With the vast majority of band 7 and 8 IELTS students, speaking is generally at a good level. However, what can happen is that the general good level of speaking is not always reflected in the exam result and students who are fluent and confident can sometimes score 6.5 and then have to re-take the exam. It is a great shame when this happens as it is completely avoidable by practising.
I would say that the one area of IELTS that is practised the least on balance is speaking yet the thing is that you are in almost 100% control of your speaking exam! As long as you provide a sensible answer to the questions you are asked, you can actually say whatever you want. This means that you can potentially get a very high band as long as you perform well.
So, in terms of practice what does this mean?
Well, it means that firstly you need a good command of spoken English. If you already have this – good, if you don’t, then put in place a method of getting it and the only way to improve speaking is to speak. Find people to speak to – they don’t have to be native speakers, but they do need to be at the same level if not better. Join groups online, arrange with friends to have an English speaking meeting regularly and stick to this.
If you are living in an English speaking country then find opportunities to speak regularly – join a club, meet friends (invite them out or for dinner once you do this they will probably reciprocate and then you will build a friendship which will not only help you in your IELTS but also in settling into your new place).
Whatever you do, don’t leave speaking practice until the last minute; it will be too late to do anything about your level.
Speaking at work is good and means that you are constantly using English but you will find that you use the same words and sentences most of the time so there is an advantage from meeting socially, online or off, to practise and get exposure to lots of different topics. Make sure you also use the opportunities in breaks and at lunch to continue with English.
Once you have some way of practising speaking regularly you can then address your preparation for the exam itself. This is a structured exam not just a chat, it is important to remember this so that you are alert to the things the examiner will be looking out for such as good vocabulary, idioms, a range of structures and good pronunciation.
Remember the more you speak the more fluent you will become and the easier it will be to speak in the exam. If you are concerned about your level of spoken English then it might be an idea to have some lessons with a teacher to get this assessed – if you practise English with mistakes – you’ll get fluent at the mistakes too!
Here are 8 easy things you can do to improve your speaking.
- Go out for ‘English’ dinner with ielts friends once a week
- Find an online group (or start one yourself on Skype) and meet regularly (2 or 3 times a week)
- Write down a list of IELTS topics and practise speaking about one each day for 2 minutes
- Buddy up with a friend who is also taking IELTS and practise the exam – one is the examiner and the other the candidate then swap
- Record yourself practising Part 2 then listen and re-record it to make it better – do this a few times with the same topic
- Work on your pronunciation – the best place is the bathroom with a mirror – practise any sounds that you might have problems with
- Video yourself answering the IELTS questions in your book – see how you sound and look
- Find apps and sites to check pronunciation – many only work on individual words but you could try them out for a fun way to improve pronunciation