5 Simple Mistakes to Avoid on the Speaking Exam

July 15, 2021 by Angela Rutherford

If you are preparing for the IELTS exam, whether Academic or General Training, you should know that you will only have about 15 minutes to showcase your speaking abilities in a face to face test with an examiner.

Warning: Even if you are completely fluent in English, you are not guaranteed to achieve the highest level.

That’s because the Speaking test is not just about pronunciation and grammar, although those areas are being assessed. It is also about how clearly you can articulate, organize, and support your ideas in English. Therefore, don’t walk in thinking you’re “all that” unless you know what you are getting into ahead of time and prepare.

There are plenty of resources on this IDP website to help you understand the structure, timing, and expectations for the different performance levels in this test section. In addition, I’m going to go over a few easily correctable errors that some test takers make so that you can be aware of what NOT to do. Finally, here are 5 things to avoid on test day.

1. Giving very short answers in part 1

If you are asked whether you like flowers, the word “no” is not going to be enough to show the examiner that you can speak competently. Some people think that if they keep their answers short, they will hide grammar mistakes. Well, grammar is only one of the four areas being assessed, so, if you choose to give brief responses, you are not going to do as well on this test as you could.

Instead of “no”, try: No, I don’t really like flowers because I’m allergic to most of them, so, although they look pretty, they make me sneeze. 

why cartoon image 1000x

Your response may not be as fluent as mine, but do your best to explain why or why not when formulating your answer.

Note: If the examiner is constantly asking you “why” or “why not” at the end of your responses, this is an indication that you are not saying enough on your own.

2. Claiming that you don’t know how to say something

The chances that you are going to forget a word are high. This is a timed test, and you are under pressure so, if you can’t remember something, that’s understandable. However, do your best to paraphrase or explain what you mean. In other words, rather than give up and say you forget or don’t know how to get your meaning across.

African student give up on learning, too much

Let’s imagine, for example, that you have forgotten the word “bookcase”. Instead of panicking or admitting you forget, you could say, “that place with shelves where I keep my books”. People who use paraphrasing, more often than not, will actually remember the word in time.

3. Not using the notepaper to organize the two-minute talk in part 2

In the second part of the test, you will be given a topic to speak about for two minutes. You will also be given some paper and a pencil and one minute to prepare some notes for that talk if you like.

Take the full minute to MAKE NOTES! 

Student with spiral notebook prepared taking note

Very few people have the ability to speak off the top of their head for two minutes on a subject, let alone during a timed test. Those who try to talk without notes on the IELTS test usually dry up long before the time is up or lose their focus.

Use the topic and the suggestions of what to say about it (these are included on a card you will have in front of you) to organize your talk into a beginning, middle and end. Also, don’t be afraid to say too much. The examiner will stop you when the time for the talk is over.

4. Not speaking for the full two minutes in part 2

If you make notes about what you are going to say and jot down some examples to help expand your ideas, you should be able to fill the two minutes. The examiner will not interrupt you during your talk. Instead, if you pause, they will wait for you to gather more ideas yourself or prompt you to say a little more if there is still time. These moments can feel very awkward and may cause you to lose focus.

Thoughtful african guy thinking try solve problem pose isolated on grey studio background, worried black man in glasses feels concerned puzzled lost in thoughts pondering making decision concept image

If you make notes about what you are going to say and jot down some examples to help expand your ideas in the minute that you are given, you should be able to fill the two minutes. Even better, avoid pauses and not having enough to say by using mock exams to practice note-making and speaking for two minutes to prepare for this challenging task.

5. Not explaining and supporting your ideas in part 3 beyond personal experiences

In parts 1 and 2, you speak about topics that relate to you and your personal life. Part 3 is about more worldly or abstract subjects, and you need to be able to discuss opinions in these matters with some depth. 

Global Issues in word collage

You may be asked to agree or disagree on ideas about global warming, for example. So, if you believe global warming is a serious issue, you will need to support your opinion with explanations and real-world examples.

It might help to think back on how you wrote your essay in the writing section of the exam. Hopefully, you made points, explained them, and then backed them up with some examples. Use this kind of reasoning when having your discussion with the examiner in part 3.

The fact that you are reading this blog is a good sign that you are getting ready to do your best on your exam. With some preparation and awareness of what not to do, you are more likely to get a score that you will be happy with. Good luck! 

Beautiful african woman happy and excited expressing winning gesture. Successful and celebrating victory, triumphant, outdoor



Angela Rutherford is an experienced English teacher and exam preparation coach who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. After a career teaching in Ontario public and international private schools, she established her own tutoring business and enjoys working exclusively with IELTS candidates who want to do their best on the exam.

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