Most people experience some level of anxiety during a test. How could they not? They are questioned and evaluated by someone with superior knowledge in order to get the results on which so many things might depend. That sounds tough. Still, you should not allow your anxiety to affect the test performance.
First, get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam so that you don’t find it hard to concentrate. Second, allow yourself plenty of time, and get to the test centre a little early; being in a rush can only add to the stress level. Third, make sure you spend some time before the test speaking, listening or reading in English as it will set your mind to an English mode and help you find words quickly. But most importantly, be prepared! You’ll feel much more self-assured if you’re familiar with the test format and the interviewer’s expectations.
In Part 1, expect the interviewer to greet you, introduce him/herself, and ask you to clearly state your name, confirm your country of origin and provide your identification. You will then proceed to answer questions about yourself, your home, your occupation, your family, your interests, and a range of other familiar topics. So, remember to:
- prepare the language you will need before the test
Make sure you know the words to describe your personality, hometown and home country, job or studies, family relations and hobbies.
- provide full answers to all questions
There are two types of questions you may be asked: Wh-questions and Yes/No questions. The former ask for specific information (What kind of music do you listen to?) and usually get longer answers. The latter requires a simple answer, Yes. or No. (Do you listen to music?) and thus can make a response short. Add more information to extend your answers, for example: Yes, I enjoy listening to classical music when I study, but I prefer pop music when I go dancing.
- give information by describing and explaining
Join sentences by using connectors such as so and because. The first one introduces the result of something (I’m not really into sports, so I don’t enjoy watching sports events.), the other talks about the reason why something happens (I’ve changed my lifestyle and eating habits because it’s very important to have a balanced diet and exercise regularly.).
In Part 2, the examiner will give you a card with a question and prompts related to a particular topic. For example, Describe a book that has had a big effect on you. You should say what kind of book it was, when you read it and why you chose it. You will have one minute to prepare and around two minutes to respond. Make sure you use all the prompts to develop your ideas into a speech and talk at length on the topic. Try to:
- make notes about what you will say
Use the piece of paper and the pen that the interviewer will give you. You don’t need to write full sentences — use points, abbreviations and symbols. Your notes will help you organize what you say and remind you of what you want to talk about.
- expand your notes into full sentences
Provide more information by giving details and using examples from your own life. This will show that you can elaborate on a topic and use a range of vocabulary and grammar structures. Enjoy the experience of telling the interviewer as much interesting information about yourself as you can.
When the examiner will ask one or two follow up questions to finish this part of the test, answer fully.
In Part 3, the interviewer will enlarge on things which were discussed in Part 2, possibly starting by asking you to describe something, then asking you to attempt something a little more difficult like comparing, evaluating or speculating. For example, Describe how books are important to everyday life in your country. Compare the importance of literature now and in the past, when your grandparents were young. What do you think will be the effects of literature on future societies? It is not possible to predict what questions will come up in Part 3, but the topic will be related to your Part 2 topic. Some questions will naturally follow the answers you are giving. Aim to:
- weigh up both sides of a question
The questions in Part 3 ask you to think more broadly about a given topic and to discuss it in relation to wider issues. Think about the topic from many perspectives using phrases such as On the one hand… and On the other hand…
- explain and justify your opinions
Always give your opinion and use a variety of phrases to express it. For instance, In my view…, As far as I’m concerned…, or To be honest, I think… In case you don’t have a strong opinion on a given issue, don’t be afraid to admit that (I have mixed views on that…). When you disagree, remain polite by saying That’s a good point, but I think… or I see things differently myself. But no matter what your opinion is, always back it up with reasons and develop your ideas by offering examples of what you mean.
- give in-depth answers
If you need some time to collect your thoughts, use fillers like Well…, Let me think… or That’s an interesting question. This will give you a chance to prepare what you will say without leaving a long pause. If you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification or repetition. Check information by asking: Can you say that again, please? Would you mind repeating that? The interviewer can ask questions to confirm information. Use polite expressions when you reply: Yes, that’s right. I’m afraid that’s not right. Or, rephrase your ideas by saying What I mean is…, To put it another way…
The questions will change from personal (in Part 1) to general (in Part 3), and become a little more difficult as Part 3 proceeds, so remember to be ready to use a good range of vocabulary and grammar to discuss abstract topics. Make use of synonyms and paraphrasing and try to control your accuracy. But remember that your ability to communicate effectively is also assessed by measuring your fluency, coherence, and pronunciation. That’s why you should try to speak without too many pauses, plainly express ideas supporting them with examples, speak clearly and use stress and intonation to make what you say sound interesting.
Finally, the interviewer will conclude the Speaking test, so remember to say goodbye!