How to Smash Part Two of The IELTS Speaking Test

For most English students who take the IELTS test, part two of the speaking test presents something of a hurdle.

Many students dread this part of the entire IELTS test. This is the part where they really have to show off their English skills and be able to talk for two minutes.

Part one, by comparison, is relatively easy as all you have to do is talk about your own life. It is like chatting with someone you met on a train and telling them about your hometown, family, friends and hobbies.

Then the examiner looks down, picks up one of the dreaded topic cards and asks you to talk about it.

This part fills IELTS students with fear.

I want to go through this entire part of the IELTS test and explain exactly what happens and what you need to do.

I will tell you how to practice and prepare yourself for part two of the speaking test in IELTS and shine.

Read on, young warrior.

 

What is Part Two of the Speaking Test?

 

Essentially, this is the part where you have to do The Long Turn. It is called the long turn because it is your turn to talk for a long time.

The examiner gives you a topic card and you have one minute to prepare things to talk about, then the examiner says it’s time to begin and you have to talk for two minutes.

After you finish talking the examiner asks you questions about the topic in a kind of discussion.

This part of the test takes about 3 to 4 minutes.

In part two and three of the speaking test, you can really show off your English skills. If you have studied well and prepared efficiently for the test, you should breeze through this part.

 

What are the Test Criteria?

 

This part of the test takes between 3 to 4 minutes.

 

The examiner gives you a topic card and says: I want you to prepare a talk on this topic. I would like you to talk for two minutes. You have one minute to prepare. Begin now.

 

Every topic card looks the same and has the same format. The title of the topic is written on the top of the card. Then there are three prompts or suggestions of things you should talk about in your presentation. Then a final prompt.

It is advisable to talk about all the prompts you see on the card — not just the main topic title.

 

You are allowed to take notes using a pencil and paper which the examiner provides for you. Do not take any pens or pencils into the test room.

 

In the test, you should talk for between one and two minutes. Ideally, you should talk for two minutes. The longer you talk in the second part the higher your score is likely to be, so try to speak for the full two minutes.

 

What is the Examiner looking for?

 

He is looking for you to speak clearly and use good sentence structure, vocabulary and grammar.

The examiner wants you to do well in the test. Remember that.

The British Council give a clear outline of the test criteria here.

 

Essentially, it breaks down like this:

 

Fluency and Coherence — you must speak clearly and coherently. Your sentences must be well-structured and the meaning of your long talk should make sense and be clear in meaning.

 

Lexical Resource — you must use a decent level of vocabulary with few mistakes. Try to use idiomatic English and collocations.

 

Grammar — you should use a good level of English grammar with few errors.

 

Pronunciation — you should pronounce your words clearly so the examiner can understand what you are saying with no problem.

 

What kind of topics are there?

 

The topics are all designed so that any person can talk freely about them.

One of the most common complaints from IELTS students is that they have nothing to say about some of the topics in part two of the speaking test.

I don’t know what to talk about! I have nothing to say about this topic!

You must understand that the topics are not going to be designed specifically for you and your interests. It would be great if the examiner passed you the topic card and on the top, it said: Top Ten Korean Boy Bands that I Like.

Unfortunately, it is not like that.

However, the topics are generally easy to talk about.

Some common examples are:

 

 

 

 

Now some students I have met never read books. They just have no interest. But they still might have to talk about a book they have read.

This is where you really have to think creatively. So if you never read books what can you do? You could talk about a movie you saw and describe it as if it were a book.

Just say to the examiner: I read this great book about a girl who had to escape a terrible life by playing this kind of game where people hunted each other and it was all shown on live TV.

I’m actually talking about The Hunger Games which was a movie made from a book. Even if you never read books, you still have to say something.

With the topic of party, if you have never been to a party in your life, then describe a party you saw in a movie or on TV. The point is, no matter what the topic is, you must talk about it.

 

The topics are not that difficult. As long as you read the news occasionally and try to explore new things around you then there should be no problem. If you spend every day only scrolling through social media feeds, then you might have some issues. But you don’t do that — do you?

 

How to do The Long Turn?

 

The process is very simple.

  • You get the topic card.
  • You read every single sentence on it.
  • You make sure you understand what you need to do.
  • You take notes.
  • Make sure they are all in order.
  • You talk for two minutes.
  • You answer the examiner’s questions.

 

I know what you’re thinking. You’re screaming back at me: It’s not that simple! It’s really hard! There is much more to it than that!

No. It is that simple.

Let’s go through it all.

 

Read the Topic Card

 

This is the first thing you must do.

And when I say read the topic card, I mean READ EVERY SINGLE WORD ON THE CARD.

Many students just read the first sentence. Then they go into a panic and try to think of anything — ANYTHING — to tell the examiner.

Usually what comes out of their mouths is a pile of disjointed drivel that makes no sense and the sentences have no relation to each other.

 

Let’s take a look at an example topic:

 

 

So most candidates look at the first line: Describe your favourite subject at school.

Then they just babble about that.

My favourite subject at school is maths. I like maths. We have maths class every day. Some other students like it but some students don’t like it. We have a maths book. In the book are exercises. The teacher gives us a test. We all hate the test. Sometimes we have homework.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

 

The student loses valuable points here.

One because he is not being coherent. There is no structure to the talk at all. Just a bunch of half-related sentences that are loosely based around the topic of maths.

 

Read all the instructions on the topic card. It can help you outline your talk and this makes it much easier for you.

 

Make sure you understand all the instructions on the card

 

Well, you either do or you don’t.

You can’t ask the examiner for a dictionary.

Make sure you read the topic card sentences twice through. So that you are absolutely clear about what you have to talk about.

 

Take Notes

 

Now you need to get some notes down.

You might be confident about what to talk about. If so, you don’t need to take notes. If your dream topic card magically appears then you have nothing to worry about.

But most students need to write something.

 

Let’s look at an example of a topic:

 

So you read all the sentences and then you think of things to talk about.

The first sentence gives us some information so we might write the following notes:

  • Weight lifting
  • Doing exercise
  • Going to the gym

Then the next line:

  • At the gym
  • Sometimes at home
  • In the park

 

The next:

  • Some other people I see in the gym
  • My friends
  • Sometimes alone

 

The next:

  • It keeps me healthy
  • I like the feeling of getting a little stronger each time
  • It gives me a good mental feeling
  • It’s a good start to the day
  • I like the social aspect of seeing other fitness fanatics regularly

 

And the last:

  • I would recommend this to people that need to lose weight or get healthy
  • I would tell people who just want to feel better about themselves to do this kind of exercise

 

And so you can see a very simple framework building up.

We now have a simple outline to work from.

 

Go Deeper

 

Now you can take all the notes you have and add secondary notes — or added information — to your first notes.

So, for example, the first notes we have are:

  • Weight lifting
  • Doing exercise
  • Going to the gym

 

You should try to add some other notes here. A good idea might be to define your terms. So for the first note of weight lifting, you could add:

This is a kind of exercise where you lift heavy weights. Usually in the form of barbells or dumbbells or sometimes using a special machine.

 

Do you see how much more information we have added there just by explaining what weight lifting is?

 

We could do the same with the next note of ‘doing exercise’:

Things such as swimming, running, doing push-ups and pull-ups. But for me, I like weight lifting.

 

And ‘going to the gym’:

The gym is a special club for people that want to get fit. There is a lot of special equipment there for lifting weights — barbells, dumbbells and machines — but also running machines and other exercise classes.

 

Already we have a great introduction to the topic and we have only just started. We can add extra notes to all our primary notes. Just by doing this you will easily have enough to talk about for two minutes.

 

More Notes

 

So the next prompt is where you do it.

Our notes so far are:

  • At the gym
  • Sometimes at home
  • In the park

 

But we can add the reason Why we choose this location:

Because it’s convenient. All the things I need to use are in one place. Plus it’s air-conditioned, and this is very important on a hot day. Also, I know many people there and it’s nice to see them and catch up.

Because sometimes it is raining. And I can just stay at home and do some exercise there. Simple things like push-ups and maybe running up the stairs.

On a nice sunny day, there is nothing better than going to the park and doing some running or playing a game of football on the grass with my friends.

 

Then the next prompt is Who you do it with.

The notes so far:

  • Some other people I see in the gym
  • My friends
  • Sometimes alone

 

And we can add more details about this:

It’s good to do exercise with other people. They can encourage you. If you are feeling lazy, they will make you feel more motivated.

The next prompt Why you enjoy it.

Our notes:

  • It makes me healthy
  • I like the feeling of getting a little stronger each time
  • It gives me a good mental feeling
  • It’s a good start to the day
  • I like the social aspect of seeing other fitness fanatics regularly

We can add the benefits:

Health is very important in our lives. If we are not healthy, we can’t live a good and useful life. To make your body stronger each day can help you do many other things in your life. There is a physical and psychological benefit to long-term exercise.

 

And then finally And say what kind of people you would recommend that activity to, and why

Our notes so far:

  • I would recommend this to people that need to lose weight or get healthy
  • I would tell people who just want to feel better about themselves to do this kind of exercise

We can add:

Losing weight can make someone feel much better about themselves. Plus, it is better for our long-term health.

Maybe people that work in an office all day could benefit from doing weight lifting or going running in the park after work.

Scientists have now found that old people can benefit from doing weight lifting as it helps strengthen their bones and it helps them to sleep better at night.

 

Now we have a ton of notes with which to make our long talk for two minutes.

 

IMPORTANT!!

Remember that you cannot write full sentences. You only have one minute to make notes so you can only write the most important words — the keywords.

Whatever system you have for writing shortened versions of words, use that.

You cannot write full sentences. You don’t have the time.

 

Put all the notes in a coherent order

 

You might have notes and keywords and maybe your own special codes written all over the paper.

But if you have time write a number next to each word and phrase as you would like to say them in your long talk. The talk has to have some kind of logical order. You can’t just jump around talking about anything remotely connected to the topic.

Create a kind of map by just adding number — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — to each of the notes.

Then when you start talking you can see which part is to come next.

 

With all these notes and putting them in order, it is a fantastic idea to practice doing this before the test. Get into the habit of practising taking notes and putting them in order with part two topics.

Use these part two topics here, here, here and here.

Do this every day before the test and you will find this will pay off on the big day.

 

What where why when how who

 

Another easy way to make an outline for the long talk is to answer questions about the topic using all the question words.

Let’s look at a new topic:

 

So you can go through the topic of your favourite film by just using questions words:

What is your favourite film?

Dr Zhivago.

 

Why do you like it?

Because it is a beautiful story and the actors are great.

 

Who is in it?

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

 

When do you see it the first time?

When I was very young, I was still at school.

 

Who did you watch it with?

I watched it with my mum and dad.

 

What did your mum and dad think of it?

They both loved it too.

 

Where did you see it?

In a big cinema in Leicester Square in London.

 

You get the idea?

Many writers use this technique to create a scene or part of a story. You can use the same technique for the IELTS speaking test.

 

Tell a story

 

If you can think of a story to tell the examiner about the topic, then do that.

The examiner loves it when a candidate comes out with a story. It also gives you the chance to use past tenses so you might score higher by using the correct grammar.

Stories can be great in the IELTS test.

So if you have one you can remember clearly then tell it to the examiner.

 

Then you talk

 

The examiner will tell you that time is up and you have to start talking. When he says this, you must begin.

I had a student once who told me he was not ready and needed more time to prepare.

You cannot do this in the speaking test!

When the examiner says it’s time to talk — you talk.

During this time you can use your notes. Look down at them and look at the next item you need to talk about.

You are likely to feel nervous during this part of the test — that is perfectly natural — so remember to breathe!

Take a big lungful of air into your body between sentences. This will help you feel calm and you will speak a little more slowly.

Do not rush through this part.

And when you are talking remember to smile. The examiner is usually a friendly kind of person and they want you to do well in the IELTS test. So smile all the way through the test. It will make you feel more relaxed and therefore more confident.

 

Oh no I made a mistake

 

If you make a mistake — don’t worry about it!

This is a huge fear for IELTS candidates. They say something wrong and they think the sky will fall on their head.

You should certainly try to not make any mistakes but do not let any little mistake trip you up and turn your long talk into a disaster.

What I mean by this is. Maybe you make a little mistake — you say ‘everyone do’ instead of ‘everyone does’. You need to decide quickly if you can go back and correct that mistake or move one with the rest of your long talk.

If you can correct it, then go back and correct it. The examiner will see that you have done this and will reward you for it.

But if you think you will just get flustered and unable to move on smoothly, just forget about it.

There’s nothing you can do about it so just move on.

 

The examiner is looking at me!

 

Yes, he is. He is doing his job, so he has to look at you. He is observing you speaking English.

He will not stare at you because he knows this would make you feel nervous but throughout The Long Turn he will observe you as you speak.

Try not to be nervous and remember to breathe.

 

I’ve finished talking!

 

When you get to the end of your talk, there is no need to announce it to the examiner. He is very well experienced and he will know when you have finished speaking.

I have met students that announce they have finished. They say things like:

Finished

Over

I have finished

 

There is absolutely no need to do this!

The examiner knows.

Trust me on this.

 

Just stop talking, smile politely and the examiner will probably say thank you for making your long talk.

 

Some Questions

 

After you finish speaking the examiner will now ask you some questions.

They may be related directly to what you said about the topic or just loosely about the topic itself.

This may be a sudden change as you are now back into question/answer mode. So pay close attention to the first question that the examiner asks you.

He might ask you something where you can use one of your notes again. As long as you can remember what you said you can repeat this idea as long as you change the words around a little.

Time is running out in this part though and the examiner may only have time for about 1 or 2 questions. Then he must move on to part three of the speaking test.

 

Practice by recording yourself

 

You can go through as many practice tests as you want. Use the part two practice test links I gave you earlier.

 

Practice making notes and then practice doing The Long Turn. When you do this record yourself with the app on your smartphone. Then play it back and listen to yourself talking.

How do you sound?

Are you speaking clearly?

Are you speaking too fast or slow?

Did you make any mistakes that you can hear? If so, make a note of them.

 

Try to get into the habit of doing this every day before the test. This will pay dividends on the big day.

 

Conclusion

 

Of course, none of this is of any use unless your General English is up to speed.

You must have a good level in General English before you take the IELTS test or you are just hoping that you pass the test based on luck.

But assuming you have a decent level of English then you can use some of the points I outlined above to some good use.

I think the key thing to practice is note-taking. Just use the part two practice test links I gave you earlier and practice making notes with those.

If your note-taking is fast enough, then you should be able to breeze through part two of the speaking test.

Good luck and let me know your results in the comments below.

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