From the general to the specific, strategies for IELTS speaking test part 1

Ok, following on from my last post about more general strategies, I now want to move on to something a bit more specific and tell you some hints for the different sections of the speaking test, beginning with part 1.

First, warm up. Now you wouldn’t start exercising or lifting weights at the gym without warming up first would you? So why should speaking English be any different? What I mean is that, it can sometimes be difficult to “switch” between your language and English without any practice, this is in part why the part 1 speaking questions are personal ones. Most people find it easy to speak about themselves and their lives, so the examiners ask these questions to “get you in the mood” for speaking and to warm you up for part 2 and 3 which are more difficult. So to get a jump start in this process, try to speak English the day before the exam, if possible on the day of the exam and even better, right before going in. Call someone, talk to the other candidates, whatever, it will get you going and get you off to a good start, no hesitation, you will be fluent right from the word go!

Second, if you are still nervous in section 1 and you don’t quite catch what the examiner said, don’t worry. You are allowed to ask for clarification, you won’t be penalised in any way. You can be polite. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, could you repeat it please?” or something similar. Maybe if you ask the examiner to explain every question, you might annoy them, but if used sparingly, this is a legitimate tactic. In fact, you would definitely lose marks if you misheard and answered the wrong question, so if in doubt, speak up!

Third, give direct answers to the examiners questions. Try this formula, Answer, Explanation, Example. Let’s consider this question, “Do you like parks? You answer the question, “Yes”, you explain, “actually, I go jogging in my local park every morning”, you give an example, “it’s just at the end of my street so it’s really handy for me, also it’s very green and woody, you know lots of trees, so it is just like being in the countryside actually”.This is pretty good because, as I have seen many times, lots of students tend to give very short answers which don’t really give the examiner much to assess. So, try this tactic, I will work, I guarantee.

Fourth, try to be as natural as possible. I know this is difficult, anyone who can do this in a second or third language has my respect, but it is something that you must do if you want to get band 7 and above. It is common for people when speaking a second language to be somewhat monotonous, they get the tone all wrong and it can often sound flat and not very good. As I know all too well from trying to speak other languages. So you need to sound as natural and native like as possible, and one way to do this is to listen to films, tv and podcasts, etc and try to imitate the rhythm, tone, and pacing of native English speakers. Again not so easy, but this is what you need to score high. I am not talking about having a “British” accent or whatever,  just about sounding unforced and natural. This is not just about pronunciation, it’s also about the words that you use. I often have to correct my students who speak in too formal language, which is inappropriate for the context of part 1. “Undoubtedly, moreover, additionally, nevertheless”, etc, etc, you can use more formal words in section 3 where it is more academic and abstract but they are not entirely appropriate for part 1 where it is more an informal chat about you.

That is all for today, I will write more tomorrow about sections 2 and 3, so once again, any questions, drop me a line and I will try to answer you as soon as I can.

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