IELTS Speaking Exam – Top Preparation Tips

You mustn’t think that being able to speak and get your point across is sufficient to get you your best possible mark in the IELTS speaking exam. One of the biggest mistakes that some IELTS students make is that they’re not fully prepared for the exam. Another mistake is that students try to sit the exam, long before they are ready. Here at Atlas we provide our students with the techniques that will help them get good marks in the exam.

Let us set out our top tips for preparing for the IELTS speaking exam. We strongly recommend you look at them and incorporate them into your preparation for the exam.

1. Get familiar with what you have to do

You really need to ask yourself how much do you know about the speaking paper and have a long hard think about exactly what language you’ll need to do each part of the speaking exam.

You should identify what the examiners are looking for in each part to get the band score you have targeted, and then focus on producing these while preparing and practising for your upcoming exam.

Here’s a breakdown of the exam.

Part 1 4-5 minutes A conversation between the interlocutor (The person asking you the questions) and each candidate.
Part 2  3-4 minutes An individual ‘long turn’ for each candidate, followed by a response from the second candidate (the content will be both visual and written including spoken instructions)
Part 3  4-5 minutes  A two-way conversation between the candidates (the content will be written, with spoken instructions)

You can find some more information on each part and the marking criteria in the IELTS Handbook here. See pp.11-12. Know what you need to do and get practising.

2. How to improve Part 1

In this part of the speaking test, the examiner will introduce themselves, ask you to confirm your identity and then ask you some general questions on familiar topics. This will generally be the more relaxed part of the test. Here is a list of topics that you could be asked about:





Your hometown

The weather

Your home 



Going out


Leisure time












Daily routine

You will be asked quite simple questions on these topics. Here are some examples:

  • How often do you study?
  • What’s your hometown like?
  • How do you normally spend the weekend?
  • How do you usually get online?
  • Are you still friends with people from when you were a child?

You can find more questions like these on the IELTS Liz blog here.

Extra tip

Short answers won’t get you good marks in the exam. If you answer in short answers such as “Yes”, “No”, “Dublin”, “On Fridays”, etc, you won’t score well in the exam. Make the most of your class-time and extend your answers whenever possible. The more you do this, the more confident you will be when you have to take the exam. To practise for Part 1, we advise that you make sets of questions on everyday topics and try your best to extend your answers.

You can find some more clearer examples of good and bad answers here to give you a better idea of how to extend your answers.

3. How to improve Part 2

For this part of the test, you’re required to speak about a topic for between 1-2 minutes. You also get 1 minute to prepare your answer. To develop your spoken production skills here are some points you to remember when preparing and practising. First, in general, the topics will never be too abstract. However, you could be asked about topics you’ve never thought about so you must be prepared to handle strange topics from time to time.

Let’s have a look at the following question taken from IELTS Advantage and consider what techniques we can employ to answer it effectively.

Describe a plant grown in your country. You should say

  • – what the plant is
  • – where it is grown
  • – why you like or dislike it
  • and explain why it is important to your country.

You will have 1 minute to make notes and then will be asked to speak for between 1-2 minutes.


Tip 1

The first thing you need to recognise is that you will always be given 4 points to answer. From the question above these are:

  1. What the plant is!
  2. Where it is grown!
  3. Why you like or dislike it
  4. Explain why it is important!

At Atlas, we recommend using a quadrant approach when writing your notes:

IELTS quadrant approach.png
By making and referring to notes in this form, you’ll be less likely to forget something because it will be easier to see all the information you need to talk about.

Tip 2

Make sure you write at least three points for each question. For example:
     What is the plant?

  • A shamrock
  • Green with three leaves
  • Not something you would eat

If you do this for each question, you’ll almost certainly have enough to talk about for the two minute smax that you could have for this part of the test.

Tip 3

Generally speaking, you’ll be asked questions about the past, the present, the future, and also your opinion. So make sure you are prepared to use different grammatical structures and language to talk about each one. Here are some core structures you should be able to use with ease.

Used to + infinitive to talk about past habits and states.
Would + infinitive to talk about past actions that you regularly did.
Past simple for things that no longer happen.
Was / were going to to talk about intentions in the past that never happened.

Going to + infinitive to talk about future plans and intentions.
Will or won’t to talk about future predictions.
Future continuous to talk about actions that will be in progress in the future.
Future perfect to talk about actions that will be finished by a certain time in the future.

I’m (not) fond of…
I’m not (keen) on….
Personally, I think ….
In my experience……
As far as I’m concerned ….

Tip 4

Using contrastive language, such as: however, but, although, despite etc., will help give more interesting and balanced answers to help get you extra marks in the exam. Here’s an example…

Although the shamrock is a widely recognised symbol of Ireland, it used to have more importance in religion. I really think it’s a pretty plant. However, I feel its popularity is a bit overrated.

4. How to improve Part 3

For Part 3 the questions will always be based on the topic from Part 2. This part of the exam tends to cause the most difficulty among students. The reason being is that the questions are usually quite abstract, or some specific vocabulary might be used. Here are a few tips that we recommend to our students to help get you through this part:

Tip 1

Prepare for difficult questions by breaking them down into different concepts. By way of example, consider the following this question: How can sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, bring countries closer?

If we break this question down into different parts we can understand the question more fully:

  • How can – in what way can
  • Sporting events – Olympics, world cup, rugby cup, tennis
  • Bring countries closer – build better relationships between countries.

Of course, it is impossible to do this in long-hand in the exam. However, the more you try to do this when preparing for the exam, the more you will be prepared for dealing tricky questions in the real exam.

Tip 2

What do you need to do if you can’t think of an answer straight away? You need to buy time.

You can do this by using pausing vocabulary. The most common way of doing this is when we go “ehhhhh” or “hmm, let me see”. By doing this, our brains are buying time as we try to think of what to say. Other expressions you could use for the same purpose are:

  • That’s an interesting question.
  • I haven’t thought about that before.
  • I’m not quite sure what to say, but let’s see…

You can find expressions like this and more on Dominic Cole’s worksheet here.

Tip 3

Another popular technique that can help you answer the question well is the A.R.E.A technique. This will help you answer the question in a logical and structured way:

  1. Answer: Give a straight up answer to the question
  2. Reason: Why do you think this is? Justify your answer
  3. Example: Always exemplify.
  4. Alternative: Is there an alternative answer or example?

Let’s have a look at how this can be put into practice by looking at the exam question we addressed just beforehand.

How can sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, bring countries closer?

Answer: These events can really build bridges between countries that have had conflicts in the past.
Reason: Because the sports encourage people to play fairly and also show good teamwork that is often respected by individuals.
Example: European countries used to be in conflict with each other. However, through such events, it looks as though we get along a lot better than ever before.
Alternative: Even events such as the Eurovision song contest, which is becoming a worldwide event, is quite a fun-packed evening. People from a wide variety of countries can enjoy time together and share a joke about one another’s favourites.

Applying the AREA model to generating ideas and answering questions, allows you to give a more complete answer. As with all the other top tips, make sure you take them on board, draw up a study plan to get into good habits and get preparing.

Apply the tips above when preparing for the IELTS speaking exam. These techniques will help you in your IELTS exam preparation and help you succeed in the IELTS speaking exam.

At Atlas we offer full-time IELTS exam preparation courses for students wishing to further their English language skills to succeed in the IELTS examination. Our IELTS preparation courses are structured to give you the opportunity to develop and practise the key exam skills around different academic topics each week so you can start at the beginning of any week.

Contact us for more information and if you need help prepare for your IELTS exam.
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