The IELTS speaking test. It strikes fear into the very hearts of the bravest students.
But fear not.
I am about to show you how to tackle it and win.
Today we are looking at Part One of the test — what it is, how are you tested, what to say, what to do. The whole shebang.
So let’s dive right into it and take a look.
What is Part One of the IELTS speaking test?
Part One is the first part of the speaking test. It is approximately 4 to 5 minutes in duration. It is widely regarded as the easiest part of the test. All the questions are relatively simple as they are all about you — you, your school, your friends, your family, your life, your everything.
If you have trouble answering questions about yourself, then maybe you are not ready for the IELTS test.
As this part is only 4 to 5 minutes, the examiner doesn’t have much time to ask you many questions. Usually, it is around 4 to 6 questions. All questions are usually about one or two topics. The examiner doesn’t have time to change from one topic to another between each question. Remember: only 4 to 5 minutes and 4 to 6 questions.
The first thing he will say is to introduce himself. Then he will ask you to introduce yourself so you tell him your name. Keep this information simple. If all your friends call you Joe, then tell the examiner your name is Joe.
Then he will ask to see some identification and you show him your ID card.
Once you are through with all the formalities, Part One of the test begins.
What are the test criteria?
The test criteria as laid out by the British Council are as follows:
Fluency and Coherence — you must speak clearly and coherently. Your sentences must be well-structured and the meaning of your answers 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 is the examiner looking for?
Apart from all the above, he also wants to see that you can answer the questions as naturally as possible. This means that you should avoid any ‘learned’ answers that you just recite back at the examiner parrot-fashion.
Do not do this!
The examiner knows and you are likely to lose points if you do this.
Speak in a normal, conversational style.
Also, avoid one-word answers.
Many students do this, I think because they are so nervous. So if you come from Bangkok and the examiner asks you where you are from, don’t just reply ‘Bangkok’.
Instead, say: I come from Bangkok. Or: I am from Bangkok.
No one-word answers!
What kind of topics are there?
All the topics in Part One are about you. That means the questions could be about you, your life, your family, your friends, your country, your interests.
It’s all about you in Part One!
Generally, the topics could be about family, friends, school, home, hometown, hobbies or anything related to your life.
There are some great sources that show all the possible kinds of topics that the examiner might ask you about.
Now, while I appreciate the writers’ efforts in compiling these lists of topics for Part One, I don’t think it is a good idea for you to use their example answers.
The problem with doing this is that you could get into the habit of reciting an answer — and you really need to avoid doing that.
Original, natural answers every time will keep the examiner smiling.
(I will talk later about how to make perfect answers later…)
Think about the questions!
This is something you need to think about for all the IELTS test. Many students completely disregard the questions that the examiner asked them and answer something else entirely.
Think about the question. And answer that question only.
Sometimes the student might hear a word in the question and just assume the question is generally about that. So they might hear the word ‘teacher’ and then just start talking about teachers in a general way.
I have many teachers, there are many teachers in my school, they teach us many things, we all like the teachers, they are good at teaching, blah blah blah blah, teacher teacher teacher…
This is terrible.
Concentrate on the questions. Focus your hearing on what the examiner is saying, then respond with the right answer.
How to answer the question?
There are three main rules:
Answer in full sentences every time – This is a speaking test and you need to show off your English every time. So give the examiner what he/she wants — long answers to provide clear examples of your fantastic vocabulary, perfect grammar and excellent pronunciation.
Answer the question – Don’t just talk about anything vaguely associated with the topic in the question — only answer the question.
Answer with details – The more details you can provide, the better. That way you can show the examiner you know and understand lots of different English words to describe exactly what you mean.
Answer in Full Sentences
This can be a tricky habit to get into.
So often we don’t have to reply with full sentences. We only need one or two words to reply to most questions that people ask us.
But in the IELTS test, you need to reply with a full-sentence every single time.
How to Practice
I have outlined some simple methods that you can put into practice immediately.
Start with the word ‘I’
One thing you should always do if you want to speak English in full sentences is to start every sentence with the word ‘I’.
By doing that you are more likely to say a complete sentence.
So instead of saying ‘Tokyo’, you say ‘I come from Tokyo.’ Not ‘tea’ but ‘I like to drink tea’.
This is a good start. Get into the habit of doing it.
Think of the Question Words—Who What Why When Where
Most people, when speaking any sentence, will use two of the English question words in their answer.
So, for example, you might say ‘I like to watch movies’. This uses the question words ‘what’ (movies) and ‘why’ (because you like them).
But you can use more of these in your answer.
So if the examiner asks you: What do you with your family?
Think of all the ‘What’ answers first.
Eat dinner together
Sit in the garden
Go to the park
Play board games
That’s a healthy start. Just saying all of those things to the examiner would be a good answer.
I like to watch movies with my family and also eat dinner together. Sometimes I like to sit in the garden with my family or go to the park. Other times we play board games.
But we can really jazz it up further.
We can say ‘Where’:
Watch movies at home/in the cinema
Eat dinner together at home/in our favourite restaurant
Play board games in the living room
(Go to the park and sit in the garden are already ‘where’)
Then we can add ‘Who’. You could say ‘with all my family’ or you could use different family members to show off that you know these words. Like this:
Watch movies with my brother and cousin
Eat dinner together with all my family and my uncles, aunts and cousins. My grandparents come along too.
Sit in the garden with my mum.
Go to the park with my brother and my dad.
Play board games with my brother and all our cousins.
You see how these answers are becoming longer? The examiner loves to hear students do this in the IELTS test!
Then you add ‘Why’:
Watch movies with my brother and cousin because we all like the same kind of movies and we can enjoy them together.
Eat dinner together with all my family and my uncles, aunts and cousins. My grandparents come along too. We all meet up together on special occasions like Christmas Day because it is a good chance for us to all see each other.
Sit in the garden with my mum because my mum loves to take care of the garden and it’s peaceful.
Go to the park with my brother and my dad to walk our dog, Mungo.
Play board games with my brother and all our cousins because it’s great fun.
Try doing this yourself. Take some questions from Part One and keep adding things to your answer by thinking what, where, who, why, when.
Just keep adding question words to your answer and making it longer and longer.
Answer the question!
The only way to practice this is by having a regular reading habit and ensuring that you understand exactly what each sentence means.
Go through the list of questions I put a link to above. Read all of them and make sure you understand exactly what each one means.
Make sure you understand the question. In the test it is important to answer the question – and not just talk about anything.
Talk around words you don’t know
If you hit a word that you want to say but then can’t remember the actual word, you must continue speaking.
You absolutely cannot say something like: And the farmer was driving a — oh, I forget the word.
Then look up at the examiner and give him a grin. He will not be happy about that.
Try to explain the word you cannot remember by describing it using other words.
So you might say: And the farmer was driving a — oh, that special kind of car that farmers drive. It has two large wheels at the front and two smaller wheels at the back. The farmer uses it to carry things on his farm. It is quite a noisy vehicle.
Now the examiner is happy. You are using other English words to describe what you mean and you are continuing to speak. So no problem.
You must keep talking no matter what.
This is much better than shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know.
Use keywords to build your answers
You can practice this with all the Part One questions that you have.
Let’s look at a common Part One question: Who normally does the cooking in your home?
Instead of writing out a script and learning it all by heart, it would be better to just think of some great keywords that you need to use in the answer to this question.
These keywords could be:
Good at cooking
Better than Dad
All the family
Then you take all these keywords and just try to make sentences using them. That way you are more likely to sound natural and not like a robot reciting a terrible script.
Try this with all the questions. It’s a fantastic way to practice.
I have written about the use of story elsewhere here and here. Using your own stories and anecdotes are a great way to answer any of the questions in the IELTS test. But can be used in Part One to great effect too.
So maybe the examiner asks you: When do people give gifts or presents in your country?
You can answer the question literally and say when people give gifts. Then you can provide a great example via a little story you might have.
So maybe people give gifts on people’s birthdays. That gives you the perfect opportunity to tell a story about giving someone a gift on their birthday.
This will please the examiner no end. Plus, you will talk for a decent amount of time so you are winning there too.
Always Answer the Question ‘Why’
Even if the examiner has not asked you. So he might ask you: What games are popular in your country?
You answer him and give lots of examples. Then tell him WHY these games are popular.
It is simple.
You can practice doing this technique by yourself.
Part One of the IELTS speaking test is the easiest part of the test.
But don’t just assume that you will breeze right through it. Make a good impression at the beginning and the examiner is more likely to have a higher regard for you for the rest of the test.
Start strong and the rest of the test will go well.
I have outlined some great methods that you can start practising today. Namely:
Starting with the word ‘I’ every time.
Using full sentences every time.
Using all the question words to create your answers.
If you start practising these methods today, by the time you have the test you will be in very good shape.
Get to it and stop wasting time. Make this a regular habit in your study plan and you will crush the speaking test.