Cracking the IELTS

This little secret can help you ace the IELTS speaking test

Try these little tricks to better your IELTS speaking score

What’s the IELTS?

The International English Language Test System (IELTS) is an international standardized test managed by the British Council, IELTS Australia, and the Cambridge English Language Assessment. It is accepted as evidence of English language proficiency in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, and is used for work and study in the US.

What’s the test like?

There are two different types of IELTS; one academic and one general training. That being said, there are essentially the same test. The IELTS has four parts:

  • Listening (30 minutes)
  • Reading (60 minutes)
  • Writing (60 minutes)
  • Speaking (11-14 minutes)

In total, the test is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. The listening, reading, and writing parts must be completed on the test day, but the speaking section can be “completed up to a week before or after the other tests”.

Your test will be grade on a 1-9 scale, with 9 being the highest and 1 being the lowest.

For the sake of today’s post, we will look at the speaking section.

What’s the IELTS speaking test like?

You will have a 1-on-1 session with an English speaking examiner. The speaking is broken up into 3 parts:

  1. The examiner will ask you general questions about you and your life
  2. You will be given a card about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare and two minutes to speak on the topic. Your examiner will ask one or two questions on the same topic
  3. You will be asked more questions about part 2. This part will last approximately five minutes.

So, what’s this card?

It will look something like this:

Describe a historical place that you know about

You should say:  

  • what the place is
  • where it is located
  • What is the meaning of the place

and explain your experience of the place

So…what are your tricks?

You have a minute to answer this question. The key hear is; how can you make the most of your 1 minute of prep? Often times, I find people who are presented with this question go all over the place. They just start talking and talking and soon enough, they have run out of time and haven’t answer the question. So, what can you do?

Many young students who learn and speak English have to learn about the dreaded 5-paragraph essay. I was tortured by it and had to torture my younger students with it when I taught middle schoolers. If you aren’t familiar with the set up, there is an introduction paragraph that explains what you will discuss in the essay, (a thesis or opinion statement, plus three reasons related to your thesis), one paragraph each that looks at each reason that supports your thesis/introduction,

If you look at the essay prompt, it sort of has five parts to it. Your introduction (Describe a historical place that you know about), three body paragraphs (what is it, location, and meaning), and finally something to wrap up your speaking (your experiences with the place).

Five points you need to cover. You have some structure to go forward. Is that it? No.

I’d recommend making a mind map like the one put below.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.04.28 PM

You will need to fill it in with the key things you want to talk about. In this case, your personal experiences should be relatively easy to talk about (little fun fact; the examiner will not know or care if you have never been to this place and make something up. The examiner may care if you say “uh…I don’t know anything anything about this place).

Using our example, let’s fill this mind map in a bit:

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.25.52 PM

Okay. Things are starting to come together now. Things are not looking to scary. Keeping track of your prep time remaining, you need to fill in some details (short! don’t write full sentences! You only have a minute after all to prepare) that answer this question. You need to write 1-2 details that help explain your idea. So, to show you again, here’s an example of this filled out using Gyeongbukgung, one of Korea’s most important historic palaces.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.44.53 PM.png

You have a road map. Now, you just need to talk about these points. Once you talk about the “palaces” you can move into talking about “Seoul,” and so on.

As you can see, there are some terms that the examiner may not know (like “Joseon” or “King Sejong”). Mention them, and explain why they are important in one sentence. And then move on.

The goal here is to be efficient with your time. Keep an eye on the clock. If you go slightly over the 2 minutes, it shouldn’t be too bad. It’s better to have lots to say than nothing to say. The more you can plan in your 1 minute, the better your answer will be.

Lastly, the one thing you will need to do is get used to the time. 2 minutes might seem like a lot or a little, but if you do not practice before hand and get an idea how much 2 minutes feels, it may be very tough for you during the test day. All these tips I have given may not be that helpful if you do not learn how to organize your thoughts. So practice, practice, practice (didn’t I mention that several times before in other posts?).

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