We all want to get a high score on IELTS. But, even if you are a native speaker, you are bound to make some mistakes in every part of the test. The IELTS speaking mistakes fall into three main categories. This post will examine them one by one and give you tips on how to avoid them.
The mistakes you make on IELTS can be related to the:
1. Structure of the exam;
It might be surprising for you to see that language-related mistakes are just one of the three types of mistakes here. But, remember, the skill of speaking English is different from the skill of passing an English-speaking exam.
IELTS Speaking Mistakes I: Structural
Mistake: Not keeping time.
IELTS is a timed exam. And, it is timed pretty precisely. Not sticking to time requirements is the easiest way to lose valuable points.
You can have points deducted both for speaking too much and going over time, and for speaking too little.
Practice the exact structure of the exam before you take it. Most of us don’t know how a minute of time feels in regular circumstances, and when you’re under exam-stress the way you perceive time will be different. What feels like a minute might be five minutes, and the reverse.
Practising in conditions similar to those of an exam will help you get used to how time feels when you’re stressed.
Time your sentences. We normally are not aware of the speed of our speech. To give yourself an idea of that, time yourself when you practice. You can do it as you talk to yourself using prompts from sample IELTS speaking tests.
When you learn how much it takes you to say a sentence, you will be able to estimate how many sentences you have to say in each specific part of the IELTS exam. This is especially important for part 2, where you are asked to give a 3-4-minute talk.Practice the exact structure of the IELTS exam before you take it Click To Tweet
Mistake: Not answering the question.
Imagine the examiner asks you if you like ice cream. You reply to them in perfect English how your mum bought an ice cream machine and made beetroot ice cream. Even though the answer was perfectly fluent and related to the topic, because you failed to mention whether you like ice cream or not, the examiner will give you less points.
This mistake happens when the student gets excited about the topic of the conversation and stops paying attention to the details of the question, or… if the student doesn’t understand the question.
Before you start answering make sure you understand the question. If you feel you don’t ask for clarification using phases like:
- “Can you please repeat the question?”
- “Could you rephrase the question?”
- “Do you mean…..?”
Pay attention to specific question words used by the examiner — what, who, why, how, etc. They will indicate the kind of information the examiner wants to hear. Before you answer, repeat these question words in your head to make sure your answer includes all the necessary elements!Before you start answering a question on IELTS speaking exam make sure you understand it. Click To Tweet
IELTS Speaking Mistakes II: Interaction Style
Mistake: Asking for examiner’s opinion.
It seems like a great way to buy yourself time to think about an answer, but believe us, the examiner will see through it. The purpose of the exam is to test your English, not the examiner’s! Utilising all the speaking time you have is a better way to get a higher score.
Don’t ask. If you don’t immediately know what to say to answer the examiner’s question, use a phrase that will buy you some time.
If you honestly care about examiner’s opinion — sorry, IELTS speaking exam not the right time to ask!
Mistake: Too short answers.
The questions you are asked, especially in part one of the speaking exam, can seem too easy. “Where do you live?”, “Are you a student?”, “Do you like your job?” — all these could be answered with one word: London, yes, no. That doesn’t mean they should be!
Elaborate. Treat examiner’s questions as prompts — invitations to talk about a topic. After a one word answer explain a little more about your answer.A one-word answer on IELTS is *not* an answer! Click To Tweet
Mistake: Wasting time on thinking what to say.
You do need to spend some time thinking about your answer: making sure you’re using the right grammar, that your answering the question, that you’re using varied vocabulary.
The problem comes when you’re faced with a question to which you don’t immediately know the answer and you spend time thinking what story to relate. Let’s see some examples of questions that can cause that:
- What has made you smile lately?
- When was the last time you did something new?
- Who is your favourite superhero?
It might be that you don’t remember the last time something made you smile, or when you did something new, and you don’t really care about superheroes. What to do?
Use imagination. The examiner is not a policeman, they are not testing your truthfulness, and will not double-check the details of what you said with your mother. Their goal is to test your English. The more speaking abilities you demonstrate, the higher the chances for a better score.
It's ok to use imagination and make up stories during IELTS! Click To Tweet
It might be hard to come up with an invented story during an exam — not all of us are writers or storytellers! A good idea might be to use a real situation as a basis of your story and only add invented details.
Mistake: Memorising answers.
Thinking on the spot in a foreign language is hard, and so it’s tempting to prepare answers in advance and memorise them. Why is this not a good approach? Think about it — there is an endless number of questions the examiner can ask you and it’s impossible to prepare for all options. A memorised answer is likely not to answer the questions (see point 2!) will sound dull and artificial.
A big part of the IELTS exam is to assess your ability to hold a conversation, and a conversation is a dynamic exchange.
Solution: Practice different topics.
The solution is not an original one: Make sure to practice speaking as much as you can! But, more than that, practice different topics of conversation.
If you only talk about your favourite films the only skill you’ll develop is… talking about your favourite films! You can try using language exchange apps to get connected to people from different cultures and different interests — you will have a higher chance of discussing new topics!
Mistake: Flat intonation.
IELTS is primarily a conversation. And, one thing students forget is that speaking is not a one way process. It’s not just about you producing the words and grammar, but also about being understood.
Flat intonation also makes your answer sound artificial, it becomes hard to follow and understand. Additionally, pronunciation is an important factor influencing not only if the examiner understand you, but also your overall score.
Pronunciation it constitutes 25% of the IELTS speaking exam score!
When you practice speaking with a tutor or a friend, watch their level of engagement. Ask them later if what you were talking about was interesting and easy to follow.
Mistake: Mixing speaking and writing conventions.
This applies especially to the second part of the test where you’re asked to speak for 3-4 minutes. It’s tempting to structure your talk the same way as you would a piece of writing — using a lot of transition words and linking phrases. This can happen especially if you decide to write down everything that you plan to say during your talk, and then just read it out.
Remember that speech and text are governed by different conventions, and some transition words are not suitable for speech. Using too many words like therefore, thus, heretofore can make you sound artificial.
Don’t try to write out everything you’re planning to say during your talk. What you may want to jot down are:
- The general structure of your talk;
- Keywords and topics you want to cover;
- Perhaps some relevant quotes;
- Idioms, and more “impressive” words or phrases to make sure you don’t forget to use them.
Mistake: Saying: “I don’t understand.”
Don’t worry, this is not to say you are expected to understand everything immediately. It’s ok not to understand, but this phrase will not encourage the examiner to help you in anyway.
The phrase “I don’t understand” may suggest you’re giving up.
You can express a similar meaning in different words, for example, if you didn’t hear exactly what the examiner said you can say:
- Could you repeat, please?
- Excuse me, could you say that again, please?
You can also ask them to paraphrase or explain the question:
- I’m not sure what you mean, could you explain?
- Could you rephrase the question, please?
Exam stress and unexpected questions can sometimes make you fall silent — this is one of the most common IELTS speaking mistakes. But remember, you are not marked for silence, but for speaking!
Buy yourself some time with filler expressions — expressions that will let you think a little more about what you want to say. For example:
- This is an interesting question.
- I find it very hard to answer.
- I never thought about this question before.
- Nothing immediately comes to mind, but…
IELTS Speaking Mistakes III: Language
Mistake: Confusing adjectives with adverbs.
Adjectives are the words that describe nouns, for example in a sentence: A green car. “Green” is an adjective, describing the colour of the car.
Adverbs describe verbs: He paints beautifully. “Beautifully” is an adverb describing the manner in which he paints. Learners often confuse the two and say things like:
- I work efficient. Rather than efficiently.
- I learn quick. Rather than quickly.
Mistake: very + noun
Students can sometimes follow the adjective very with a noun rather than an adverb, creating incorrect sentences like:
- My notebook is very colour, rather than very colourful.
The solution to all language-related speaking mistakes is to work with a tutor. Ask them to point your mistakes out to you.
Another idea is to record yourself speaking on a particular topic and listen out for these mistakes. Take note of them, and then try to talk about the same thing again, this time trying to avoid previous errors.
This was a long list of IELTS speaking mistakes, wasn’t it? Well, now that you know all the solutions you have no excuse for making them! 😉