Along with IELTS writing, the IELTS Speaking test is a part of the IELTS test that test-takers find the most challenging. It can be difficult to produce English sentences quickly and accurately, especially if you aren’t used to using English regularly.
These are some tips you can implement today to increase your band score:
- Avoid pauses
- Show off vocab
- Speak at length
- Order your ideas
- Say what’s easiest
- Pronounce words well
- Idioms and collocations
- Seek help from someone experienced
Before we get into the tips, It’s important you understand how the examiner will be grading your performance. There is a list of four expectations that the examiner will be looking for while grading your IELTS speaking test. Keep these in mind because they directly contribute to your band score.
|Fluency and coherence||25%|
|Grammatical range and accuracy||25%|
Fluency and Coherence
This expectation checks your ability to speak without noticeable effort or repeating yourself. You will be expected to talk at length about a topic without loss of coherence. What this means is that you can speak while still being understood. It will be important to organize your ideas and avoid pauses during the test to maximize your band score.
Simply, your lexical resource is how large your vocabulary is. The examiner will be carefully listening to the types of words you use to make sure that you aren’t repeating yourself many times. It will be important to show off your vocabulary. In addition to your vocabulary, you will want to try to include idioms, collocations, and paraphrasing into your answers accurately and naturally then you can easily take your band score to the next level.
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
Of course, your grammar will be important. If you don’t use accurate grammar, it will be hard to understand what you are trying to say! During the test you will want to organize your ideas effectively by using logical connectors and conjunctions. These types of words order your ideas into groups, so you can present them in the most logical order possible. Your grammar will help your fluency and coherence and your overall band score.
Pronunciation is your ability to clearly say the sounds of English. This isn’t a measure of your accent. It is okay if you speak English with a bit of an accent as long as it does not interfere with your coherence. If you have a thick, heavy accent and it is difficult to understand you when you speak English, it will negatively affect your band score.
Without further ado, let’s get into the 10 things you can do today to improve your IELTS speaking band score:
Without a doubt, the number one thing you can do is practice. If you don’t have many opportunities to use English in your daily life, you will need to create them. You wouldn’t jump into a grand tournament game of soccer without doing some practice games and warming up with some stretches. You shouldn’t expect to go to your IELTS speaking test and be able to do well if you haven’t spoken English for an entire week prior either!
You should be practicing as much as possible so you are exposed to a variety of questions and topics. This allows you to better prepare for the test by exposing you to various scenarios. It also let’s you accumulate more experience speaking and thinking in English. Recall our discussion above about going to the test warmed up, you will want to be practicing in English up to and including your test day to ensure that you will be at your peak performance when you take your test.
While it’s important to know and understand the test structure to fully prepare yourself for it, you shouldn’t only practice test questions. Try and spice up your studying! Remember that the layout of the IELTS speaking test is like a conversation between two people. The main goal of the test is to practice your ability to communicate clearly in English. Any form of speaking you do will prepare you for the test. Here’s some ideas of what else you can do to prepare:
- Have a real conversation with a friend or tutor.
- Do some shadowing using your favourite book.
- Play some multiplayer games with friends who speak English.
- Record yourself describing your day in as much detail as you can.
However you choose to practice for the speaking test, make sure you’re speaking in English and trying to be as detailed as you can while you do!
Paraphrasing is restating something in different words. This tactic can be used in a number of different ways.
- When you forget a word in English
- When you use a word the listener doesn’t know
You could even just insert it into your answer regardless, using the technique to explain something you just said. Consider this example from the IELTS speaking test part 2:
IELTS Speaking Part 2 Example
Describe a shop near where you live that you sometimes use.
You should say:
What sorts of product or service it sells
What the shop looks like
Where it is located
and explain why you use this shop.
Here’s an example of a potential answer using paraphrasing. (The answer has been shortened to clearly show the paraphrasing.)
…At the 7-11 you can buy a delicious Japanese food called an onigiri. Do you know what an onigiri is? It’s a triangular ball of rice wrapped in seaweed. Sometimes there is a filling, such as tuna. I also like the 7-11 because…
You can include paraphrasing without it sounding strange or unnatural. You only need to identify parts of your answers that are unclear, or where you talk about things unique to your native country or home town.
The paraphrasing strategy is one of the things the examiner will be looking for you to use. It is also easier to use than idioms or collocations are. They generally require a better understanding of English to use naturally. Paraphrasing only requires you to explain one word or concept using different words. This should be very easy for you to do.
3. Avoid Pauses
As part of the Fluency and Coherence expectations, the examiner will be listening for the amount and length of your pauses. While it isn’t necessarily bad to pause during conversation, a pause is a lot better than using filler words such as “umm….” or “ahh…”, you want to minimize the number of them you have during your speaking test. You also want to limit the length of your pauses to only a few seconds max.
So what can you do to avoid pausing? What if you need a little bit more time to think about the question the examiner asked you? There are a few good strategies you can use to do that:
- Repeat the question.
- Repeating a part of the question can give you a precious couple of seconds to think further about the question. “What do I think about keeping pets? Well, let me see…”
- Comment on the question you were asked.
- This is another good strategy available to test-takers. Make some kind of comment on the question you were asked; this will increase the amount of time you have to organize your thoughts. “Wow! What a great question. I never thought of that before…”
The last thing you want to do during the speaking test is continuously be saying, “umm….” and “ahh….” These types of small words are called ‘filler words’ in English. Everyone wants to eliminate these from their vocabulary, even native speakers!
These words make you seem nervous and unsure of what you’re saying. This is the exact opposite of how you want to appear to your examiner during your test. Even a few moments of silence is better than using many filler words.
If you sit in front of your examiner confident and smiling, you won’t appear lost if you spend a moment or two contemplating the answer. This isn’t strange at all. People giving speeches or presentations use silence in them regularly to emphasis points or allow the audience to consider a point. However, you don’t want to turn a few moment’s pause into several seconds. The examiner is looking at the length and frequency of your pauses. So don’t worry if you occasionally pause for a short time.
4. Show off your Vocabulary
Showcasing your large vocabulary is one of the goals for the IELTS speaking test. You want to be able to use a wide range of words and phrases to signal to the examiner that your English skills are strong. At the end of the day, how large your vocabulary is boils down to how much time you spend with English. The more time you spend reading and listening to native English being used; the more words you will be exposed to.
It isn’t possible to learn and be comfortable with a wide variety of words if you never have contact with English. Flash cards and word lists simply are not enough. They may be useful as a supplement to your regular contact with English; they can never be a true replacement. The best way to learn new English words is by learning them in context.
Here are a few ideas for what you can do to pick up new English vocabulary:
- Listen to podcasts
- Read interesting books
- Play online video games with your friends
- Have an interesting conversation with a friend or tutor
You may think it is enough to merely memorize a word list but you greatly increase your chances of misusing words when you learn them this way. It is difficult to learn the proper usage of a word without context. This is part of the reason why I recommend students to begin studying for their IELTS as soon as possible. It takes a while to learn new vocabulary.
5. Speak at Length
You will have a hard time earning the band score you need if you aren’t very detailed with your answers. You need to say a lot to exhibit your English abilities to the examiner. This means you need ways to lengthen what you’re saying, while still remaining coherent.
One of the worst thing you can do is string together a lot of simple sentences one after the other. This is bad for many reasons:
- You sound monotonous and uninteresting.
- You aren’t organizing your ideas logically this way.
- You aren’t showing the examiner a wide grammatical range.
So just how can you make sure you are saying as much as you can?
Adding Extra Information
In English, you can use conjunctions and other linking words to attach extra information to your main ideas. Here are a few common words and phrases to keep in mind:
|But||To link together two different (or opposing) ideas.|
|I guess/I think||To introduce opinions|
|Because||To introduce the reason for something|
|So||To introduce the result of something|
|It depends||To indicate uncertainty|
|Actually||To introduce an interesting or surprising fact|
Here are some examples of each of those words being used:
- I wanted to eat an omelette, but I had no eggs.
- I like to run a lot. I guess you could call me a running maniac.
- My favourite fruits are pomegranates. I think they’re the best fruit in the world.
- I never eat peanuts because I’m allergic to them.
- The store was closed, so I went back home.
- I like both red and blue. It depends on my current mood.
- I enjoy watching boxing. Actually, I used to box when I was younger.
You should notice how small the answers would be without the linking words. You don’t even have to stop there. This strategy only introduces a whole new topic for you to begin talking about! Take advantage of it to further extend you answers.
Another idea is to use the Past Present Future Strategy to extend your ideas. This involves adding extra information into your answers by recruiting the use of other tenses. If you only speak in the present tense the entire time you’re answering questions, you limit yourself on the types of things you can talk about. You can only talk about things in the here and now, but what about adding some information about the past and the future?
Here is an example of the PPF Strategy in action (we’ll use the IELTS speaking part 2 about shops from above as a model.):
There is a Walmart shopping center very close to my home. I think it’s about 10 minutes by foot. In the past, I used to go there very often because they sell almost everything you could ever need: furniture, food, entertainment goods, even clothes! The store is massive! It can take a couple minutes to walk from one end to the other. However, these days I try to shop at local small businesses. I think it’s good to support local business…
Not only could You continue the answer further if you needed to, but you could also develop any of those ideas mentioned above even further:
- How often did you go?
- What was the layout of the store?
- What was your favourite product to buy?
- What things could you usually see on the walk to the store?
The possibilities are almost endless!
Almost every question in English is made up of several smaller questions. These questions add additional information to your answers that you can expand using the tactics you learned above.
I’m talking about who, what, where, when, why, and how. These six words can help you lengthen an answer by attacking it from 6 angles. You may not be able to include information about every one of these words into every question you’re asked, so don’t stress out about trying to shoehorn all of them into your answers.
Relax and keep them in the back of your mind. If you see an opportunity to use one of these to add in extra information, seize it!
|Who||Who is it about?|
|What||What is it about?|
|Where||Where is it about?|
|When||When did it happen?|
|Why||Why did it happen?|
|How||How did it happen?|
Let’s take a look at an example:
Did you learn to play an instrument as a child?
Yes, I learned to play the trumpet (what) as a child. My mother (who) started taking me to lessons when I was about 6 years old. At first I didn’t like going, but after a while I understood the importance of it. My teacher’s studio (where) was far from our house and I remember it would take a long time to drive there. Actually, I have continued to play the trumpet ever since….
You don’t have to make a checklist in your mind and worry about adding each one into your answer one by one, but it can be useful to keep in mind that these are available to you to use for extra information.
6. Order Your Ideas
Part of what helps your coherence is your ability to order your ideas. This means using linking words to group similar ideas together while adding extra information. Another strategy you should keep in mind is signposting language. These types of words really let you take control of your ideas and order them in logical ways.
When you are able to do this your listener is easily able to follow your train of thought. This will massively help your coherence because the examiner will readily understand your meaning and intentions behind what you say.
Let’s look at some examples of signposting language:
- example sentence
- Elephants are big while/whereas mice are small.
- not only x but also y
- I am allergic not only to peanuts but also to pears.
- There are many differences…
- There are many differences between dogs and cats, but they are both cute.
- The main difference is…
- The main difference is that dogs can bark.
- In other words…
- In other words, cats can’t bark.
- On the contrary…
- On the contrary, they can only meow.
- Talking about the past
- At one time…
- At one time, I used to eat a lot of hamburgers.
- Previously, I would only sleep outside.
- X years/day/months ago…
- Three years/days/months ago, I ate a burrito from Taco Bell.
- When I was…
- When I was 7, I would only eat gummy bears.
- I remember…
- I remember in 2017, I tried to eat a two-bite brownie in one bite.
- At one time…
- Talking about the present
- These days
- These days, I really love sleeping.
- Currently/Presently, I’m studying for IELTS.
- Nowadays, Many people surf the internet.
- Right now
- Right now, I’m thinking about eating soup.
- In the meantime…
- You can play on the computer. In the meantime, I’m going to be eating this spaghetti.
- These days
- Talking about the future
- From now on…
- From now on, I’m never going to pet a porcupine ever again.
- Henceforth, you shall call me “Captain”.
- From now on…
- I think (in the future/past)…
- I think in the past, people used to ride horses a lot more.
- will definitely/probably
- People will definitely be flying rocket ships in the future.
- I doubt that…
- I doubt that the sun won’t come up tomorrow.
- might (not)…
- I might even eat a doughnut right now.
- Perhaps I’ll think about it later.
- I think (in the future/past)…
- Giving reasons
- I study IELTS because I want to pass.
- We like each other, hence we’re friends.
- He is very large. Nevertheless, he is also fast.
- My cat is mean. Nonetheless, I still love him.
- Naturally, dinosaurs were really big.
- Dogs aren’t human. Obviously, they can’t talk.
- That’s true
- Yeah! Cats are cute; that’s true!
- Do I want candy? Absolutely!
- Of course
- Am I a hard worker? Of course.
- You’re right
- You’re right. I love chocolate.
- I completely agree
- I completely agree, watermelon is delicious.
- Exactly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
- That’s true
- Actually, fish can swim.
- I disagree
- I disagree, apples are better than oranges.
- You may be right, but…
- You may be right, but I’ve never seen a penguin fly before.
- That’s a good idea, but…
- That’s a good idea, but I don’t think pigs can fly.
- Introducing opinions
- I think…
- I think you’re awesome.
- I believe…
- I believe I will pass the IELTS speaking test.
- In my opinion…
- In my opinion, English is cool!
- I suppose…
- I suppose, we could drive there.
- For example…
- I like fruit. For example, apples, oranges, grapes, and pears.
- I think…
- Ending things
- In sum…
- In sum, penguins can’t fly.
- All in all…
- All in all, I adore music.
- In conclusion…
- In conclusion, I enjoyed the play.
- In brief…
- In brief, I didn’t understand anything that happened.
- And so…
- And so, we decided to eat chicken wings.
- To sum up…
- To sum up, dragons aren’t real.
- In short…
- In short, I want to travel abroad.
- Finally, I managed to find the exit.
- In sum…
7. Say What’s Easiest
The most important thing you can realize about the IELTS test is that you can talk about whatever you want. The examiner is testing you on your ability to speak English; they aren’t checking to see if everything you say is true. It isn’t a lie detector test! So answer the questions in whatever way is easiest for you! Have fun with it. Show off your creativity by answering the question in an interesting way.
If the examiner asks you about how you spend time with friends, you could say what you actually do, or you could talk about how you have so many friends that you have to arrange to meet them in a football stadium. If they ask you about your favourite food, you could talk about how you’re allergic to all the food in the world and you get your energy by photosynthesizing like a plant.
It doesn’t matter! Try and have fun during your IELTS speaking test. You don’t have to get wild and crazy with your answers, but you should keep in mind that you don’t have to be 100% truthful at all times while answering the questions. Approach the question from whatever angle is easiest and answer it that way.
8. Pronounce Words Well
Proper pronunciation is an expectation of the IELTS speaking test. It takes up a whopping 25% of your entire score! So you want to make sure you’re pronouncing your words properly. We already talked about how your accent doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t very heavy.
Proper pronunciation isn’t hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. The reason we may have an accent while speaking a foreign language is because we do not have a lot of practice speaking that foreign language. It’s kind of like playing an instrument. If you don’t put your tongue and lips in the right place on a trumpet or clarinet, you aren’t going to be able to play the proper notes, and it’s going to sound weird.
It’s exactly the same for pronouncing foreign words. You need to understand how to position your mouth to produce foreign sounds correctly. This takes practice. A lot of it. The good news is that when you get the technique down properly once; your muscle memory will take over and it’ll be like riding a bike.
So what can you do to practice your pronunciation?
A minimal pair is a group of two or more words that have the same sounds in them except for one difference.
- ship /ʃɪp/
- sip /sɪp/
I can hear you saying already, “But Kyle! What are those weird squiggly lines next to the words?” That’s the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). If you learn that, you will be ahead of the curve for pronunciation in all languages.
What the IPA does is it creates a whole new alphabet for the sounds of language. Every sound possible in language has exactly one letter. This is powerful for teaching you how to properly pronounce English. I’m sure you know how weird and wacky English spelling can be. If you learn IPA, you can kiss that confusion good bye!
Unfortunately, we don’t have time to talk about how wonderful IPA is. Let’s get back to business.
Take a look at those two words. They are pronounced exactly the same except for the very first sound. If you had trouble pronouncing either of those sounds, you could use that pair to practice. If you gather a list of minimal pairs targeting your problem sound, you can use them to practice that specific sound until you get it right.
This isn’t a fast or particularly fun strategy; I’ll tell you right now that there isn’t a fun way to train your accent away. However, It does work, and wouldn’t it be great if your spoken English sounded like a native?
9. Idioms and Collocations
Part of showing off your vocabulary is making effective use of phrases like idioms and collocations.
An idiom is a phrase with a particular meaning, but you can’t tell what that meaning is from reading the phrase alone. You see these being used very often by English speakers. They make speaking fun and interesting; I’ve even used a couple while writing this article! The most effective way to learn idioms, much like vocabulary, is through context.
I wouldn’t suggest reading a word list of idioms and trying to use them if you have never heard them used elsewhere before. You can very easily misuse them and sound odd or confusing. The reason is, most times idioms are very strange by themselves. If you don’t know their underlying meaning, you would think the person saying it is crazy. So if you do try to use an idiom and misuse it, you’ll only be speaking nonsense.
With that said, it can be useful to see a couple of idioms to know what we’re dealing with. So let’s take a look, shall we?
- raining cats and dogs
- It is raining very heavily
- like a bat out of hell
- to do something (like escape) very quickly
- add fuel to the fire
- make a situation worse
- against the grain
- go against normal expectations or norms
- kick the bucket
- to die
- pass away
- to die
- kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
- sacrifice long-term gains for short-term profit
What an interesting list of phrases, don’t you think? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of idioms in English. You don’t need to use them during your IELTS speaking test, but it would spice up your speaking if you were able to!
A collocation is a group of words that appear together frequently as a set. (Such as, “Ready, Set, Go!“) Just like idioms, and vocabulary before them, collocations are best learned through context. There are vast numbers of collocations in English and memorizing them is boring. On top of that, the usefulness of doing so is debatable too. Words and phrases are always best learned in context.
This makes them more memorable, more fun to learn, and easier to use. However, it would be rude of me to keep all the collocations to myself. So let’s take a look at some common collocations using the word get:
- get away
- get divorced
- end a marriage
- get drunk
- become intoxicated
- get high
- become intoxicated on illegal drugs
- get excited
- look forward to something
- get going
- start moving
- get the impression
- a feeling or intuition
- get a job
- find work
- get a life
- do something different or interesting
- get lost
- not know where you are
- get the message
- understand someone’s meaning
- get nowhere
- fail to achieve something
- get off
- leave a vehicle you aren’t driving (boat, airplane, etc.)
- get out
- depart from
- get used to
- become accustomed to
- get upset
- become angry or sad
- get started
- get the sack
- dismissed from a job
- get permission
- receive consent
- get over
- recover from something
- get a shock
- be surprised by something
10. Seek Help From Someone Experienced
As you can see, the IELTS test is huge! This entire post is only about the speaking section and there are four other parts to the test! Knowing the most effective way to use all this information can be tough. That’s where a little outside help can be insanely helpful.
Whether that’s from a friend, someone who has already done the test, or an experienced tutor. If you have some direction, motivation, and structure for your studying, it can be a big help for achieving your goals. An extra set of eyes on your studying can:
- Pinpoint mistakes you might miss
- Be someone to practice speaking with
- Create a structured learning plan for you
- Make the process of studying for IELTS fun
- Keep you motivated and eager to study when you feel the exact opposite
Don’t tackle studying for IELTS alone if you don’t have to!
If you want some professional and experienced help, check out my IELTS coaching services. I have experience helping hundreds of students achieve their band score goals.
Whew! That was everything you need to know to improve your IELTS speaking score. Treat this guide not as a checklist but as a list of useful tips you can consider incorporating into your IELTS performance. If you did everything listed here, you would get a 9 band score.
However, most test-takers don’t need to score a 9. So keep that in mind when you’re considering which strategies to implement into your preparations. Keep your studies manageable, productive, and most importantly fun.