Speaking Questions for IELTS – How to Handle Three Parts?
The IELTS Speaking Test is often daunting for Nepali test takers, who may feel uncomfortable due to a lack of exposure to an English-speaking environment in their daily lives. Consequently, the average score in the IELTS Speaking Test for the year 2023 was 5.8, rounded up to band 6. However, the reasons behind this subpar performance extend beyond just the absence of English in daily interactions. In my personal observation, mastering the IELTS Speaking Test is not achieved overnight, even with enrollment in the best IELTS classes and guidance from top tutors worldwide. It demands a comprehensive approach, encompassing various factors.
Firstly, consider the fundamental aspect of the skill: ‘Why do you need to speak?’
Everyone speaks with a purpose-to convey ideas and opinions to listeners, with the desire for them to comprehend the message as intended. In conversations, clarity is achieved when you keep it simple and precise. This principle holds true for IELTS Speaking as well, where simplicity is the key.
If you’re still worried and lack confidence in talking in English, consider the example of a small baby. You need to prance with language like a baby does. A baby learns to speak the very first word by mimicking the people around them, especially their momma and papa. Due to the influence of parents, the very first word that a baby often speaks is either ‘momma’ or ‘papa.’ In the real context as well, you need to learn to speak by mimicking the speakers of English. It’s their language, and they have the standard accent, intonation, stress, and pronunciation. Mimicking the native speakers of English is the best way to kickstart your English speaking.
Hence, the first thing to keep in mind before you start your journey with IELTS, especially in the Speaking portion, is to have a sophisticated and natural control of English speaking. Language skill is the first and foremost requirement before you can focus on IELTS skills. There have been numerous instances where some of the best speakers of English cannot perform well in the IELTS speaking test because the three standard parts of the IELTS speaking test have their unique objectives and techniques to tackle, with language being at the central core.
Another reason why many test-takers fear the IELTS Speaking test is due to a misunderstanding of its nature. Some approach it as if it were an IQ test, leading to concerns about providing incorrect ideas or statistics. However, the IELTS Speaking test is fundamentally a part of the English language test. Its purpose is to assess your ability to use the English language flexibly and accurately.
Before delving into IELTS speaking topics, it would be beneficial to take a brief overview of the Speaking Test and familiarize yourself with its functioning.
The Speaking Test consists of three parts and takes approximately 11-14 minutes to complete. These three parts are:
IELTS Speaking Part 1: Introduction and Interview
In this section, the examiner introduces themselves and asks you some questions about your background, hobbies, interests, work, and other familiar topics. The aim of this section is to put you at ease and encourage you to speak freely.
IELTS Speaking Part 2: Cue Card or Individual Long Term
In this section, you are given a task card with a topic and some prompts. You have one minute to prepare your response and then are asked to speak for 1-2 minutes on the given topic. The aim of this section is to assess your ability to organize and express your thoughts on a given topic.
IELTS Speaking Part 3: Discussion
In this section, the examiner asks you some follow-up questions related to the topic discussed in Part 2. The aim is to assess your ability to express and defend your opinions, make comparisons and evaluations, and speculate about future possibilities. You can also expect another new topic, but it will be interconnected with the one from Part 2.
The speaking test is conducted face-to-face with an examiner in a quiet room. The examiner will assess your speaking ability based on several criteria, including Fluency & Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation.
Overall, the Speaking Test is designed to assess your ability to communicate effectively in English in various real-life situations.
What happens in the three parts of the IELTS Speaking Test?
When you enter the speaking examination room:
The examiner does not immediately start with the IELTS Speaking Questions as soon as you enter their cabin. First, you are asked to take a seat, and then they greet you. It is up to you to greet back, although it is a courtesy to do so. Therefore, it is better if you greet back. Additionally, the examiner goes through dozens of participants like you, so it’s advisable not to disturb their mood.
Then, you are asked for your name. Simply respond with your name. This is not part of the test; the test has not started yet. Therefore, avoid saying, ‘My first name is Suroj, middle name is Moktan, and family name is Tamang.’ Instead, say, ‘My name is Suroj Moktan Tamang.’ Also, refrain from immediately offering your nickname. The examiner will ask for your nickname after you provide your real name, which should be the same as what you mentioned during registration. It is common for English people to have a nickname or a second name when abroad due to their cultural norms. So, when the examiner asks, ‘What may I call you?’ simply provide your nickname or say that you don’t have one.
Then, you will be asked to show your identification document. It’s advisable to bring the original document that you used during the test registration. The examiner will skim through your document and then proceed to start Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Test.
Your test begins when the examiner presses the audio recording device on the table. Following that, the examiner goes through a mandatory script, introducing details such as the test, date, test center, examiner number, and candidate number, before moving on to ask questions from Part 1.
IELTS Speaking Part 1:
In Part 1, the examiner asks questions related to you, commonly termed as personal questions, covering approximately 4-5 minutes. Relevant topics such as hometown, hobbies, interests, food, drinks, study, work, etc., are explored, all in relation to you. The objective of these questions is to keep you relaxed and comfortable. Part 1 questions are generally considered easier since there are no standard or fixed answers, allowing you to respond with any idea. However, some distinct questions in this part are designed to assess your proficiency with grammar and vocabulary. General topics like weather, sports, internet, hometown, and hobbies may be included to evaluate your ability to incorporate topic-related vocabularies. Additionally, questions about your hobbies, interests, and childhood activities aim to assess your command over tenses and gerunds, focusing on grammatical aspects.
My tip for performing at your best in Part 1 is to speak spontaneously without second thoughts. Remember, this is a language proficiency test, not an IQ test. Furthermore, all questions in Part 1 are about you, and in this whole world, who knows you better than yourself? So, there’s no need to lie. Lying requires thinking and can lead to hesitation.
There are two types of hesitations in IELTS speaking: content-related and language-related. Content-related hesitation involves taking pauses to think about the topic and subject matter to discuss. It is natural to pause and gather thoughts when asked about a topic unexpectedly. Examiners take this into consideration when evaluating content-related hesitations. On the other hand, language-related hesitation occurs when pauses are taken to think about sentence structure, memorized vocabularies, and phrases. Another aspect included in language-related hesitation is the translation of ideas in your head. If you think in your native language (L1) and translate into English, it consumes time and results in pauses. This can adversely impact your fluency, leading examiners to conclude it as language-related hesitation, which is not conducive to optimal performance.
The secret to success in this part of the test is to address the question directly. You need to be aware of the type of question asked and the structure of the interrogation. The response should be subtle and provide a brief development of the objective of the question.
IELTS Speaking Part 2:
In this part of the test, you are provided with a cue/prompt card where a general topic and a specific question, along with some auxiliary ideas, are given. This section extends approximately 3-4 minutes. Subsequently, you are given a minute to think and prepare your mind map. You’re provided with a paper sheet and a pencil to note any significant points you want to mention. You can refer to the paper while speaking, but continuous staring is not recommended. Once the one-minute preparation time is done, you will be asked to speak and given instructions to talk for one to two minutes on the given question from the prompt card.
The objective of this test segment is to examine if you can speak for a given length of time. The official band descriptors of IELTS Speaking, under the heading Fluency and Coherence at Band 6, clearly state that candidates demonstrating the willingness to speak for a specific duration will be awarded Band 6. There is no mention of specific grammar or vocabulary requirements. Hence, speaking for the full two minutes, as long as the examiner does not stop you, is recommended. Speaking with proper grammar and vocabulary, and connecting ideas, can lead to an even higher band score.
If you spoke for the full two minutes and yet could not complete your story, there is no need to worry. This is not a storytelling contest. The examiner will stop you as soon as the timer hits two minutes. If you are a proficient speaker, the examiner may ask a rounding-off question. These questions are generally short yes/no questions. Respond with a simple yes or no, followed by ideas related to the question.
IELTS Speaking Part 3:
This part of the IELTS Speaking Test is referred to as a ‘Two-Way Discussion’ for specific reasons. The objective of this round is to examine if you can provide your opinion and defend it. At least two topics will be used, and the time coverage for this part is 4-5 minutes. The questions posed will be relevant to the ideas you offered in Part 2.
I firmly believe that speaking should never be muffled or confined to a regional approach when tackling the test.
Now adopting a third-person perspective to explain this part of the IELTS Speaking Test: In this segment, examiners are found interrupting test-takers with short questions such as ‘Why do you think so?’ and ‘What are the examples?’ When examiners intervene during candidates’ responses, they may get distracted and lose confidence, potentially impacting the overall development of their narrative. Some candidates may perceive examiners as rude, a notion echoed in the open market – stories claiming IDP and British Council examiners are rude to candidates during the third part of the IELTS Speaking Test. However, my straightforward answer is a BIG NO! Examiners are not rude; they are experts in the English language who have undergone rigorous training, reflecting the ethos of the IELTS test.
Indeed, Part 3 of the speaking test is designed this way: candidates need to present their opinion first, then develop ideas to support their belief and provide an example to validate their opinion. When candidates struggle to develop ideas or deviate from the topic, examiners intervene. The intention is not to be rude; rather, they ask questions to help candidates structure their responses fully. Consider this: everything the candidate and examiner say is recorded in the audio recording device, saved in the archive for future reference. Candidates also have the right to EoR (Enquiry on Results) if they’re not satisfied. Therefore, all tests are recorded safely. The idea of examiners being rude in Part 3 of the Speaking Test is merely a lame excuse made by inefficient IELTS tutors who may not fully understand the test, its methodology, and strategies.
A pro tip for this part of the test is to address the question directly with proper structure, offering your opinion and supporting sentences. You can then provide an example. It is similar to a conversation with Mr. Rishi Dhamala. Just like in a talk show with Rishi Dhamala, if you offer a weak opinion, he will intervene and ask questions, saying, ‘Janata Janna Chahanchhan!’.
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