Thursday, 24 May 2012

Getting ready for the IELTS Speaking test

My fantastic and super-intelligent student M is worried about her forthcoming IELTS Speaking test, so today we spent three whole hours working on preparing for Part 2.  I printed out a collection of speaking tasks which I found here.  We picked out the tasks which looked most difficult and she just worked so hard, ploughing through them one after another.  

What really struck me was how much better she did when she was talking about something she felt genuinely enthusiastic about.  There's absolutely no reason why you have to tell the truth in the exam - the examiner will neither know nor care whether you really use the bus instead of your car to help the environment - but when you are inventing things which are not true for you, and doing this under extreme pressure, it's very easy for your language and ideas to be very general.  We have a great word in English to describe something which isn't absolutely terrible but is a bit bland and boring: wishy-washy.  I came to the conclusion that when you are talking about something you have no real feelings about, you can end up sounding a bit wishy-washy, and getting a wishy-washy score.

Do yourself a favour: print or write out as many examples of Part 2 tasks as you possibly can NOW, and spend as long as it takes to think up an interesting answer to every single one.  If you really have to lie, that's fine, but make it an interesting lie, complete with interesting and believable details.  Go through your vocabulary book and  your Ideas Book and make a note of  useful vocabulary for the task - in particular phrases - which will show the examiner what you are capable of.  

As always, don't forget to look at the superb free lessons provided every day by IELTS-Simon (no, he doesn't pay me to say this!) - his blog posts about speaking are here. There isn't a better IELTS resource anywhere.

The other thing you absolutely MUST do is work with a timer - on your mobile phone? - to practise making notes for a minute, then speaking for between one and two minutes (aim for two).  If you can bear it, record yourself and listen to the recording.  Can you hear any errors?  Is there any hesitation or repetition?  Try working with a friend and see if you can spot each other's mistakes.  You might think it's not much fun, but you'll be so glad you invested this effort if you get the score you need.

Of course it's always possible that you will get a Part 2 task that you couldn't possibly have anticipated, but the more you practise quick thinking and rapid planning, the better prepared you will be to cope in that situation.


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