Introduction to IELTS speaking module
The speaking module is the same for the general and academic exam. The test takes an average of about fifteen minutes to complete. Unlike some other speaking exams you have your own examiner. The examiner does not make up the questions you will be asked – the questions are written down on a sheet called the ‘examiner frame’. The only part where the examiner has more control is the third part of the test where the examiner can change the language level to what is considered suitable to the skill that you have shown in the first parts of the test. The conversation is recorded, so if the idea makes you nervous, practice with a recorder to make sure you are used to this happening.
Here are the different parts of the test (you can also see the parts in more detail after this introduction):
The examiner introduces herself. (Your examiner might be a woman or a man. Since our experience is that examiners are slightly more likely to be women, we will use the female pronoun here.) You are expected to introduce yourself as well. You will need to show that you are the person who is on the list of candidates. After this you will be asked some general questions on topics on the examiner’s question sheet.
This part takes four or five minutes
This is sometimes called the ‘long turn’. You have to look at a question topic. You have a minute to prepare what you want to say on the topic, and then you have to speak on it for about a minute. Afterward, the examiner will ask one or two questions based on what you have said.
This part takes about four minutes
The examiner will ask you questions, usually on the topic that you have just talked about. Often these are more ‘abstract’; such as ‘What is your opinion of …?’ or ‘What would you do if …?’ This part is meant to be in the form of a conversation, so you have to keep your part of the conversation going.
You are assessed on four things (criteria)
- Fluency and Coherence
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
Fluency and coherence checks whether you can talk in a normal manner without long silences, and that you can join up your ideas. So a long ‘errrrrrrrrrrr …’ followed by silence will lose you marks while ‘Now, there was something else I wanted to say about that … no, sorry, I’ve forgotten.’ means exactly the same but will impress the examiner! Use of ‘link words’ like ‘also’, ‘after that’ ‘but on the other hand’ helps to give continuity to sentences.
Lexical resource comes in two parts – how good your vocabulary is, and how good you are at coping with gaps in your vocabulary by putting the idea in a different way. Unless your vocabulary is exceptional, you will sometimes find yourself looking for a word. Rather than stop talking, your examiner wants you to say the same thing differently. For example, you should know the word ‘envelope’ but if you suddenly find a horrible blank where that word should be, you should simply say ‘the thing that you put letters into before you post them’.
Grammatical range and accuracy. Again there are two parts to this. Your grammatical range is whether you can move smoothly to (for example) passives or perfect tenses if that is the best way of getting your meaning across, and secondly how well you do this. It is no use trying to use a wide range of grammatical structures if all you are doing is demonstrating that in fact you can’t do it! On the other hand, if you can use a variety of grammatical forms, then you must show this to the examiner.
Pronunciation. You are expected to have an accent. An accent shows where you are from, and no-one should be ashamed of that. But if you pronounce words so badly that it is difficult to understand you, or if your word and sentence stress, level and rhythm come at the wrong time (for example raising your tone in the middle of a question, rather than at the end), then you will lose marks.
(There are more of these in the detailed description of each speaking section)
You are tested on your ability to communicate. Don’t try to impress your examiner with your wide knowledge of grammatical forms or your huge vocabulary. Concentrate on getting your ideas across, and use the grammar and vocabulary that is most suitable for this.
Make sure that you have a few topics prepared – your favourite book, where you live, what you think about some movies or celebrities. But if you don’t get the opportunity to talk about something you have prepared, don’t do it anyway. The examiner will know if you change the subject to a ‘prepared topic’.
It is not absolutely compulsory to tell the truth. Liars can be good at English too. If you are asked about your hobby, and you don’t have one, but you know a lot about skateboarding because it’s your brother’s hobby, talk about skateboarding as if that was YOUR hobby.
Finally, relax! The examiner has only 15 minutes to discover how good you are at English. You know, (or should know) approximately how good your speaking is. If you come in looking depressed and frightened, you are telling your examiner ‘I don’t think my English is good enough, I think I will fail.’ Why give the examiner the benefit of that opinion?
People’s Career, Lakdi-Ka-Pul, Hyderabad Teaching Center.
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