3 IELTS Speaking Secrets You should Know (to Speak Like a Pro)

Monday, March 28, 2016

IELTS speaking secrets

Why do so many candidates get poor a band in IELTS speaking, when there are strategies that involve much less work, cost nothing, and brings high score?

It’s a tough question, but when you look around, there are some people who are able to score 7+ band.

People who are good at speaking in English will end up with a 7+ band score (this is obvious).

What’s this have to do with you?

After all, a good speaker is a good speaker is a good speaker.

Or, maybe…

They have some secret...

Do they know something you don’t?

The answer is Yes!

They do!

I bet, many of those high band candidates, even not aware how they push their speaking band from “average” to “expert” level.

A few weeks ago, when I wrote the article about IELTS speaking band descriptors- point out all key areas of grading an IELTS speech.

Many of you may have read it, but if you didn’t, no worries. Since you read IELTS HELP, you can always find your comfort to read this article.

Okay, so do you remember detail band descriptors, I included in that article?

You know, the ones where I said “lexical resources” or “grammatical range & accuracy” etc.

Well, that was the part where I gave a detail explanation of the technical requirements of the speaking test set by the IELTS consortia.

Today, I am going to tell you three simple, yet profoundly powerful tweaks that an expert speaker uses in IELTS test.

If you follow these…over time, you will see great results pile up.

Here’s the highlight:

1. Speaking academically makes an expert speaker

(That makes sense, right? Think why it is called an IELTS academic module)

2. Avoiding absolute statement is more credible

(What is an absolute statement? It means, speaking strictly without passion or emotion about a debatable topic.)

3. Impromptu speaking is the key

(You have to speak about an unfamiliar topic without any prior preparation- a common situation in speaking part -3)

1. Use Academic Language

Now that you have the highlights, how can you apply these insights directly to your IELTS speaking?

Well, that’s why you come in:  IELTS HELP , after all, is all about breaking down insights from academic research, and showing you how it works for your IELTS preparation.

Speaking with academic language always gets credit in IELTS.

Remember, a lot of people in the world speaks English.

But, while there are different styles of speaking, formal language that is academic helps people to stand out to get out of the rut… even if it’s only for few formal situations-like giving an interview or presentation.

That`s why, if you’re looking to speak in IELTS-which is a formal situation, you’re better off focusing on using academic language that activates positive impression of the examiner.

It helps to raise the band score for candidates in the past, and will continue to do so in future.

What makes a speech academic? And how can you use this in IELTS?

Ever wonder?

Keep reading.

In an English speaking society like in the US or UK, people use to speak “survival” English in daily conversation.

They may use slang and do not always speak with grammatically correct sentence structure.

This is called “social English” which is the lack of sophisticated vocabulary and grammar usages like articles or prepositions.

Academic English and social English are not two separate languages, but they are spoken in different ways.

Academic English is used in the classroom, workplace, discussions/debates, official presentations. These situations demand formal than social English.

However, it is possible to lay the foundation for academic English by learning some basic skills.

If you want to know these skills…..continue reading.

I mean you need to speak more logically, more clearly and more realistically compare to ad hoc conversations in everyday English.

Most important features of academic speech include:

(a) Objectivity

The first rule is not to speak about personal biases or preferences.

Rather use some issues for reasoning to arrive at a position to make a personal judgment.

Remember, I said: personal judgment (not personal comment).

You will often use ‘I’, ‘You’ and ‘We’ in your IELTS test.

However, speaking 'I' does not mean you are doing anything wrong.

When you speak about something- use examples and logical arguments to present your  own evaluation on the topic.

Still not clear.

Let`s compare these two examples:

Example 1: I think global warming is a truth as we can see many climatic disasters in daily newspaper.
Example 2:  The realty of current global warming is a controversial issue (argument). Scientists studying Antarctic ice layers are saying it`s a cyclic phenomenon and nothing to worry about. While we have also report of abrupt changes of temperature and sea level (example). Saying that, I think we are living in the era of sudden global warming (opinion).

See how I use arguments and examples one after another to reach a personal opinion in the second example.

And that`s the key.

Another way to sound more objective in your speaking test is to use passive verbs and use of "It".

For example,

It can be concluded that... (we are living in the era of global warming)
It is evident that.....

(b) Formality

Imagine a casual speech between friends at venues, like a bar.

What do you think of this type of language register: formal or informal?

Off course, it should be informal.

Informal English is the language spoken by most people every day by not using proper grammar and vocabulary.

Now, what about speaking in your IELTS exam?

Here you should use vocabulary and expressions that characterize the academic area of language.

Look at this prescribed format of formal speaking:

  • Conjunctions (e.g. accordingly, therefore, subsequently) are used to link sentences
  • Speaker will pronounce complete words (e.g. speakin vs speaking )
  • Complete response with precise vocabulary (e.g. father vs. dad, child vs. kid, etc.).
For example:

Informal : I do not think it is a good idea to do anything at the moment.

Formal: It could be suggested that no action should be taken at this stage (action vs do; at the moment vs at this stage).

Academic speaking demands you to choose words with precision. Here is the infographic presenting some informal words (left) and their formal substitute on right side.

ielts speaking formal language

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2. Avoid absolute statements

The absolute statement means speaking on behalf of your personal prejudice.

It gives no exceptions to the listener-weakens your speech and eventually lower your band score.
Any statement you speak in IELTS should be as humble as possible in hopes of avoiding criticism or disagreement.

To do this:

You must be familiar with the art of Argument.

Argumentation is an act of persuasion on a debatable topic.

Notice I use the word “debatable”; which means -argument does not occur where there is a consensus (like: sun rise in the east and set in the west).

Argumentation is also a social process. We spend time arguing about what to eat, whom to invite, when to do things, and where to go.

As a process, arguments unfold one wishes/statement to persuade the audience to support it.

The key concept here is "to convince the audience," that is, you must make them believe your position; accept your logic and evidence.

However, it is easy to present an argument in your IELTS writing test.

But, arguments are difficult to develop orally (in IELTS speaking test).

Listeners often understand individual sentences rather than their totality.

For example, you can say:

Air pollution is a very common scenario in modern cities. Increasing use of automobile emit fumes that contains carbon dioxide (Co2). Inhaling too much carbon dioxide in injurious to health.

Here, a listener will understand individual sentences like: air pollution is an urban scenario/Car emit CO2/CO2 is not good for health; rather than connecting the ideas presented in those 3 sentences: Co2 from car creates air pollution in cities.

You can use non-verbal communication like changing pitch, gesture and tone of voice (hyperlink) to avoid misunderstanding.

A well-structured argument has four elements:

Claim, reason, support and warrant.

Step 1: Claim

Do not mix the idea of claim with personal opinion.

Personal opinion: I thought the movie was cool.

(Heck, It`s not arguable statement)

Claim: I thought Leonardo DiCaprio showed his best performance in that movie.

(Anyone can disagree/argue for why that movie was not DiCaprio`s best)

Step 2: Reason

Here you give a statement to support your claim.

(Why do you believe the movie is DiCaprio`s best?)

The performance of DiCaprio was so real in that movie when you could see him eating raw bison liver.

(Here, the reason is his performance was realistic)

Step 3: Support

Here you need to support your claim and reason with evidence.

Evidence offers challenges to disagree with your claim.

It could be in the form of specific examples, statistics, data, testimonies and narratives.

That is why I am not surprised why DiCaprio wins the best actor`s award  in recent Oscar.

(Here you are giving real-time testimonials to show why you claim him as best actor).

Step 4: Warrant

Warrant connects the evidence to the claim.

It answers the question:
"Why do you believe that the SUPPORT justifies the claim or reason being made?"

Winning the Oscar certainly proves his best performance in that movie.

3. Impromptu speaking is the key

According to Wikipedia definition:

“Impromptu speaking is a speech that involves a five- to eight-minute speech with a short preparation time of one to seven minutes”

At this point of view, I remember what Mark Twain once said:

It takes 3 weeks for Mark Twain while you just have 1 MINUTE in IELTS speaking part-2 (cue card) and exactly ZERO minute in part -3.

That means, you should be able to speak naturally on any topic!

Can you?

Some people just have “it,” don’t they?

They are like living in a confident air. They seem especially wise. They have ready answers for any question.

Are these people born or made? Maybe a few lucky souls come out of the womb as fully formed natural speaker. The rest of us have to learn it the hard way.

But it’s worth the effort. Let’s look at the steps you can take to become a natural speaker in any IELTS speaking questions.

  • WH Method
How do you become that “tip of the tongue”to answer any question.

You just need information.

“Where can you find information about [your topic]?”

In that case….

My favorite structure is WH method that can help you in any spontaneous speaking situations.

It is useful even if you forget the specifics of what you imagine answering the question.

Let`s have a look at this IELTS speaking part-2 question:


Describe something you did that was new or exiting.

Answer :

Just tell about a specific event, example or experience

- when it happened.
- why it happened
- where it happened
- what caused it to happen
- who was involved
- how it happened

You see, how just thinking about these WH words (when/why/where/what/who/how..happened) can make your answer spontaneous.

  • PREP Method
Maybe you speak with persistence by applying WH method.

But if people skip over your words just answering WH questions they`ll be too odd to listen, why bother speaking then?

Think of the "PREP" system.

* P >Point
Make your point (Opening)

* R >Reason
State your reason for making the point

* E >Example
Give an example to justify your reason

* P >Point
Links the conclusion back to the opening.

Your speech won’t just sound natural and spontaneous — it will bring you good score, too.

Want to see the PREP method in action?

Let`s do..


Why do you think some people like doing new things?
#Point: People are always looking for the new thing.

#Reason:  This is the very common human instinct that drives us to taste new thing.

#Example: Think about Hi5 as the only popular social networking site in 2006 and it just disappears with the advent of Facebook.

#Point : So, it is no surprise why people like doing new things and get boredom with old staff. 

  • PPF Method
The past-present-future method applied to every IELTS speaking topic you could imagine.

The rule is simple: first look at the history of your topic, then describe the current situation, then speculate on the future.

You can demonstrate your knowledge of a wider range of structures to prove– Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Assessment Criteria).

It also helps you talk for longer in the Speaking test, fulfilling the Assessment Criteria – Fluency and Coherence.

Point- Make your point (Opening)
Celebrating Christmas is a parts and parcel of not only for our religious but also for our social life.

Past- The way it was before (Body)
In the past we celebrate it this way because ......."

Present- The way it is now (Body)
However we now do it this way because .....'

Future -The way it desire to be (Body)
In the future we envisage that .........."

Reminder of the main point in brief-
Whatever the circumstances, Christmas celebration always revitalized our life.

  • Comparison/Contrast Method
Think of this situation..

You are speaking in IELTS and suddenly your mind goes blank.

You don’t know what to say…even though the minimum speaking time is only two minutes (in Cue card section).

An effective technique (to overcome this situation) is comparing and contrasting, speaking about similarities and differences.

Comparison concentrates on the similarities between two subjects while contrast shows the differences.

There are many keywords you can use for expressing comparison and contrast in English.

To express comparison:

Like/ similar/ as same/ in the same way/ too/ have in common/the same as /similarly/as well as

The North Pole and the South Pole are similar if we consider the landscape.

To express contrast:

Although/ whereas/however/instead/unlike/ on the contrary/even though on the other hand

However, The North Pole and the South Pole are different if we consider the diversity of life.

If you train yourself to express your ideas using compare-contrast method, it will help you to prolong your speech.

Moreover, with compare/contrast method, your speech would be:

  • Better reasoned:  by discussing both side of the question
  • Better evidenced: by logically connecting pros & cons makes your argument better evidenced.
Want to see this method in action?

Examiner: Do you think reducing private car usage will solve the current traffic congestion or we should build more traffic infrastructures?

Candidate:  One can suggest that bringing down personal car usage is better than building more roads, metros or underground transport, but I disagree. (Point)

In a way, both of these methods will solve the congestion problem with some extent. (Similarity)

However, the later remedial approach is expensive and time-consuming than the former one. (Contrast)

But, considering the ever increasing city dwellers, congestion problem can be solved by building more and more traffic infrastructure in the long run. (Reminder)

  • Cause-Effect Method
Sometimes, assigned topics on the IELTS speaking test ask you to explain the reasons or causes of something.

On top of that, some topics lend themselves best to a cause and effect reply.

For example,

Q: “Do you think advertising influences what people buy?” (Advertising =Cause; Buy=Effect)

A : Ads do have some influence on what we buy (topic sentence). No one will buy something that they don't know exists, no doubt about that (supporting sentence). Advertising is simply informing people of the existence of products they might be interested in buying. The net effect is that one is more unwilling to buy, or at least try, the product (effect).

Notice how each supporting sentence is a cause that explains the effect mentioned in the topic sentence.

  • Problem-Solution-Benefit
What’s more persuasive?


We need to plant more trees to combat global warming.

Or this:

High Level of CO2 emissions is causing warming on a global scale (problem). Reforestation might seem like a simple solution to combat this global warming (solution). Tree-planting will absorb most of the CO2 of the atmosphere and reduce this adverse effect (benefit).

You may think (or feel) worry about the difference between these statements, but the truth is…

…one IS more persuasive than the other, and when you know how—and why.

There is no doubt that problem-solution-benefit is good for persuading and motivating examiner especially in part-3 of your IELTS speaking test—you can take full advantage of it.

All you need to do is discuss any problem briefly, mention the possible solutions, then spend more time in showing why one solution is better to solve the issue – give you plenty of time prolong the answer for a higher score.


IF you want to be an expert level speaker in IELTS, you need to prepare for it. The 6 method (& 3 broad guidelines) that I share in this article should have helped you to trace the thin line between an expert and average English speaker.

The final call for your speaking strategy should be how smart (with appropriate structure) you present the answer and not to overlong the answer.

Think critically about the solution in the article before your IELTS speaking test to adjust your speaking strategy.