IELTS Speaking Do’s and Don’ts For Bands 7, 8, and 9!

IELTS speaking do's and don'ts

OK people. Tim James, here, former IELTS speaking examiner ready to give you my top do’s and don’ts for the IELTS speaking test.

I’ll be telling you what I believe it is important for candidates to do and what to avoid in order to score an IELTS band 7, 8 and 9.

First Up, IELTS Speaking Test Do’s:

1. Do, chill out!

You are not helping anyone if you arrive at the test room all nervous and uptight. Instead, arrive in plenty of time and spend a few quiet moments calming yourself down before you go to the waiting area.

If you are all stressed you really aren’t helping anyone and guess what? The examiners don’t really care about you. IELTS examiners sometimes do speaking tests for 25 students back to back non-stop.

We know it is a big deal for you but it is not a big deal for us and there is nothing we can really do to help you either. IELTS examiners have seen it all before. They have interviewed band 9 candidates who just needed to turn up to get a top band without even trying, and they have interviewed people who could barely say a proper sentence and even studies suggest that IELTS is an accurate test.

What I am saying is you have got nothing to worry about, you can’t embarrass yourself and you can’t do anything to make us give you a higher band score than you are already capable of. This is simply a process that you have to go through. So, quit being nervous, it won’t help anyone!

2. Do expand on your answers

Especially in part 1, why? Because, if you don’t the examiner has to ask you ‘why’ after every question and it gets annoying for them to keep asking you ‘why?’ when you could just add a bit of extra information without being asked.

It makes the examiner’s job just a tiny bit easier and if they feel better about you then maybe it will help your band score – it shouldn’t! But who knows?

I get my students to use the ASK-ANSWER-ADD formula, which is  as simple as it sounds. When the examiner asks you a question you immediately answer it without hesitation and then add some extra information to it. Doing this will keep the examiner happy. 

3. Do have an opinion

Especially in part 3. Remember, part 3 of the speaking test is where you have a discussion with the examiner about more abstract topics such as ‘globalisation, education, crime prevention’.

Now, even if you do not actually care about the topic being discussed and, for example, you have no interest in whether ‘people’s values are different to what they were twenty years ago’, just make a decision, agree or disagree, or state an opinion.

It does not matter what your opinion is but it does matter if you don’t give an opinion. So, don’t sit on the fence (and that’s an idiom, meaning ‘to not make a decision about something’) and give your opinion. Once you have given your opinion then you can expand on it with explanation and examples and this is where the secret sauce for bands 7,8, and 9 are.

4. Do, shoot from the hip!

Shoot from the hip is an idiom that means  to speak without thinking about it first. You see the thing is, if you constantly try to monitor what you say before you say it, in order to stop yourself from making a couple of grammar mistakes, then whilst it might prevent you from lowering your grammar band score it actually slows down your speech.

Constantly thinking about the grammar you are going to use makes you hesitate, and hesitating will bring down your ‘fluency and coherence band score’ significantly.

What you need to do is reply to the examiner as soon as you can with the first correct answer that enters your head. Your fluency will be far better when you do this, you will hesitate less and your grammar will be the best it can be because you will be speaking based on your lifetime experience of English grammar and not on how well you can remember and apply grammar rules in your head under the pressure of an exam!

5. Do speak using all your senses to describe things.

In part 2 of the test you will be given a card with 3 bullet points on it and you will be asked to speak about the bullet points. Some people worry about how they are going to speak for three minutes.

Well, three strategies I recommend  that you use are either:

a) Tell a story, this is great because stories have beginnings, middles, and ends and so take up a long time and have different settings which gives you chance to show a range of vocabulary.

b) Speak about a direct experience you have related to one of the bullet points. This is useful because when you give an example based on your own direct experience you can talk about something in real detail, and when you talk about something in detail, you then show off more precise vocabulary which will aid your vocabulary band score, and finally…

c) Describe objects, people and places using all of your senses. Talk about how something feels to touch, smells, looks and tastes (if relevant). Again, doing this will give you another opportunity to display your ability in English.

6. Do practice IELTS style speaking questions. Get used to the format of the test and the way the questions are asked and how you are expected to respond.

Check out my guide to IELTS speaking here and get practising. It sounds so obvious but if you have practiced the format of the test then you will be more confident when you enter then exam room. This will then help lessen your nerves and therefore speak more fluently.

IELTS Speaking Test Don’ts – What To Avoid!

Okay people, stick with me, now for all the things that should be avoided in the IELTS speaking test, the don’ts.

1. Don’t ever translate into your own language in the speaking exam.

By this I mean don’t ever listen to the examiners question translate it into your own language, think about the answer in your own language, translate this answer back into English and then say it to the examiner (scholarly article).

This is just such a bad idea, yet, people do it. It tends to be lower level students pre-band 6 that do this, but occasionally higher level students.

As an examiner, you can tell when a student does this because they hesitate and there is always a longer than natural pause before they speak and you can kind of see it in their eyes that they are going through all these steps of translating the language backwards and forwards before they speak.  

There are so many problems with this approach, firstly translating from any language to another language produces errors, why? Because different language don’t always have words that translate directly, so the meaning gets changed when you translate it, and remember you will be translating it twice once into your first language to think about it and then back into English to say it, so there are two opportunities for this to occur.

Secondly, it takes time to translate, seconds can seem like hours in an IELTS interviews and those precious seconds give the examiner the opportunity to wonder why you are not speaking, and this is going to lower your fluency and coherence band score.

2. Don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use.

If you go into the test planning to use vocabulary that you are not used to using or that you don’t quite know the meaning of then the chances are that you are going to make mistakes, and mistakes mean only thing, a lower band score.

Don’t try to impress the examiner with words you have just learned in the last week. That is a recipe for disaster. Just stick with the words you are comfortable with, this will not only reduce your mistakes but reduce your nerves and allow you to speak more fluently as you won’t be constantly thinking about your vocabulary.

3. Similarly, don’t use different tenses for the sake of it i.e. for no reason.

You know, it is perfectly possible to get an IELTS speaking band 9 if you only speak in present simple tense for the entire test if that is the appropriate tense for the questions you are asked, and it often is!

In part 1 you are asked about your daily routine and your life right now so that will be mainly in present simple, and in part 3 you will be asked to give your opinion, so, again, you should be using present simple for that.

You see, it is a bit of an IELTS myth that you have to use lots of different tenses to get a high band score.

An easy way to work out what tense you should use is to copy the tense that the question is asked in, for example, ‘do you live in a house or apartment?’, is a present simple question so you should answer in present simple, ‘I live in a house’.

Similarly, if the cue card in part 2 asks you to ‘describe a person who influenced you as a child’. This question is in past simple, so you should answer in past simple tense. So, as you see there is always a clue in the question.

4. Don’t plan answers, or memorise answers in advance.

This is nearly impossible to do anyway as you don’t know what questions you are going to get, but if you do launch into a pre-prepared speech the examiner will probably guess this, mainly because it won’t fit naturally into the conversation and they will stop you and move you on to the next question.

This would mean that was a waste of your time memorising answers in the first place and it would let the examiner know that you are not in your English abilities to respond to normal English questions and this may be reflected in your band score.

5. Don’t say nothing!

Occasionally, I have experienced this when I was examining. It is a very odd thing for a student to do. I can only assume that the candidates were too nervous or they felt that they did not have a good enough idea to reply to the question with.

Of course, you must always answer the questions. It does not matter if you do not have an original or funny idea to respond with, guess what – the examiner does not care, they probably have to do 15 more interviews after you, and they often (well, some do) go into a kind of robotic state of mind anyway when they are doing the tests, so please, provide an answer, at least then the examiner might be able to ask you another question that you do have a good answer too.

Remember, you are judged on your performance over the entire speaking test which means that even if you think you screwed up somewhere and your speaking was bad in a part of the test it might not necessarily hurt your band score, especially if the rest of the test goes well.

6. Don’t speak too quietly!

You have to be heard by the recording device the examiners use and the examiner will get annoyed, even if they do not show it, if they have to strain their ears to hear what you are saying.

Speaking quietly is usually a problem for those down on confidence. Remember, no one else is listening, just you and the examiner and the examiner will most likely not remember the test anyway, so you have got nothing to lose, just go in that room and smash it!

Ok, so I hope those do’s and don’ts have helped you figure out how you should approach the IELTS speaking test. It really is not as scary as some people seem to think. The examiners are just normal everyday people trained to do a job, so relax, listen carefully to the questions and speak your mind (another nice little idiom to finish with), afterall, no one can do it for you!

Now, go out there and get that band score you need!

Recommended IELTS Study Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I always get lots of questions about how else to get a better band score quickly. So, this is what I recommend:

Complete IELTS Course: Of course, my full course ‘INCREASE YOUR IELTS‘ covers everything you need to need to know to pass IELTS, including practice questions, model answers, grammar work, strategies for every possible reading, writing and listening question type, as well as a complete speaking course too, check it out here.

IELTS Essay and Speaking Feedback: To complete full mock tests and get feedback from IELTS examiners on your IELTS essays or speaking tasks then visit: IELTS Feedback and Mock Tests, here.

Improve your grammar fast by using the Grammarly suggestions to improve your writing. Every IELTS students should have this free grammar improving tool.

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