Express yourself

As in the writing test, in the speaking test the examiners want to encourage you to show off the range of grammar and vocabulary you know. Using complex structures while making some mistakes will get you a better mark than using simple structures without mistakes. Other parts of your score are fluency and content: is it relatively easy for you to speak or do you hesitate too much (some hesitation is natural and expected) and do you answer the question or just talk generally about something related to the topic? Relax, be yourself, listen to the questions and do your best to answer them.

Part one: talk about yourself

Part one consists of questions about you, where you live, your hobbies, your life, etc.  When the examiner asks you if you work or if you study; if you do both: don’t say “both,” choose one.  The examiner has different questions for students and professionals and he or she must decide which set of questions to use.  This is an opportunity for you to pick the topic that is more interesting for you.

Be talkative, but finish your answers

It’s important to give full answers (more than “Yes” or “Not really”) and try and “finish” your answers rather than just talking until you can’t think of anything else to say. For example, if the examiner asks what you usually do at the weekend, list a few things that you do and finish with “… I do other things, I guess, but that’s what I usually do at the weekend”. You have answered effectively and by repeating the question you emphasize this while “closing” your answer so the examiner knows you are finished. Compare that ending with this one: “I go out with my friends… I like to watch movies… I go to restaurants sometimes… umm… yeah.” It’s not organized and it doesn’t really end, it just stops. Show the examiner that you are organized and confident.

Part two: the two-minute talk

In part two, you are required to speak for a minimum of two minutes. The examiner and all of the practice materials will say “between one and two minutes” but in reality there is a clock on the table and you must speak for two full minutes. You will be given a card with a topic and four things to say about it and you will be given one minute to prepare your talk. If you treat each of the four questions equally, you now have four things that you need to speak about for 30 seconds each and it’s an easier task. Don’t assume that the examiner already knows about something or understands something: if your card asks you to describe some technology that you use every day, one of the sub-questions will probably be “You should say what it is.” You have instructions to say what it is, so you can really say what your iPhone does (for example). If you just say, “It’s an iPhone,” now you only have three sub-questions to answer for the next two minutes. If you list all of the things it can do, not only are you taking time by saying it, you are answering their question and demonstrating a range of vocabulary related to your iPhone and technology in general.

Part three: now it gets interesting

Like the rest of the exam, the speaking test gets more difficult as it progresses. Part one will be questions about you: your life, your job or studies, your habits, your opinions. Part two will be about an experience, a memory, a person or an object; about something you did or something you know. Part three is different: the questions are not about you, they are about “people”. Part one will have questions like, “Why do you do X?” while part three will have questions like, “Why do people in your country do X?” It seems like only a small difference, but it will make a big difference in your answer.

If the questions are difficult, that’s a good sign!

The examiner has a script with a number of questions on it and he or she needs to determine your level in a short amount of time so they need to find the limit of your ability. To do this, they will ask you questions that require complex answers. If the examiner only asks you questions that can be answered by band 7 candidates, they won’t be able to determine if you can speak at a band 8 or 9 level. Therefore, when the examiner starts asking you very difficult questions in part three, it’s because you are doing well and they want you to show them that you can do even better!

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