Speaking IELTS Test – What to Do and Expect

Knowing what to do in the Speaking IELTS test is essential to get a high score.

With that knowledge and the appropriate English ability, you can get the score you deserve.

In this lesson, you’ll learn exactly what to do in each part of the test as well as what to expect from the IELTS examiner during your test.

In the Speaking for IELTS test, you'll benefit greatly from know what to do and what to expect.


If you’re new to the IELTS test, check out the guide to studying at home and see how the scores are calculated. You’ll also find useful info here, here and here.

Prefer to watch the video version?

What to Do in the Speaking IELTS Test

In this part of the lesson, we focus on what to do;

Before the Speaking IELTS Test

Before the Speaking IELTS test, you’ll wait in a room with the other candidates.

Use this time to adjust your brain to speaking English.

So instead of using your own language, speak in English to other candidates, or use a topic-generator to get yourself thinking in English.

The first of my IELTS Speaking test tips is to use the time before the test to prepare yourself.

During the Speaking IELTS Test

There are three parts to the Speaking IELTS test, and you will learn exactly what to do for each part below.

Firstly though, let’s look at IELTS Speaking test tips that apply to all three parts.

Questions to Ask The Examiner

Speaking IELTS test examiners are under very strict instructions about what they can and can’t say.

For example, if you ask them what a question means or if they know your hometown, they can’t answer you.

Firstly, you can ask the examiner to repeat the question if you didn’t hear it clearly.

You can ask the IELTS examiner two different questions.

Secondly, if you don’t know a word in the question, you can ask the examiner to explain it.

For instance, if the examiner asks;

Why is the older generation less interested in modern technology?

But you don’t know what older generation means, you can ask the examiner like this;

What does older generation mean?

Asking the examiner either of the questions above will not affect your score, so make sure to use these questions when you need them.

Think Before You Speak

Many IELTS candidates start to speak before they have decided what to say.

This means that they stop after a few words to consider what to say, and this reduces their Fluency and Coherence score.

Instead, give yourself a few seconds to think of your answer first.

Always think before you speak.

Don’t Use Phrases to Buy Time

One of the common IELTS Speaking test tips is to gain more time to think of your answer with a phrase like, “Let me think about that.

The problem with this is you’ll be focused on saying the phrase instead of thinking of your answer.

Instead, just think in silence as you normally would outside of the Speaking IELTS test.

Stay on Topic

Your entire answer must be directly related to the question.

For example, if the examiner asks;

How far is it from the test centre to your house?

You absolutely must stay on topic in every answer of your Speaking IELTS test.

And the candidate answers;

I’m not sure of the exact distance, but it took me about 40 minutes to drive here this morning. My house is a reasonable-sized bungalow with some hanging baskets full of flowers along the gable end.

Because the second sentence is unrelated to the question, the less common vocabulary and accurate grammar won’t improve the candidate’s score.

Don’t Memorise Answers

Some candidates prepare answers that they want to use in the test.

The examiner will notice these rehearsed answers immediately because the language used is not at the same level as the rest of the test.

An answer like this will not help the candidate’s speaking score.

Accept Your Ability

In the Speaking IELTS test, many candidates pretend that their speaking ability is better than it really is.

They try to use vocabulary and grammar that they never usually use, resulting in more mistakes, a lack of clarity and a lower score.

In the Speaking for IELTS test, don't try to pretend that you're a higher level than you really are.

If you need to improve your speaking ability, that must happen before the test.

On test day, the highest score you can achieve will come from speaking the way you normally do.

Use an Informal Tone

It feels like a job interview, but there’s no need to use formal language in the Speaking IELTS test.

Just use the same informal tone that you use when you usually speak in English.

Linking Ideas

You’ve probably learned cohesive devices for the writing component of the IELTS test, but these aren’t suitable for the Speaking IELTS test.

Instead, you should use the informal connectives we use when speaking.

Another of my IELTS Speaking test tips is not to use the cohesive devices you learned for the IELTS Writing test.

For example, if the question is;

What’s your favourite food?

You shouldn’t say;

My favourite food is chicken because it’s healthy and you can get it anywhere. In addition, it can be cooked in so many different ways.

The cohesive device ‘in addition‘ is too formal so you should say;

My favourite food is chicken because it’s healthy and you can get it anywhere. As well as that, it can be cooked in so many different ways.

Introduction of the Speaking IELTS Test

The examiner will ask your name and look at your ID to make sure that they’re speaking to the correct candidate.

Part 1 of the Speaking IELTS Test

This part of the Speaking IELTS test takes 5 minutes, and you’ll be asked basic questions about familiar topics.

The familiar topics help you get more comfortable, and they allow the examiner to distinguish between the lower band scores for weak candidates.

Part 1 of the test is really just a warm-up.

The following is an example of the types of questions you can expect in Part 1.

IELTS Speaking Part 1 Sample Questions.

Here are the IELTS Speaking test tips you need for Part 1.

How to Answer a Part 1 Question

Developing your answer is the key to a good score in Part 1.

Follow these steps for every question;

1. Give a direct answer
2. Say why/why not
3. Add one more relevant detail
4. Stop talking

Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Follow this checklist to fully develop all your answers in Part 1.
1. Give a direct answer

Get straight to the point with a direct answer.

For example, if the examiner asks;

Do you still live in your hometown?

The first thing you’ll say is;

Yes, I still live there.
No, I don’t live there anymore.

2. Say why or why not

This step is essential because you will not get a high Fluency and Coherence score without explaining your answer.

If a candidate doesn’t explain their answer, the examiner will encourage them to continue by asking, “Why?” or, “Why not?”

In Part 1 of the Speaking IELTS test, you should not give the examiner an opportunity to ask you, "Why?" or "Why not?"

However, it’s not good for your score if the examiner has to coax you to speak, so make sure to always do this by yourself.

For example, if the examiner asks;

Was your hometown a nice place to grow up?

Make sure to explain your answer like this;

Yeah, it was a great place to grow up because it was very safe, which meant that all my friends and I could go around without supervision.

3. Add one more relevant detail

This step is not essential, so don’t feel under pressure to add one more relevant detail if you can’t think of anything to say.

However, if you have something relevant to add, you can include it here.

It's not necessary every time but one of the best IELTS Speaking test tips for Part 1 is to add one more relevant detail after you've explained your answer.

For example, if the examiner asks;

Is your hometown popular with tourists?

You can expand on a direct answer and explanation like this;

No, it’s not popular at all actually cause it’s just a countryside town with nothing unique or special that would make tourists want to go there. There aren’t even any hotels, so someone visiting wouldn’t even have somewhere to stay.

4. Stop talking

Once you’ve finished your answer, just stop talking.

Many candidates worry that their answers aren’t long enough, so repeat things they’ve already said or go off-topic.

Unfortunately, doing these things reduces the candidate’s Fluency and Coherence score.

In the Speaking for IELTS test, don't be afraid to stop speaking when you've finished answering the question.

So, when you’ve finished each answer in your test, stop talking and wait for the next question.

Don’t worry if the examiner takes a few seconds to ask the next question. They have a lot to consider, so they might not ask you immediately.

Be Aware of the Topic

The questions in Part 1 are organised by topic, and the examiner will always state the topic before asking each set of questions.

You can see this in the Part 1 questions above where it says, “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions about…”

In the Speaking for IELTS test, during Part 1, pay attention to what topic the examiner said they were going to ask you about.

This is helpful because if you’re asked about something unrelated to the topic, you’ll know that you misheard the examiner and can ask them to repeat it.

Part 2 of the Speaking IELTS Test

In Part 2 of the Speaking IELTS test, you’ll be given a piece of paper and a pencil to make notes.

Then you’ll be shown a booklet with a cue card like the one below.

Sample IELTS Speaking Part 2 cue card.

You get one minute to make notes about what you’ll say, and then you must speak for 2 minutes.

When to Make Notes

The examiner will first give you some paper and a pen.

Next, they will explain that you have one minute to make notes, and then you must speak about the topic on the cue card for two minutes.

The IELTS examiner won't specifically say when to start making notes.

Next, they will ask you if you understand and as soon as you say, “Yes,” they will hand you the cue card.

Finally, they will say, “I would like you to tell me about…

For example, for the cue card above, they would say, “I would like you to tell me about the restaurant you’ve eaten at most recently.”

This is when you can start making notes.

Strangely, they don’t tell you to start making notes, but that’s what happens, and as long as you know, it won’t be a problem for you.

While Making Notes

With just one minute, there isn’t enough time to make many notes.

To help you organise what to say, follow these steps;

Only make notes of anything that will really benefit you in Part 2.
Step #1

Before you write anything, make sure that you correctly understand the topic on the cue card.

If you discuss the wrong topic, your score will suffer, so it’s essential to get that right first.

Step #2

Next, decide what to discuss.

For example, the cue card above is about the restaurant you ate at most recently, so you need to decide which restaurant you’ll talk about.

I’d advise you to choose a restaurant you’re comfortable discussing rather than the one you really ate at most recently.

Carefully deciding on which topic you'll discuss is one of the best IELTS Speaking test tips you'll get for Part 2.

Then in your answer, you’ll just say that it was the most recent one.

Don’t rush this step, as the topic will be easier to discuss when you make a good decision.

Step #3

Go through the prompts on the cue card, such as the ones highlighted below, and think about what you’ll say for each one.

Sample IELTS Speaking Part 2 cue card.

It isn’t necessary to write down these answers because you can look at the cue card while you’re speaking to remind you.

Also, it’s unnecessary to answer all the prompts, so feel free to skip any you don’t like.

Step #4

The most challenging thing about Part 2 in the Speaking IELTS test is that you need to speak for 2 minutes.

Responding to all the prompts on the cue card only takes about 1 minute, so now you must decide what to talk about after that.

You must stay on topic, so for the question above, you need to think of more things to say about the restaurant you ate at most recently.

Most IELTS students find it difficult to continue speaking for a full two minutes in Part 2 of the Speaking IELTS test.

If you don’t have any ideas, you can discuss some of the following;

  1. How you’d change it
  2. Something you don’t like about it
  3. If you’d recommend it to others
  4. Will it happen again in the future

For example, here are notes for the Part 2 cue card above;

Example of what type of thing to expand your answer with in Part 2.

However, the problem now is that these notes are too long because we only have one minute.

Instead, we should make shorter notes like this;

Example of the type of notes you should make in Part 2 of the speaking test.

While Speaking for 2 Minutes

After the one minute to make notes, the examiner will say, “You can start speaking now.”

Here are the IELTS Speaking test tips you need next;

You must speak for 2 minutes about the topic on the cue card.
Don’t Finish Your Notes

Sometimes, candidates take 10 to 15 seconds to finish their notes before they start speaking.

You really shouldn’t do that because the assessment is of your speaking, not your notes.

What to Say

Go through the prompts on the cue card and say whatever you planned to say about each one.

While doing this, don’t read the prompts out loud.

Just quickly look at the prompts to remind you what you wanted to say.

Remember, it’s okay to skip any of the prompts that you have no ideas for.

Follow the cue card and your notes so that you have enough to speak about in Part 2.

Next, move on to the notes you made and discuss each of the points you wrote there.

When to Stop

Continue speaking until the examiner stops you.

Ideally, the examiner will stop you in the middle of a sentence because you weren’t finished discussing the topic yet.

After Speaking for 2 Minutes

The examiner will take back the notepaper, pen and cue card and then ask you one more question about the Part 2 topic you’ve discussed.

The answer to this question needs to be short, so the examiner will cut you off if you try to develop this answer.

Part 3 of the Speaking IELTS Test

Part 3 is about 5 minutes long and is always about the same general topic discussed in Part 2.

This is the most challenging part of the Speaking IELTS test because each question requires you to form an opinion or think deeply about a topic.

Because Part 3 is so challenging, you'll need my IELTS Speaking test tips for this more than the other parts of the test.

Below is an example of the types of questions asked in Part 3.

This is an example of the type of questions you'll get in Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test.

Here’s the advice you need for this part of the test.

How to Answer Part 3 Questions

To answer a Part 3 Question in the Speaking IELTS test, you need to do the following;

  1. Think of One Idea
  2. Begin with a Direct Answer
  3. Say How/Why?
  4. Give an Example
  5. State the Outcome
  6. Stop Talking

Let’s look at each of these IELTS Speaking test tips in more detail;

In the Speaking for IELTS test, follow these steps to help you fully develop your answers.
1. Think of One Idea

You might think of several ideas, but you should choose just one.

This is because you need to develop your ideas to get a good Fluency and Coherence score, and you’ll use a limited range of grammar if you list ideas.

For example, if the question is;

What types of restaurants are most popular in your country?

You should focus on one type of restaurant instead of naming many different types.

Just focus on one idea in each of your Part 3 answers.

Also, don’t just start speaking and then hope that some idea comes to you as you’re talking. Actually, decide on your answer first.

2. Begin with a Direct Answer

The most important thing you need to do is answer the question, so make sure you do this in the first sentence.

For example, if the question is;

Why do you think some people prefer to eat out?

You can begin with;

It’s probably because they’re not able to cook as well as a professional chef.
It’s probably because they don’t enjoy cooking their own food.

Always give a direct response to the question in the first sentence of your answers in Part 3 or the Speaking IELTS test.
3. Say How/Why?

Expand your answer by explaining the situation.

For example, if the question is;

Is eating out more popular in your country now than it was in the past?

You can say;

No, going to restaurants is less popular than it used to be because people don’t have as much disposable income as they had when I was growing up. This means most people need to be more careful about what they spend their money on nowadays.

Explaining your answer is the best thing to do next.

However, in part 3, you’ll need to develop most of your answers more than this, so you can include one or both of the options below.

4. Give an Example

Give an example of the situation you’ve described.

It’s best not to give a personal example about yourself as this part of the test isn’t focusing on your personal experiences.

If this was the question;

Many people think that it’s unhealthy to eat out regularly. Do you agree with that?

Including and example in your answer is a good way to expand what you have to say about the topic in the Part 3 question.

A personal example such as the one in this answer should be avoided;

No, I don’t agree with that at all because it depends on what food they order. For example, I regularly eat out but always have healthy food like salads, so there are no negative effects on my health.

And the example in this answer is more suitable;

No, I don’t agree with that at all because it depends on what food they order. For example, people who regularly eat out but always have healthy food like salads don’t experience any negative effects on their health.

It’s not essential that every Part 3 answer has an example, so it’s okay if you can’t think of one.

However, you should aim to include an example and an outcome (explained below) in as many of your answers as possible.

Whenever you can’t include both, including one or the other is acceptable.

5. State the Outcome

This is where you describe the result of the situation.

Like including an example, this isn’t an essential step but do this as often as you can to develop your answer fully.

You can also expand your Part 3 answer by discussing the outcome.

For example, if this was the question

What is the best job to have in a restaurant?

You could include an outcome such as the one highlighted here:

The head chef has the best position in a restaurant because they get the most compliments. For example, it’s very common for diners to say, “Give my compliments to the chef,” but it’s rare for any other staff member to get similar praise. This means that the chef has better job satisfaction than the others who work alongside them.

6. Stop Talking

Just like in Part 1, when you’ve said everything you want to say, stop talking and wait for the next question.

Expect to Struggle

There will definitely be questions in Part 3 that you find challenging to answer.

That’s normal and nothing to get stressed about.

Unfortunately, some candidates become anxious after a poorly answered question, which affects their performance in the rest of the test.

In the Speaking for IELTS test, especially in Part 3, there will be times where the questions are very challenging.

However, as long as you expect to be challenged in Part 3, you won’t get stressed and can carry on as normal.

Stay Focused

Part 3 is the most important part of the test because this is when the examiner decides between the higher band scores.

However, many candidates are exhausted by now, and they care more about getting out of the room than answering the questions.

Even if you’re feeling tired in Part 3, you must put all your energy into answering each and every question to the best of your ability.

What to Expect from the Examiner

IELTS examiners don’t behave like regular people having a conversation.

This is because they must follow very strict rules about what they can do and say.

In this part of the lesson, you’ll learn IELTS Speaking test tips about what to expect from the examiner so that you’re not distracted by their behaviour.

The IELTS examiner doesn't behave as a personally normally would when you're speaking to them.

Saying Hello

Once the examiner starts recording the test, they are required to say hello.

For this reason, many examiners will avoid saying hello to you when you first enter the room.

Furthermore, many examiners prefer not to shake hands because lots of candidates have clammy skin from the stress of the test.

For this reason, it’s nicer only to shake hands if the examiner offers to do so.

Offering to shake the examiner's hand won't reduce your score, but it's nicer to allow them decide.

The Examiner Can’t Speak

The examiner isn’t allowed to say anything besides reading the questions from the booklet and answering the two questions you can ask.

This means that the examiner won’t interact with you as a person would in a normal conversation.

The Examiner will Cut You Off

The examiner needs you to talk about a certain number of topics and follow the correct timing of the test.

To do this, they will interrupt you and ask you another question.

Under normal circumstances, it would be insulting if someone interrupted you while speaking.

However, in the IELTS test, this is what the examiner must do to conduct the test correctly.

You can expect the IELTS examiner to interrupt you several times throughout your speaking test.

When it happens in your test, just listen to the new question and carry on as normal.

It Seems Like They’re Not Listening

The examiner needs to ask the questions, keep track of which questions they’ve asked and which ones to ask next, follow the correct timing for each part of the test, assess your fluency, the coherence of your answers, your vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and decide on the correct score by referencing the band descriptors.

They are definitely listening to you, but they’re also doing a lot of other things.

This means that you don’t need to worry if they’re not giving you much attention.

Another thing that happens is they’ll ask you a question that you’ve already answered.

For example, if they ask you;

Who does most of the housework in your house?

It might seem like the IELTS examiner isn't listening, but that's not the case.

And you answer;

My father does most of the housework because my mother is usually too busy at work, and he wants me to use my time to study instead of helping him out. So that means that I do pretty much no housework at all, really.

Even though you’ve already said how much housework you do, the examiner will ask you the next question from the booklet.

How much time do you spend doing housework every week?

This makes it seem like they weren’t listening, but they’re really just following the strict rules of the job.

The Examiner is Writing Numbers

Some candidates get very worried when they see the examiner writing numbers.

They think the examiner is writing their scores and get a big shock when they see the number 4 written down.

However, these numbers are just to help the examiner keep track of the time and are nothing to be concerned about.

In the Speaking for IELTS test, just ignore any numbers that you see the examiner writing down as they're not related to your score.

Overcoming the Stress of the Speaking IELTS Test

Exam day stress does cause some candidates to underperform.

In this section of the lesson, we’ll consider how to overcome this.

Check With an IELTS Expert

If an IELTS expert does a practice speaking IELTS test with you and you get the scores you need, that knowledge will give you more confidence on test day.

For free feedback from me, you can sign up below.

Your Opinion of the Examiner

Some candidates are more comfortable when they think of the examiner as an old friend.

Other candidates are less intimidated when they think of the examiner as someone they don’t respect.

If either of these ways of thinking would help you get in the right frame of mind, you can copy these people.

Some candidates benefit in the Speaking IELTS test by deciding how to feel about the examiner before they even see them.

Also, consider that the examiner’s only role is to read you the questions, and besides that, you don’t need them for anything else.

Focus on Yourself

The IELTS staff might not be friendly, or the other candidates might seem worried.

However, you must focus on yourself and don’t let the behaviour of others affect your mood.

Use Stress-Reduction Techniques

There are various methods of reducing stress that can be helpful on test day.

I’m not an expert on these, so I’ll let you read this comprehensive list here.

What Now?

More important than knowing what to do in the test is having the appropriate level of English.

For this, make sure to complete my lesson on How the Speaking IELTS Test is Scored and How to Improve your Scores.

Also, you will need to practise the different parts of the speaking test to get comfortable with how to answer the question. For this, you can use these Practice IELTS Speaking Questions.

Also, here are links to official practice tests that you can use;

  1. Practice Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the Speaking IELTS Test
  2. Practice #2
  3. Practice #3
  4. Practice #4

Practising Part 2 is especially important as most IELTS students find it difficult to continue speaking for 2 minutes when they first try.

In fact, I’d recommend speaking for 4 minutes when practising Part 2 of the Speaking IELTS test so that the real test feels easy in comparison.