IELTS Speaking Exam Tips: Worried about questions you can’t answer?

February 22, 2019 by Tony Rusinak

Job interviews, airport immigration, and the IELTS speaking exam – what do these all have in common? They sometimes ask you questions, and you don’t have the answers. This is not a relaxing thought. Nobody likes to be asked questions they can’t answer. And what if this is an important situation? Airport immigration and job interviews are important! The IELTS speaking test is important! So, what can we do in these situations? The answer is that you don’t have to give an answer. This isn’t philosophy, it is a communication technique. Let’s have a look at some ways we can successfully respond if a tough question comes up.

Respond with another question

This is a great way to give yourself time to think about the question and to see a different perspective. If the question is What developments for green energy are there your country?, you could respond with What do you mean by green energy?. This will give you some clarification on the topic. It will also give you more time to answer in a different way.

Shift your response
Woman contemplating question marksDuring a test, a topic comes up that you don’t know much about. However, maybe you do know about a similar topic. What am I talking about? Let’s take a closer look. Ok, so someone asks you Have you ever been waterskiing?. Maybe you don’t know about waterskiing. So, here’s what you can do. Respond by saying I don’t know anything about waterskiing, but I do know a lot about alpine skiing. At this point you’ll be able to go on and speak about a topic that you do know about – alpine skiing. This allows you to both be fluent and to answer the question. You simply shift the topic.

Give reasons why you don’t know

This is a great technique to practice. Some people can talk for hours using it. Respond to the question by explaining why you don’t know. Imagine the topic is about Cricket. Now, imagine you don’t know anything about cricket. So, instead of just saying I don’t know about this, you can go on to explain why you don’t. You could say something like I don’t know about cricket because in my country we don’t really play this sport. I guess we don’t play it because things like baseball and soccer are the main sports people play. If I were to travel to countries that had cricket, I would love to learn. I love to learn about new sports. So, you see, even though you don’t know about the topic, you can still talk a lot.

Apologize and move on
three people with speech bubblesGoogle might seem to know everything, but individuals do not. In life and on the speaking test you could be asked about something you just don’t know. Maybe the topic is about international laws. Maybe you know nothing about this. So, another way to deal with this is just to move on. Respond in a polite and thoughtful way with phrases like the following: I’m not sure about that topic.; I’ve never thought about that before.; or That’s an area I’m unfamiliar with. Because IELTS wants you to speak as much as possible, the examiner will probably jump to the next question. Be careful though and only do this once in a while. If you do it too much, it might hurt your score!

Tag questions

More advanced speakers of English are good at using tag questions. In this situation, a tag question will allow you to fluently respond while trying to understand the question. If you use the tag question carefully, you’ll be able to get more information about the question and hopefully develop an answer. So what is a tag question? A tag question is a statement, followed by a yes/no question. The yes/no question is used to check if your statement is correct. Here are some examples to make it clearer.

Speaker A: Have you played cricket?
Speaker B using tag question: Cricket is the sport that is similar to tennis, isn’t it?
Speaker A: It is a sport, but they use a bat and it’s similar to baseball.
Speaker B using tag question: Oh cricket. It’s an outdoor sport popular in Canada, right?
Speaker A: No, actually its more popular in India and southern hemisphere countries.
Speaker B using a tag question: Oh, they all wear white, right?
Speaker A: Yes! Now you got it.

So there you have it. It isn’t what you know, it’s how you communicate. You can chat with anyone for hours if you use the right communication techniques. Practicing responses to questions you don’t know not only makes you more fluent, but can improve your score. Best of luck on test day!  

IELTS Expert

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