English proficiency exams such as IELTS and Cambridge assess your abilities in English in different ways, like using a listening or speaking tests in them. Many English students feel a bit insecure about having their speaking skills evaluated, but knowing what you should focus on and how you should act is the first step to nail this assessment.

What exactly are the Cambridge and IELTS speaking exams like?

If you choose to take the Cambridge exam, you will do a speaking evaluation with another student. There will be two examiners watching you, but only one will talk.

The exam is divided into 4 parts:

  1. In the first one you will be asked questions individually about your life;
  2. In the second part, you will receive some visual and written content including spoken instructions. Each candidate will have an individual “long turn”, followed by a response from the second candidate;
  3. The third part is a two-way conversation between the candidates about the content present by the examiner, with spoken instructions;
  4. The last part is a discussion on the third part topic.

The IELTS speaking test is a bit different – each candidate does the exam individually, face to face with the examiner. The test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes and has three parts:

  1. You start with answering questions about yourself and your family;
  2. In the second part you will be asked questions about a specific topic (chosen by the examiner);
  3. In the third and last part, you will have a longer discussion about the topic introduced in Part 2.

What do the English speaking examiners expect from the candidates?

The most important thing to do well in an English speaking test is to know what examiners expect from the candidates and try to deliver as much of it as possible. The test is made to analyze your ability to respond to questions and interact in conversational English, as well as developing conversation and the use of appropriate functional language. It is important that the candidates speculate, deduct and express personal opinions very well.

During the exam, you will not only be tested on your ability to answer questions with detailed answers using appropriate grammar and vocabulary but also on your capacity to communicate with your partner or examiner, showing interest and making the topics sounding relevant to you.

Here are some basic tips to nail your speaking exam:

Make sure to always give extended answers

The examiner might ask you some basic questions like “Where are you from?”. If this happens, make sure you give an extended answer and make it more interesting. Explain in more details from which city you are from, how far it’s from some other known places and where you are living at the moment. Show the examiner that you can use adjectives and the right vocabulary even in basic questions. Remember that complex sentences are what will get you good marks.

The way you interact and your body language are also important:

Once your partner or the examiner makes a comment, make sure you respond directly to what they say and justify why you agree or disagree with them. When speaking, try to turn your body slightly towards the other candidate, and make sure to look at them and listen to what they are saying. It’s very important to nod, smile and show interest. Looking confident will also make you get higher points.

Create some time for yourself

Using the right vocabulary can help you buy a little more time when giving answers. Some examples are “let me see”, “that’s a tricky question”, “I’m not quite sure about what to say”, “I haven’t thought about that question before”.

You can ask the interlocutor to repeat the question

Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat the question, but make sure to use the correct vocabulary when doing that. Some good ways to say that are: “Could you repeat the question, please?”, or “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that. Could you say the last part again, please?”

Use lots of emphatic languages

A good English speaker knows how to use emphatic language to create more interesting answers. You can do that by using collocations that intensify your sentences, such as adverbs and adjectives. Some examples are: – “I’m deeply disappointed”;- “I have a great passion for…”;- “I sincerely hope…”;- “I honestly believe…”

Use the time that it’s given to you wisely

During the speaking exam, you will have 15 minutes of evaluation, a really short time. That is because you have to divide this quarter of an hour with the examiner who will speak during the exam, ask questions and present the topics – in the case of taking the Cambridge exam with your partner.  It’s very important that you don’t take any second for granted and use all the opportunities to show the examiners your vocabulary, grammar, knowledge, and use of English. Even if you are not so sure what to speak about, or if you realize you just made a big grammar mistake, keep talking. It will prove that you have the vocabulary, that you can fix the mistakes you made, and that you are an English speaker. So, just keep talking every time it’s your turn to do that in the exam.

Erin School of English provides TIE exam preparation included in our General English course tuition, with upgrade to IELTS and Cambridge available for a small fee. Learn more here >>

I hope that these tips will help you to feel more confident and ready for your English speaking exam. Your English teacher can also help you prepare for it, don’t be shy to ask for suggestions and tips to keep improving.

Author: Juliana Hansen