The IELTS Speaking Test

More people search online for help with the IELTS Speaking test than for any other part of the IELTS exam. Many candidates tell me that it’s the part they fear most.

Well, it’s time to stop worrying and find out how to get the score you need.

The aim of this introduction to the IELTS Speaking test is to ensure that you understand what it’s all about because most people think they know but they have got it wrong. I don’t want this to be you.

I want you to go into the exam knowing exactly what is required so that you can get the best possible score you’re capable of achieving.

Speak naturally as if you were talking to a friend.

Here’s an outline of what we’ll be covering:

1) Format of the Speaking test – Parts 1, 2 & 3

2) The main reason for low scores

3)  How to avoid this big mistake

4) The 4 key skills you’ll be assessed on

Want to watch & listen to this information? 

Click the video.

You'll also find links to practise speaking questions.

Finally, this page will lead you to other pages about the IELTS Speaking test that are full of information on specific aspects of the exam.

1#  Format of the IELTS Speaking Test

The Speaking test is the same for both the Academic and the General IELTS exams.

It could be on the same day as your Writing, Listening and Reading tests, which are taken together, or 7 days before or after them. All tests are recorded.

The Speaking Test lasts for 11-14 minutes and is made up of three parts.

IELTS Speaking Test – Part 1

Time: 4-5 minutes.

You will be asked questions about you and your life. They could include anything connected with the following topics:

  • Your work or study
  • Your home
  • Your family
  • Your home town
  • Your likes or dislikes

These questions will be easy to answer as you obviously know all about yourself and your life.

You cannot give a wrong answer so try to relax and treat this as a warm-up for the rest of the test.

IELTS Speaking Test – Part 2

Time: 3-4 minutes.

The examiner will give you a cue card with a topic written on it, along with 3-5 bullet points telling you what to include in your talk.

You will be asked to speak on this topic for up to 2 minutes. The examiner may then ask you 1 or 2 questions about your topic.

You'll be given 1 minute for preparation during which time you are allowed to make notes.

The topic can be almost anything but will, again, be related to you in some way, for example:

  • something about you
  • something that has happened to you
  • something you have experienced

Here’s an example of a cue card.

Describe a party you have been to. 

You should say:

  • whose party it was
  • where the party was held
  • who was there

and explain what you did at the party.

The topic is stated in the first sentence. In this case, it’s ‘a party’.

The 3 bullet points and final clause are a guide as to what you should talk about but you don’t have to stick rigidly to them. I explain more about this on the page dedicated to Part 2 questions. You’ll find it here:

Ielts Speaking Part 2

IELTS Speaking Test – Part 3

Time: 4-5 minutes.

The examiner will ask you questions related to the topic on your cue card that you discussed in Part 2. These questions will be more abstract in nature to encourage you to explore ideas and concepts rather than just relating facts.

This will be more of a dialogue between you and the examiner which will give you the opportunity to express your thoughts and feelings about the topic or to develop your ideas.

For this party topic, they will be questions such as:

– When do people usually have parties in your country?

– What makes a good party?

– How important is it to celebrate important events with a group of people?

– Why do some people not enjoy going to parties?

– How do people in your country usually mark the New Year?

– Do you think that festivals or celebrations are over-commercialised or have lost their original meaning?

There are lots of different questions you could be asked about parties and celebrations.

2#  Why People Get a Low Score
How to Avoid This Big Mistake

One of the main reasons people get a low score for their IELTS Speaking test is that they don’t understand what is actually required. They might think they do, but they don’t. So let’s sort this out right now to give you the best chance of a high score.

Most people think they know what the Speaking test is about. They know the format, but many aren’t aware of what the exam is really about and what the examiner is looking for.

This is so important. After all, if you don’t know what the examiner wants, how can you give it to them?

I’ll start by making it clear what the Speaking test is not.

Here are the key points you need to know:

  • It is not a test of your knowledge or your intelligence.
  • You are not expected to be an expert on the subjects they ask you about.
  • You won’t be assessed on the content of what you say.
  • The examiner doesn’t care what you do or do not know.

They just want to hear your opinions and how well you communicate them. That’s it.


You are not expected to have lots of knowledge on the subjects you’re asked about. You’re not taking a Masters Degree, you’re taking an English speaking test. The content of what you say is not important and you won’t be assessed on it. You can even make something up if you need to.

With that out the way, let’s have a look at what you will be assessed on.

The examiners follow strict marking criteria. If you want to see them, click this link for a PDF download of the official Speaking Test Assessment Criteria. It includes the criteria for all nine band levels in each of the four skill areas

If you do decide to check them out, don’t be overwhelmed. They’re not as complicated as they might at first appear. Here they are in summary.

The IELTS Speaking test is designed to assess your ability to:

  • communicate opinions and information on everyday topics and common experiences
  • speak at length on a given topic using appropriate language
  • organise your ideas coherently
  • express and justify your opinions
  • analyse, discuss and speculate about issues

There are just four key skills that you will actually be marked on and these are what we’ll look at next.

You aren't expected to be an expert on your topic. Just talk about what you do know.

3#  The 4 Key Skills You’ll Be Assessed On

So what, specifically, are you tested on? Just these four things:

  • Fluency and Coherence
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Pronunciation

These are all you need to worry about. They each hold 25% of the marks.

Fluency & Coherence

Fluency – the ability to speak easily, naturally and at a good speed without lots of stops, pauses or repetition.

Coherence – The way that ideas are organised, developed and connected so that they flow from one to the other logically and what is said makes sense.

Both are important.



To do well in the test, you need to demonstrate the ability to correctly use a wide range of vocabulary.

I’ve highlighted the words ‘correctly’ because many people make the mistake of thinking that they just have to throw in lots of ‘advanced’ and ‘complex’ words to get a high score for vocabulary.

The result is speech that’s full of inappropriate vocabulary, used incorrectly, and sentences that are difficult to understand. That’s the perfect recipe for a low mark.

The examiner doesn’t want you to try and be clever and include the most advanced vocabulary you can possibly think of. They want you to use the right or most appropriate words and phrases to answer the question.

You don’t want to sound like a university professor giving a lecture, just a normal person talking in everyday language. This is so important.

I’ve created a whole section on the website to help you with vocabulary, including topic words lists and practise questions with sample answers. Start exploring it here: IELTS Vocabulary



Here are 3 important points concerning grammar:

  • Most people try to overcomplicate grammar.
  • Use the most appropriate language to answer each question.
  • The questions are designed to assess your ability to use different tenses.

Most people try to overcomplicate grammar. Yes, you need to understand and correctly use the different tenses in the English language. Indeed, the questions you’ll be asked are designed to test your ability to use a range of verb tenses and other grammatical structures.

However, as with everything else in the IELTS Speaking test, you need to be able to use the most appropriate language for any given question. The examiner won’t be impressed if you try to use three different tenses in your answer, just to show that you can, when they really don’t belong there. Your speech will automatically lose coherence and you’ll thus lose marks.



The most important aspect of pronunciation to get right is clarity, which is being clear and easy to understand. If the examiner can’t understand you when you talk, they’ve no way of assessing your English language skills.

The clarity of your speech is determined to a large extent by these five features of pronunciation:

  • individual sounds
  • word stress
  • sentence stress
  • connected speech
  • intonation

Major grammar errors and incorrect vocabulary will also, of course, make it more difficult to understand you, but good pronunciation enables you to show off all your other language skills.

So now that you know exactly what the examiner will be looking for when you take your exam, you’re already better prepared than most people.

IELTS-Style Practice Speaking Questions

The best way to prepare for your IELTS Speaking test is to practise answering lots of IELTS-style questions.

You'll find plenty of these on the website. I've included practise questions on each of the topic vocabulary pages to help you learn the appropriate vocabulary at the same time.

Choose which topics you'd like to work on via these links:

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Other Important Pages

IELTS Speaking Tips9 top tips to increase your chances of getting a high score

IELTS Speaking Topics: Discover the 40 most common subject areas for the IELTS Speaking Test

IELTS Speaking Practise Questions: Download 30 full mock tests (30 practise cards on 30 topics – 330 questions altogether)

Find More Help With Your IELTS Speaking Test
With These Lessons

Lesson 1: IELTS Speaking Part 1

Learn 7 simple methods for developing IELTS Speaking Part 1 answers – with lots of sample questions & answers. Discover the most common topics and find out what happens in the pre-test introduction. 

Lesson 2: IELTS Speaking Part 2

Discover 5 common reasons why people get a low score in Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking Test and how to avoid them. Explore the Part 2 format and get familiar with the cue card.


Lesson 3: Part 2 Planning Strategy & Speaking Sample 1

Learn the ‘question prompt’ method of planning your Part 2 talk and how to make the best use of your 1 minute preparation time. Full planning notes & Speaking sample.


Lesson 4: Part 2 Planning Strategy & Speaking Sample 2

Step-by-step guide to the ‘brainstorming’ method of planning for quick and easy creation of your 2 minute talk. Full planning notes & Speaking sample.


Lesson 5: Part 2 Planning Strategy & Speaking Sample 3

Using the ‘5 senses’ is another great way to plan your Part 2 talk. Learn how & discover the importance of storytelling. Full planning notes & Speaking sample.

Lesson 6: How To Begin Your Part 2 Talk

7 easy ways to begin your Part 2 talk. Also learn quick and simple ways to improve your opening sentences for extra marks. Lots of examples to show you how.

Lesson 7: IELTS Speaking Part 3

6 common types of questions & how to answer them, plus key mistakes to avoid. Lots of practise questions with sample answers to help you impress the examiner & get the score you need.

Lesson 8: IELTS Speaking Practice

Massively improve your speaking skills by learning how to think in English. This technique is one of the most valuable you can learn.

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