Understanding the Speaking Test

What is the purpose of the test?

The Speaking test is an oral interview between you and the examiner. The purpose of the test is to determine how effectively you can communicate in English.

How long is the test?

The test is 11 to 14 minutes long.

There are three main parts. Each part is clearly divided into specific time units.

PartSuggested time & title
1Introduction and interview4-5 minutes
2Individual long turn3-4 minutes
3Two-way discussion4-5 minutes

Note that you do not have to worry about how long each section is as the examiner will manage the time for you. The examiner will move you from one part to the next with such phrases as, ‘Now let’s talk about …’. He or she can interrupt you if you have spoken long enough on a topic.

What is the structure of the test?

The test is divided into three main parts.

Each part is different in terms of:

  • the type of task you are given
  • the type of language you need to use
  • how you and the examiner interact.
PartInteractionTask and language
1 4-5 minutesIntroduction  InterviewThe examiner greets you and then introduces themself to you. The examiner checks your identification.  The examiner asks you some questions about topics that are familiar to you.
2 3-4 minutesIndividual long turnThe examiner gives you a card with a topic written on it and some prompts to help you with your answer. You are also given a pencil and a piece of paper to make notes if you wish. You have one minute to think about the topic and prepare your answer.  Then, you must speak about the topic for one to two minutes. The examiner may stop you if you speak longer than this. After you finish talking, the examiner may ask you one or two follow-up questions.
3 4-5 minutesTwo-way discussionThe examiner asks you some questions to involve you in a discussion. The questions the examiner asks have the same theme as Part 2. The language required in the discussion is generally more abstract than in the other sections.

What style of speaking should you use?

Your style of speaking should be:

  • relaxed
  • natural – never memorise an answer beforehand
  • appropriate for an interview.

It should also show that:

  • you are confident
  • you are interested in the topic
  • and that you are enjoying speaking to the examiner.

How is your interview assessed?

Your IELTS Speaking test is assessed by a qualified examiner using four specific categories:

  • fluency and coherence
  • lexical resource (vocabulary)
  • grammatical range and accuracy
  • pronunciation.

In this step we will briefly introduce what each of these categories means. In the following steps we will examine each category in detail. In the ‘Practice Tests‘ section of the module, we will assess two complete interviews using these four categories.

1 Fluency and coherence

Fluency is determined by:

  • your rate of speech
  • the smoothness and continuity of your speech.

Coherence is determined by:

  • sequencing your sentences logically
  • using signposts (first, next, on the other hand, similarly etc.) to mark each stage of your discussion, narration or argument
  • using cohesive devices (and, or, but, so, because) within and between sentences.

2 Lexical resource

Lexical resource refers to your use of vocabulary.

This is determined by:

  • the variety of words you use
  • how accurate and appropriate your vocabulary is
  • your ability to paraphrase, that is, to find another way of saying what you mean when you do not know the word in English

3 Grammatical range and accuracy

Grammatical range is determined by:

  • the length and complexity of your sentences
  • how appropriately you use complex sentences
  • the variety of sentence structures you use.

Grammatical accuracy is determined by:

  • how many grammatical errors you make
  • how much your errors interfere with communicating your ideas.

4 Pronunciation

This is the ability to produce speech (sounds) that can be understood.

This is determined by:

  • how easy it is for the examiner to understand what you are saying
  • how much of your speech is not understood
  • how much your own language influences your speech.
  • Three Parts of the Speaking Test
    • Part 1

This part  will last between 4-5 minutes and involves a general introduction. Initially, the examiner

confirms that he or she has the right person by checking the candidate’s name, origin, and identification. Then, the examiner asks the candidate about familiar topics in life such as his/her country, home town, family, studies/jobs, free-time activities, future plans, etc.

Examples Where do you come from?

Where did you grow up?

Where is your home town?

You should practise answering the typical questions in this part by using lists of questions provided

in this book.

  • Part 2

Part  2 is the  long turn or  individual talk. It  provides  an opportunity  for  the candidate  to  deliver a

long, uninterrupted response. The examiner  will give the candidate a topic card with a subject  such

as education, family, work, interests and lifestyle and some cues or a few guiding questions on the

card. These questions are short, and the structure of the questions is simple. The candidate must

talk for 1 to 2 minutes on this subject. He/She is expected to demonstrate an ability  to construct

a long sample of  English. The examiner  will assess the candidate’s  fluency, coherence, range of

structures, pronunciation and vocabulary.

The candidate has an optional 1 minute in order to prepare for his/her talk, and is provided with some paper and a pencil in order to make some brief notes. After the candidate’s talk, the examiner will ask 1 or 2 brief questions in order to finish off this part which takes about 3-4 minutes.

Examples             Topic Card

Describe your personality.

You should say:

what kind of person you think you are

what your family and friends think about your personality

whether you think your personality is special

and how your personality affects your life.

Follow-up questions

How do you like your personality?

How have your teachers influenced you?

  • Part 3

Part 3 is the most complex testing part of the IELTS Speaking test. Here, the examiner will prompt

and  lead  the  candidate  with  a  series  of  questions  on  the topic  spoken  about  in  Part  2. These

questions  will be more demanding and require  some  critical analysis  on the part  of the candidate.

The examiner is still in control, but must allow the candidate to produce longer utterances or discuss the questions. The candidate will be scored on how effectively he / she can develop the abstract ideas on the IELTS test. These questions and discussions may take 4-5 minutes.

Examples What do you think you are talented in?

How much are you influenced by your friends in terms of personality?

Are you willing to change your personality if many people find some aspects of it to be


Do you believe that people considered eccentric are talented in certain fields?

Do you plan to have a different family life from that of your parents? What are some

changes you would like to make?

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