Recently a number of my students have taken the IELTS test and one of their greatest fears always seems to be the speaking test. This is natural as the speaking test is the only part of the test which requires direct communication with a real, live native speaker.
Being prepared for the speaking test is essential to get the score you want. This means knowing what the test is, and what it isn’t. Here are some tips as well as some common misconceptions I’ve heard in my years of examining and teaching.
First, know how the test is scored. To do this you should study the public band descriptors available online. You’ll see that there are four criteria that you are evaluated on:
- Fluency and Coherence
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
Each section is scored individually and each is equally weighted (25%). This means that, contrary to what some students believe, you simply cannot memorize long lists of academic words and phrases and expect a high score. The key to a high score is balance.
- To score high in fluency you must speak naturally, understandably, and smoothly. Use connecting phrases and avoid long pauses (“uhhhh….ummm…”) and unnecessary repetition (“…it was nice….and, uh,…a nice place…).
- Lexical Resource means using vocabulary that is appropriate, not just “difficult”. You also need to be specific and accurate. Avoid saying things are “nice”, “good”, “fine” as these are boring and generic words. But, at the same time describing a memorable trip as “a sufficiently palatable jaunt” sounds strange and unnatural. Balance descriptive with natural.
- Don’t obsess over grammar. Yes, you need to show that you know your present, past and future tenses along with a range of structures, but intentionally trying to fit complex grammar into your responses is more likely to cause you to make mistakes, lowering your overall score. Stick to the grammar you are comfortable with, but prepare by studying useful grammar for everyday conversation. Don’t forget, written and spoken English follow very different sets of grammar rules.
- Accent and pronunciation are not the same thing. We all have an accent. Actually, I have scored an 8 or even 9 to candidates with noticeable accents. The real problem is when your pronunciation affects the ability of the examiner to understand what you are saying. For example, if you struggle with /r/ and /l/, you need to practice before the test. If you tell me that your favourite food is “lice” (little bugs that live in your hair), rather than “rice”…that’s a major problem! Yes, it is common knowledge that some speakers struggle with these sounds, but don’t assume the examiner will understand what you intend to say. Remember, the examiner only evaluates what you actually say, not what you mean to say.
Now that you know all this…you have to practice! That’s where we can help. Come on in to REV and let us help you get that score you need. I have a lot more advice and experience to share with students who really want to reach their goal, so let’s work together!