IELTS speaking is a short but somewhat demanding exam section, which, if approached with the right amount of preparation, can be an absolute breeze! In this tutorial you will learn everything you need to know about Part 1 of the Speaking exam, and namely structure, content, stress management, evading typical errors, and practical tips to achieve a good score.
When you are less stressed, you speak more coherently, remember better examples and detail and feel genuine and energetic, which is a huge benefit for your speaking score.
Make sure you know what the exam is like because when you know what awaits you, you are less likely to be stressed.
Now more specifically IELTS speaking part 1 contains familiar information questions, which means that everything you will be asked deals with things about yourself – your background, origin, preferences, hobbies, etc.
This is done to assess if you can sustain conversation about yourself in trivial, everyday situations.
It is certainly the easiest part of the speaking exam and works as a warm-up for the following speaking sections – Part 2 (the long turn with cue cards) and part 3 (more abstract analytical questions).
Now here is the complete list of our tips and recommendations how to ace IELTS speaking part 1.
Tip 1. These are some typical part 1 topics that tend to appear in IELTS speaking exam part 1. Collect relevant vocabulary to be able to talk about them. Structure your practice around these topics, build a vocabulary bank based on them, and enlarge your topical phrase sets as much as possible.
Tip 2. The questions in part 1 of the speaking exam will focus only on one or two of these bigger topics. So do not worry that you will have to answer too much. For example, you might get 6-10 questions about your hobbies and pastimes, and 6-8 questions about newspapers and media.
Typical error: Trying to squeeze everything into an exhaustive answer to the very first question.
Don’t do that. The questions will gradually become more and more specific and you will have plenty of room to answer, give examples and develop.
Tip 3. Work on improving your descriptive skills for answering questions in speaking part 1 by collecting various relevant adjectives and phrases. Practice efficiently describing people, places, buildings, weather, animals and pets, feelings and emotions, relationships and attitudes, etc.
For example: cuddly cat, fierce dog, compassionate neighbour, considerate colleague, sad and graceful tower, eccentric black house, a patch of blue sky, windless day, a spell of sunny weather, terrifying cataclysm.
Typical error: Using simplistic adjectives such as good-bad-interesting-nice-important or cumbersome words like cerulean, adamant or loquacious.
Both extremes - simplistic and overly sophisticated words - will detract from your vocabulary mark. The first case shows insufficient range of vocabulary, while the second illustrates inaccuracy and imprecision in use. This is why try to use more specific and precise synonyms when you describe something. Yet keep in mind that the words need to be used appropriately in context, as synonyms are not complete equivalents of each other. Don’t just throw in sophisticated-sounding words: it will sound forced, unnatural and even ridiculous.
Tip 4. Rephrase the wording of the question if you intend to use it in your answer. Don’t restate the exact formulations of the question. But it’s ok if there’s no way to rephrase certain words.
For example: What can you see from the windows of your apartment or house?
In the walk-out basement I rent the windows are tiny, but I’m happy that I get at least a bit of natural light in. Besides, I love the greenery outside. Our windows and patio door open toward the ravine where there are huge pine trees, a little stream running between tall banks and winding pathways on the side opposite our house. So peaceful and relaxing!
Typical errors: Parroting back the words of the question.
Avoid doing this as shows that you have a poor range of vocabulary, which will result in a drastic drop in your vocabulary mark.
See the answer to the question above that parrots back the question wording.
What can you seefrom the windows of your apartment or house? – From the windows of my house one cansee huge pine trees, a little stream and pathways that are loved by dog-walkers.
Tip 5. Pay attention to the grammar of the question that was asked. It is the grammar that you are expected to use. Then reuse that grammatical form at the same time paraphrasing the vocabulary part.
For example: If you could change anything about your house, what would you change? – Well, I would definitely love to have a bigger basement and of course larger windows. Having that little space in the living room is challenging when friends come over and the amount of natural light that we’re having is truly depressing, I must say. Another thing I wouldliketohave – well, it’s a kind of change – is a piece of land in the backyard, because I love growing herbs for cooking.
Typical errors: Not paying attention to the grammar of the question and using incorrect forms.
Sometimes exam candidates will just blurt out the first thing that come to their mind. Yet this could even send them down the dangerous path of going off-topic.
For example: If you could change anything about your house, what would you change? – I wanted new, bigger windows and another door because I like sunlight and what we have here is insufficient. Our landlord didn’t want to change them because it’s expensive.
Take a second to register the grammar of the question and build your answer around it.
Tip 6. A good answer in IELTS speaking part 1 is one-two developed sentences. Practice adding a small, relevant detail to a more or less general first sentence of the answer. For example:What responsibilities do you have at work? – Well, I must say they’re not that many, as it depends on circumstances. Typically, I have to ensure that all teachers’ computers are functional and ready for class work, or fetch printer paper to the copy room, but once I even had to fix a complicated break-down in one of the school printers on my own. That was tough but I’m proud I managed to do it.
Typical errors: Giving an answer which is either too short (happens more often) or too long (happens less often). If your answer is too short, the examiner will usually proceed to the next question. Most typically they will not ask you for details or reasons. Yet, if you talk too much, you will be stopped by a polite “thank you”, which means “now you can stop”.
How long is a LONG answer? 3-5 very developed sentences. But most probably you will be stopped at about the fourth sentence.
How short an answer is too short? Anything from a mere “no” to a very short sentence, even if it’s on topic. See possible VERY SHORT, INSUFFICIENT answers to the question asked above.
What responsibilities do you have at work?
Answer 1: A lot. I can’t remember exactly now.
Answer 2: Planning lessons, going to professional development, grading papers.
Answer 3: Oh… I don’t know… so many. Like many.
Answer 4: Only one. Testing computer programs.
Don’t forget that both errors will lead to a lower speaking score.
Tip 7. If you can’t think of anything to say, remember that part 1 is always about yourself. Don’t just freak out and say, “I don’t know”. Develop and explain why you’re not so sure. You do know your own life, and can explore your own experience, so don’t be afraid to say how you feel about one thing or another.
For example: What do you think about maths? – Oh, I’ve never thought about that. Hm, well… I can’t say I love it, because I always struggled with it in middle and high school. But you know, I do realize now that I hated it back then because I didn’t enjoy the way it was taught – it was immensely boring. Oh, and besides, we had huge homework assignments which took hours to do. Nothing to love there!
Typical errors: Giving short answers like “no” and “I don’t know” or giving an irrelevant, off-topic answer.
Here are sample WRONG answers to the question above:
What do you think about maths?
Answer 1: Errm, I don’t know. I just don’t like it. – too short.
Answer 2: Well, you know, my brother loves maths because he thinks it’s the most important science. He says it’s used by all other sciences like physics or chemistry. – irrelevant, because the exam candidate did not express his own attitude towards math but spoke about their brother’s.
Apart from the recommendation for part 1, here’s more useful advice for all parts of the speaking exam.
Remember that one of the most efficient methods to keep track of your performance is recording your speaking answers, listening to them and trying to identify your strong and weak points. Make sure you do that regularly!
We are absolutely sure that when you use the tips for IELTS speaking part 1 we listed in this post, you will come with a brilliant result for your Speaking exam. All the best of luck!
You can download or listen to the audio version here: