Clarification strategies

During the Speaking test you may need to clarify a word or question either because you did not hear the examiner or because you did not understand a word or a phrase. There are a number of strategies you can use to clarify meaning. The degree of clarification an examiner can give depends on the part of the test.

Possible problemsYou do not hear the question: you can ask the examiner to repeat the question in any part of the test.You do not understand a word: you can ask the examiner what the word means. In Part 1 the examiner is not able to give you a detailed response. In Part 2 and 3 the examiner can give you another meaning for the same word.You do not understand a question: you can ask the meaning or you can check that you understand. In Part 1 the examiner can only repeat the same question. In Part 3 the examiner can rephrase the question to help you understand.

Let’s look at how you can solve these problems using clarification strategies. There are a number of useful and acceptable strategies you can use. You can:

  • ask the examiner to repeat the question
  • ask the examiner to rephrase the question (use different words)
  • check that you understand by rephrasing the question yourself.

Remember that it is better to clarify meaning with the examiner than to give an answer that is not relevant.

Asking the examiner to repeat the question

You can ask the examiner to repeat the question if you did not hear it the first time. You could say:

  • Can/Could you repeat that please?
  • Can/Could you say that again please?
  • I didn’t catch that. Would you mind repeating it please?

However, simply asking the examiner to repeat the question will not help you if you did not understand it the first time. In this case, you may wish to ask the examiner to rephrase the question in a different or simpler way.

Asking the examiner to rephrase the question

You can ask the examiner to rephrase the question if you did not understand it. You could say:

  • Sorry, but I’m not sure I understand you.
  • I don’t understand the part about …
  • Sorry, I’m not sure I follow. Would you mind explaining the part about …
  • Would you mind explaining the question?

You can also ask the examiner to explain a word you don’t understand.
For example, the examiner asks you:

Do you think the environment has been degraded by industrialisation?

You don’t understand the word ‘degraded’. You could say:

Sorry, I don’t know what you mean by ‘degraded’.
Could you explain ‘degraded’?

Asking the examiner to rephrase the question is a useful and acceptable strategy to help you during the speaking test.