be asked to discuss something that happened in the past or to speculate about an upcoming event or issue. Examiners can also ask questions that allow you to compare two or more situations and may use these to assess your knowledge of comparative and superlative forms.
Throughout the IELTS Speaking exam (and especially in Part 3) you may be asked to give your opinion and justify it. Practise doing this on a range of topics with an IELTS tutor or conversation partner before the exam! It’s a good idea to memorise several phrases to use instead of just ‘I think’. For example, ‘It could be said that…’, ‘In my opinion…’, ‘I believe that …’, ‘I suppose that…’ etc.
Most candidates find the third part of the IELTS Speaking test to be the most difficult. This is because you need to “think on your feet” and answer more abstract questions quickly and without preparation. To get a higher score on this section, you will need to consider some complex ideas and give suitable answers using your full knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary.
Examples of topics and questions from IELTS Speaking Part 3:
What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?
What qualities make a person interesting?
Do you think getting up early leads to a more efficient day?
Do people in your country prefer to travel abroad or within their country, and why?
IELTS Speaking Part 3 example answer
(Hobbies, Band 6)
The Chinese candidate in this video pauses frequently when answering the questions from the examiner. He uses quite simple vocabulary, but can make himself understood and is able to answer at length. His accent may cause comprehension issues at times, but is generally understandable. This candidate tries to use more complex constructions and colloquialisms, but makes mistakes frequently.
IELTS Speaking Part 3 example answer
(Famous people, Band 8)
The Indian candidate in this video is able to speak at length on the complex ideas presented in the examiner’s questions. Her vocabulary is advanced enough to express thoughts and opinions clearly. She uses fillers, linking words and markers in a natural way and this helps when she has to pause to consider what to say next. This candidate is also able to self-correct when she makes mistakes and so demonstrates her knowledge of the native English forms (despite her occasional errors).
How will the examiner score my answers for IELTS Speaking?
There are 4 key descriptors (criteria or skills) that your examiner will use to assess your IELTS Speaking exam.
- Fluency (and coherence) – You will be assessed on your ability to speak at length while maintaining fluency. What you say should be “coherent” – this means that it is clear and makes sense to the examiner. You will also be scored on the number of self-corrections you make, how often you pause/hesitate and how frequently you repeat yourself.
- Lexical Resource – This section reflects the size and complexity of your vocabulary and assesses whether you have enough lexical ability to adequately discuss a range of topics. Your understanding and correct usage of idiomatic language will also be considered within this skill category. Use of paraphrasing and synonyms comes under this descriptor.
- Grammatical Range & Accuracy – The examiner will take into account the number and complexity of grammar structures that you are able to use correctly and appropriately.
- Pronunciation – How well your tone and spoken English reflect that of a native speaker.
IMPORTANT! Each of these four key descriptors is given equal “weight” in the IELTS Speaking exam. In other words, they are all equally important in terms of your total mark. Your final band score will be the average of these four descriptors.
The table below describes what is required to score bands 6-9 on IELTS Speaking:
BAND 6 SPEAKER (“Competent User” – B2 / Upper-Intermediate)
Has an adequate command of English, but makes some errors. These include issues with grammatical constructions, inappropriate use of words in context, etc. Can use some complex language (collocations, idioms, phrasal verbs) to an extent, but performs best on familiar topics.
BAND 7 SPEAKER (“Good User” – C1 / Advanced)
Has a good level of fluency in English, but still shows occasional inaccuracies, misunderstandings or poor lexical choices. Is able to use complex language quite well and understands detailed arguments too.
Do not prepare “scripted” (or word-for-word) answers to IELTS questions in advance. Examiners are trained to spot this and can often change the questions when they notice a candidate is repeating an answer from memory. Instead of preparing scripted answers, try to practise regularly with an IELTS tutor or study buddy. Speak about the same topics repeatedly until you feel comfortable answering spontaneously and in different ways.
BAND 8 SPEAKER (“Very Good User” – C1 to C2 / Advanced+)
Has a very good command of the language, but with very occasional (unsystematic) errors or inappropriate word selection. Copes with complex situations well and can deal with abstract or in-depth arguments.
BAND 9 SPEAKER (“Expert User” – C2 / Near-native)
Has a complete (or “near-native”) command of English. Demonstrates a very high level of accuracy and uses grammar and lexis appropriately and in context. Has an extensive vocabulary and the ability to use language naturally and flexibly using forms typical of native speakers. Extremely fluent with a full understanding of the language.