The Speaking Module of the IELTS Test consists of three parts that take about 15 minutes to complete.
You will be given a verbal prompt on a card and asked to speak about a particular topic (listed on the card). You will have one minute to prepare before speaking at length, and will need to speak between one and two minutes. Then the examiner will ask you one or two follow up questions.
You and the examiner will engage in a discussion of more abstract concepts and issues which will be linked to the topic you discussed in Part 2. The discussion will last between four and five minutes. You will be scored on how well you are able to communicate effectively in English.
Of all the test modules on IELTS, this is the easiest to prepare for. This is the test module that you can practice anywhere, in your car, in your room, on the phone, by yourself or with someone else. After you successfully pass IELTS, you will be speaking English a lot, so you might as well prepare by speaking it at every opportunity beforehand.
Exhausting the Possibilities
Part 1 will ask basic questions. There are only so many possible basic questions that can be asked about someone. You can easily be prepared for every possibility. Go through and write down all the possibilities and a good answer for each. When you’re asked about your family, you don’t have to struggle to come up with descriptions for your family members. Practice ahead of time and know what you’re going to say. Right now as you’re reading this, stop and take a minute to answer each of these following questions. If you were asked these in an interview, what would you say?
1. Please describe yourself.
2. Please describe your family.
3. Please describe your home.
4. Please describe some of your interests.
5. Please describe your job.
6. Please describe your studies
This is important practice. Make sure that you can spend a minute or so answering each of these questions without having to take time to think of a good response. These are basic questions and you should have your basic answers ready.
Tell a Story
Movie making is a multi-billion dollar industry. Why? It’s because everyone likes to hear a good story, and the best movies contain great stories. The Speaking Module interview can be a big aggravation for both sides. Usually, it is tense, uncomfortable, and boring for both the interviewer and the test taker.
Think about your favorite relatives. In many cases, they are your favorite because they are such raconteurs, or good storytellers. These are your aunts and uncles that can turn a simple trip to the grocery store into high adventure and will keep you captivated and entertained. Even if you’re not a natural storyteller, with a little thought and practice, even you can turn your dull past experiences into exciting exploits.
Stories are your strongest weapon for captivating the interviewer and demonstrating your mastery of speaking English. The questions in Part 2 of the Speaking Module literally beg for stories to be told. These need to be compelling stories, real time drama, and you’re the hero. You want the interviewer begging for more, asking follow-up questions, eager to hear how it ends. Once you begin a quick exciting story, you set the tone of the interview, and you will determine what will be the follow-up questions.
The easiest way to prepare for these Part 2 questions is to scour your memory for any exciting instance in your past. Perhaps where you played a leadership role or accomplished a goal. These can be from any part of your past, during your education, at home with your family, projects at work, or anything that you might have had a part in. Identify the main characteristics of the story, you want to have things straight. Make sure you know the basics of what happened, who was involved, why it occurred, and how the events unfolded sequentially. You certainly don’t want to stumble over the facts and repeat yourself during the interview.
One Size Fits All
These basic stories are building blocks. Just as a piece of timber can be cut into many different shapes and have many completely unique uses, each of your stories does not only answer one unique question. Your stories are one size fits all. With practice you will find that you can use the same story to answer two seemingly unrelated questions.
For example, a question about teamwork and working under pressure can both be answered by a story about your experience playing basketball. The story could describe how you had to work as a team in order to get into the playoffs, spending time practicing together, coordinating plays, whatever was necessary for the team to advance. Alternatively, the story could focus upon the shots that you made that season in order to win the game in the last few seconds of play under enormous pressure. The basic story is the same: your experiences playing basketball.
The questions were different, but you customised the story to fit the question. With practice you should be able to answer almost any question with just a few stock stories that can be customized.
Find the Bridges
Some questions will lend themselves more readily to a story than others. You must have a set of basic stories ready that can be modified to fit the occasion. You must ‘find the bridges’ in the questions offered to make sure your stories get told.
In WWII, the US Army used Bailey bridges. Bailey bridges were bridges made of prefabricated steel sections that were carried around and could be thrown together at a moment’s notice, allowing the army to move quickly across any obstacle and get to where they wanted to go.
You need to find bridges, i.e. opportunities to tell your stories. Look for any chance to turn a standard question about anything, into a bridge to begin telling your story. For example, ‘What is your job title?’
On the surface that might not seem like the ideal bridge, but with a little insight your response might become:
‘My job title is Product Line Manager. I was responsible for everything from the development of new products, to the obsolescence of old products. Marketing, sales, engineering, and production of the entire product line fell under my responsibility. One of the products was even my own idea based on feedback I received from my interactions with our customers. In the first year, it alone had achieved a sales level of over…’
The key to remember is that just because a question is asked as a closed ended question (yes/no, or one word answers), doesn’t mean that you have to answer it as a closed ended question. Answer the question asked, but then find a way to develop your answer and a bridge to a good story of yours. With an open mind, the most closed ended of questions can become a launch pad into a story.
A good story can usually wind its way down a long path. There is always a danger that you will begin to bore the interviewer, who may wonder if an end is in sight. Some interviewers may get worried that they won’t be able to get through the fifteen questions on their list during the allotted time. Therefore, find natural breaks in your story and pause for a second. If the interviewer maintains eye contact or asks continuation questions, then keep going. But this will give them a chance to stop the story and ask a different question if they are getting bored and want to move on.
Taking the Final Step
By trying to answer each of your Part 2 questions with a basic story, you will be able to transition nicely into the final step, Part 3. Part 3 questions are based upon your answers to Part 2 questions and will be asked at the interviewer’s discretion. By using the story techniques listed above, you will have already determined the path that the interviewer will take with his follow-up Part 3 questions. The interviewer will naturally ask questions that tie into your story and you will already be prepared for those questions and will ace Part 3 as easily as the others.
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t try to answer every question by shooting from the hip. You’ll spend most of your time trying to think of what happened and repeating yourself. Think of the classic stories that you could tell and then practice going over them with your friends, explaining how you successfully achieved the goal, or took charge and gave leadership to your group project. You don’t want to have the story memorised, because it will become stale in the telling, but you want it to be smooth. This story must be live and in living color, where the interviewer can see himself taking part on the sidelines and watching the situation take place. Have your friends and family members quiz you by asking you random questions and see how well you can adapt to the question and give a lucid response.