How To Get A High Score In IELTS Speaking

Every IELTS article and every IELTS book seems to parrot the same old advice: take IELTS practice tests! Whilst this is, of course, essential, there is a whole lot more you can do to get a high score on your IELTS test. In his How To Get A High Score In IELTS… series, The IELTS Teacher offers his top five tips for IELTS success.

1. Watch videos
Before you start arranging the sofa cushions ready for a four-day movie-marathon, let me clarify this first tip.

Videos can be fantastic tools for IELTS preparation, but only when used correctly. If treated too casually, videos are just an excuse to lounge about in your pyjamas eating ice cream. For videos to be genuinely useful as IELTS preparation, you have to engage with them.

High Score IELTS Speaking

A movie I recommend to all my students is ‘The Social Network’. Probably because I recommend it to everyone else, too.

Engaging with a video simply means actively listening to it: concentrating on the dialogue; focusing on the pronunciation; picking up on the colloquialisms. And yes, it means sitting with a pad of paper and a pen and taking notes.

Many people think videos are only useful for listening. But they apply to speaking too, if you engage. In a video, you can pause, rewind, and replay speech, then try it yourself. You can perfect the pronunciation and nail the colloquialisms. This is especially useful if you live in an area with few English speakers.

When you take notes, don’t limit yourself to transcribing vocabulary and phrases. Draw little signs to show intonation and stress in words and sentences. Rewrite new vocabulary and phrases into different contexts to see if you understand them. Highlight the phrases you like.

It’s important, however, that you pick videos you enjoy. These videos can be YouTube clips, documentaries, even full movies. IELTS preparation is at its most effective when it’s enjoyable.

A movie I recommend all my students to actively watch is The Social Network. It’s up-to-date, contains challenging, intelligent dialogue, could be relevant to the topic you discuss in the exam, and it’s just a really good movie. Another great source of videos is TED.com. It’s chock-full of interesting talks on a variety of subjects, and I’ll often use them with my students in their Speaking Lessons.

If you have any suggestions on what makes a great study-movie, add them to the comments section below!

2. Disguise your nerves
Anybody that tells you that they weren’t nervous in their IELTS Speaking exam is telling you a big fat lie.

It’s normal to be nervous. Someone is actively judging your speaking skills right in front of you. But it’s important to remember they’re not judging you. Just your English.

Unfortunately, nerves have a habit of making you do embarrassing things, like turning beetroot-red, or freezing on the spot with nothing to say. Whilst I can’t help you with the former, the latter is something we can work on – and that’s the bit that’s being assessed.

What you need to learn is ‘filler’. At its most basic level, ‘filler’ is just the ums and ahs of human speech. At its more advanced level, it’s whole phrases, like At the end of the day…, To be honest with you…, and, my favourite, That’s an interesting question, and I’m glad you asked it….

These small phrases – and even the small noises – are extremely useful in the exam for three reasons:

1. If you can nail the pronunciation and timing, they make you sound like a native.
2. They show off your wide vocabulary and phrase bank.
3. They give you a few precious seconds to think of what to say.

Those first two reasons are valuable because a wide vocabulary and good pronunciation are two of the things assessed in the examiners band descriptors. The third reason is arguably even more important as it could be the difference between you choking on thin air or eloquently offering your opinion on the state of education in your country.

3. Have something to say, then say some more
Filler is all well and good when you just need a few moments to think of an opinion on a subject, but what if you have no opinion? What if you have nothing to say?

My first bit of advice is to create topic kingdoms. These are a bit like brainstorms or wordmaps, but more useful, and with a fun little spin.

High Score IELTS Speaking

Big Mouth Shark took my advice and scored a 9 on Speaking.

Get out a bit of paper and a pen, and write down a Speaking topic like Hometown. The paper is the kingdom and the topic is the King. Feel free to draw a crown. Now, think of a word related to Hometown; for example, Entertainment. Write this word near Hometown and link it with a line. If Hometown is King, Entertainment is a nobleman. The King rules over noblemen, and nobelemen rule over lords. Who are the lords in this case? Maybe the park, the football pitch, shopping, and friends. Link these lords to their noblemen with lines, then create a new nobleman, like History.

These topic kingdoms are more useful than brainstorms because they organize your thoughts. When it comes to the exam and the topic is Hometown, not only will you have something to say, but you’ll reveal your ideas in a logical order. One of the band descriptors for speaking is coherence, and you aren’t going to win any points for coherence if you’re switching between unrelated sub-topics like a mad man.

My second piece of advice for you is to read. A lot. I’ve explained why this is so useful in other articles so I won’t go into too much detail now, but here is the thrust: reading a lot will improve your grammar, develop your vocabulary, give you lots of opinions on Speaking topics, make you a much more interesting person, and is just an enjoyable way to spend your time. Just remember: read things you enjoy.

My third and final piece of advice on this is to practice speaking marathons. Pick a topic. Let’s go with Education. Speak about education for 1 minute. Done? Good stuff. Now, pick another topic. How about Travel? Speak about travel for 3 minutes. Bit harder? Let’s do another: Computers. Speak about computers for 5 minutes. And so on (protip: stop before your exam).

4. Get wise: Summarize
Despite the best efforts of your topic kingdoms, sometimes you can’t help but go off on a tangent. You begin by speaking about what you did for entertainment in your hometown, and end up talking about the time you met Celine Dion at a cheese market in Fiji.

This could be disastorous, if not for one brilliant skill: summarizing. The ability to wrap up everything you’ve said in a short, succinct summary can prevent the examiner from picking up his red pen and penalizing you for incoherence.

Creating a summary is really easy, and it’s best to have a set one that can be applied to all topics. It’s also useful to add a little extra information to the end. A good example, especially for Part 2, might be ‘So that’s how I currently feel about (insert topic here), but I’m keen to develop my knowledge of the subject further’. The best thing about a short, widely applicable summary is that it’s easy to memorize.

One important thing about summarizing is to not make it explicit. If you feel the seconds counting down, you shouldn’t wrap up with ‘In conclusion’, ‘To sum up’, or ‘Here’s a summary for you:’. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a conversation with someone that ended this way. 

Here are a few examples you may want to use. If you have one of your own, please share it with us in the comments section below.

These are just my opinions on (insert topic here) though, and I realize that others may feel differently.

As you can see, my feelings about (insert topic here) are mostly negative/positive/neutral, but I’m always open to opposing arguments.

Although I’m not that well educated on the topic of (insert topic here), it’s an interesting area for discussion and one I’d like to look into further.

5. The Little Things
Here’s a tip for you: five tips are better than one. And having already offered you the wisdom of four tips, the fifth and final tip in these How To Get A High Score In IELTS… series is dedicated to offering you five more tips. They’re as useful as all the others, but a bit smaller, so I call them ‘The little things’.

Little thing #1: Learn colloquialisms. If grammar and vocabulary make up the meat stew of speech, colloquialisms are the pinch of salt that make it just right. Using colloquialisms appropriately will go a long way to making you sound like a native. To bolster your colloquialism bank, just watch a lot of English videos and television and actively note the phrases the characters use.

High Score IELTS Speaking

If you end up reciting this little gem in the exam, you can be sure you didn’t read Little thing #2. Fascinating, though.

Little thing #2: Stay relevant. Although summaries are useful for bringing everything together, you should be staying relevant in the first place. Topic kingdoms will help you to practice this, but remember to practice with speaking marathons too.

Little thing #3: Practice grammar. The thing that makes speaking more difficult than writing is a time. You don’t have the time to think about grammatical structures. Because of this, it’s a lot more important that you practice actively, and have your speaking assessed by an experienced and qualified tutor of English and IELTS. Good grammar could be what gets you your band 7, band 8, or even band 9.

Little thing #4: Don’t overuse transitions. Transitions sound great and are a brilliant way to smoothly work your way through the Speaking exam. But don’t go nuts. If you use ‘Firstly’, ‘Another reason for’, ‘On the other hand’, ‘To return to’, and ‘A final point’ within 60 seconds, you’ve gone too far.

Little thing #5: Feedback. I’ve left this tip for last because it’s the most obvious one. Everybody knows that to improve your speaking you need to actually speak, and preferably have that speaking assessed by a professional. And yet, despite it’s obviousness, this little tip is also the most important. If you want to get really good at speaking, and get there really fast, you have to commit to Speaking lessons. Lessons will give you both practice and feedback; the ultimate combination for quick speaking improvement.

Thanks for reading my top 5 tips for achieving a high IELTS Speaking score. I hope they have been helpful. If you have any more tips for improving your speaking, I’d love to hear them! Use the comments section below to share your ideas with me and my students. Thanks, and good luck with your exam!

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