IELTS Speaking: How to Speak and Practice in Part 2

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Consider the following points, before you do any practice on IELTS Speaking Part 2.

1. More than 9 out of 10 candidates in the Speaking test have never done a Part 2, under test conditions, before they do the real test! This is like entering a swimming competition never having participated in a serious game of swimming before!
2. What are the results of this lack of experience?

Firstly, many candidates find that the 1 minute of thinking time is too short – they can't think of enough things to talk about. As a result, they can only talk for a little while before stopping to think of what to say next. This results in a loss of points for fluency.

Secondly, because these candidates have never done a Part 2 under test conditions, they have very little idea of how fast the time is passing. So, when the examiner asks them to stop talking, they think they still have about 1 minute left when, in fact, the full 2 minutes have passed. In other words, many candidates do not manage their time well – they speak too slowly and do not have enough time to talk about the last line on the task card that begins with the words, "and explain ….". This line is possibly the most important point on the task card, and this non-completion of the task can also possibly result in a loss of points for the fluency/coherence sub-score (this time, a loss of coherence points because, without answering the last line, your story is incomplete and makes a lot less sense.) 

  • Let's review what the real test conditions are for Part 2.

a)     You are given a Part 2 topic that you may have never seen before.

b)     You have only 1 minute to think about the topic before you start speaking.

c)     You have to speak continuously for between 1 and 2 minutes.

Before you slowly read and think about any Part 2 topic that you may have never read before, the best study method is to first try to answer the question as if you were really doing the Speaking test. After you have done this, you can then spend more time thinking about and preparing how to answer that topic better.

The Steps

1.     Put a clock, a stopwatch or some other timing device on your desk. If you can, set it so that it can tell you when 1 minute has passed.

2.     Have a piece of paper and a pencil ready for making notes.

3.     Have a tape recorder/ your smart phone with recording function ready to record what you say. A recording of your 'little story' will help you analyze how well you spoke and help you to fix some of your weaknesses in speaking.

4.     Now go to the new Part 2 topic ( = a Part 2 topic that you have not read before) and strictly give yourself only 1 minute to read it and prepare to answer it. Don't give yourself 2 minutes to think about the topic and certainly don't give yourself 5 or 10 minutes to think about the topic. Make notes if you want to. If I have a link to notes for this topic, don't read them now – wait until you do your in-depth preparation after this first attempt at answering the question.

5.     After you have thought about the topic for 1 minute, set the timer at 2 minutes, turn on the tape recorder/or the app from your smart phone and speak your answer for more than 1 minute but no more than 2 minutes. Close to 2 minutes is much better than just a little more than 1 minute.

6.     After you have spoken your little story, listen to yourself on the recorder and think about ways you could have spoken better.

For example, in this analysis of your recording, if you stopped speaking for an unnaturally long period because you couldn't think of the exact word you wanted to say, use a dictionary to find the correct word. (But be careful about using words that are new to you. Very often when people use new words without thoroughly studying these new words, they use them unsuitably and/or mispronounce them.)

Similarly, if you recognize that you made a grammar mistake or if you had trouble composing a certain sentence, look in some grammar book or just simply check it online (Google it – “Google” now can be used as a verb) to see how this sentence should be correctly made. As well as that, think about ways that you could have spoken more continuously.

Even though you are not an expert, you will be able to recognize weaknesses and mistakes in your spoken story and fix some of these weaknesses and mistakes. Overall, I do believe this review of your recorded story is a valuable way to improve your English, but don’t spend too much time listening to yourself and trying to improve your performance.

7.     After you have done this "Three Minute Training Exercise", you can then spend as much time as you like thinking about and preparing an improved answer.

I suggest you do not write a 'speech' and then try to memorize this speech, word for word. Why not? Firstly, most examiners, most of the time, know when you are speaking a prepared speech and they don't like it because they think this is not natural communication, which is what your answers are supposed to be. Not only that, a prepared answer shows that you knew what the question was before the test and you are not supposed to know that! If the examiner is quite sure that your answer was a 'prepared speech', he or she can ignore your answer completely! And the examiner might actually reduce your score if he or she is quite sure it was almost all a memorized 'speech'. As well as that, some of the examiners I work with tell me that they will be less friendly towards you and will ask you questions in Part 3 that are more difficult than they usually ask, just to teach you a lesson!

Another reason not to write and memorize an answer is that most people's answers will sound like written English, not spoken English.

Besides, with so many different Part 2 topics being possible right now, you do not have time to write and memorize answers for all of them.

Instead, I suggest you prepare a list of key words and key short expressions (and perhaps a few key, short complete sentences) and memorize these.

After a few days, you can test yourself on this same topic again and see if you can remember your key words and expressions. It is best to record yourself again when you test yourself again.

8.     Since you will be spending only about 4 minutes on each topic when you do this "Three Minute Training Exercise", I suggest answering more than 1 topic in one sitting.

9.     Is it a good idea to study those model Part 2 answers that are found in IELTS Speaking textbooks? Yes, I think reading these model answers is good because you can learn things from these model answers but you should read the answers aloud, not just read them in your head. As well as that, you should not try to memorize long passages of English, word-for-word like a poem because IELTS examiners usually recognize when you are speaking long passages of memorized English. Instead, it is a good idea to memorize, word-for-word, many short pieces of English such as phrases, and short sentences.

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