The IELTS Speaking test is the first or last part of IELTS. It takes between 11 to 14 minutes. During this time, an examiner asks a candidate about 25 questions. The examiner may seem a little unfriendly because he or she does not give any opinions or encouragement.
There are three parts to Speaking. Part 1 deals with personal questions – where you live, what you do – plus two short familiar topics. In Part 2, the candidate speaks on one topic that the examiner chooses for two minutes. That’s around 350 words. In the last part, the examiner asks questions related to the Part 2 topic. These are no longer about the candidate but about the world beyond. Since these questions are more abstract, they are more diﬃcult.
The examiner asks questions from a script for Parts 1 and 2, but makes up the questions based on general ideas in Part 3. For example, a Part 1 question written in the script for the examiner might be: ‘Where is your home town?’, or: ‘Do you like sport?’ In Part 3, the examiner is interested in language functions, or the ideas behind words. One function might be: suggestion. The examiner’s information is: (Suggest) how urban sprawl could be controlled. The examiner will change this into a question like: ‘What are some ways land in cities might be used so that cities don’t keep growing?’ Or, for: (Speculate) on the development of mega-cities, the examiner might ask: ‘What do you think might happen in future: will there be more medium-sized cities, or more very, very big cities, like Shanghai?’ This could be followed up with: ‘What are the advantages of extremely large cities?’ or: ‘What challenges do extremely large cities present for governments?’
Examiners do special training for the IELTS Speaking test. During this they learn how to ask easy questions in Part 3 for IELTS Fours and Fives, and harder ones for higher-level candidates. Because the examiner works at the candidate’s level, it’s quite hard for someone to judge how well he or she did in the test.
If a candidate doesn’t understand anything, he or she can ask the examiner to say the question in another way, or to explain an item of vocabulary. Naturally, candidates are nervous, and sometimes forget things. However, asking for these more than once in a test will aﬀect a person’s score.