To earn a high score on the IELTS Speaking Test, it’s important to understand what types of topics to expect, what kinds of questions you’ll be asked, and what sorts of answers you should give in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Below are some genuinegenuine: real, honest; exactly what people say it is; not fake or artificial questions that IELTS Examiners have used in previous years, as well as videos of high-scoring answers by real students.
I’ve also included strategies for how to develop strong answers for each section, based on the guidelines published by the creators of the exam.
Before looking at the topics, though, let’s review how the IELTS Speaking Test is scored, so you can understand why some answers are better than others.
How the IELTS Band Score is Calculated
The IELTS Speaking Test is conducted as a face-to-face interview, divided into three parts, for a total of 11–14 minutes. The topics and questions are exactly the same for both the Academic and General Training versions of the exam, and your answers are scored against the same four criteria:
- Pronunciation – you can pronounce words and express your ideas with appropriate stress, intonation, and rhythm
- Lexical Resource – you use words appropriate for a given topic, and can communicate clearly even when you forget a specific word or phrase
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy – you can form sentences with multiple parts (clauses) using correct pronouns and verb tenses
- Fluency and Coherence – you can speak comfortably (without long pauses or confusing links between ideas) and be understood easily
You can find detailed information about IELTS scoring on the official website.
It’s also important to notice what is not in this list:
You won’t get a lower score if you forget specific details, or if you answer is not 100% honest. You can’t win points for having a really interesting answer, and you don’t lose points for offering a humdrumhumdrum: boring or ordinary; not special or interesting response.
This point is especially important to keep in mind for Part 3.
You might have some strong opinions about a cultural issue in your country – but the Examiner doesn’t want a 10-minute speech from you. Use the short time you have to impress the Examiner with your language skills; don’t focus on trying to educate her about a complex topic.
Recent Speaking Topics (2020)
Let’s now look at a few questions that have appeared recently on the IELTS Speaking Test.
The questions below come from Cambridge’s 2020 practice book (which is worth purchasing if you want to practice for the test using genuine questions!).
- What kinds of emails do you receive about your work or studies?
- Do you prefer to email, phone, or text your friends?
- Do you reply to emails as soon as you receive them?
- Are you happy to receive emails that are advertising things?
Describe a website that you bought something from. You should say:
- what the website is
- what you bought from this website
- how satisfied you were with what you bought
- what you liked or disliked about using this website
- What kinds of things do people in your country often buy from online shops?
- Why do you think online shopping has become so popular nowadays?
- What are some possible disadvantages of buying things from online shops?
- Why do many people today keep buying things which they do not need?
- Do you believe the benefits of a consumer society outweigh the disadvantages?
- How possible is it to avoid the culture of consumerism?
This might look like a lot of questions to answer in just 11–14 minutes!
The good news is you don’t need to answer all of them; you just need to speak for 11–14 minutes. If your answers are lengthy, you’ll get fewer questions. (And if your answers are too short, you may get even more questions.)
Notice a couple of things about this list of questions:
The topics (email, online shopping, consumerism) are all related to ordinary modern life, and don’t require any special knowledge or technical jargonjargon: special words and phrases used by particular groups (such as doctors, lawyers, or scientists) that are difficult for other people to understand.
The questions invite you to share your personal opinions, experiences, and beliefs – similar to a conversation with friends or colleagues – and as such, there are no ‘incorrect’ answers. The Examiner is interested in your knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary, not your knowledge of email technology.
Let’s now look at some answers from a high-scoring candidate from Spain.
Example Answer (Band Score 8-9)
The video below shows how the IELTS Speaking Test is conducted from beginning to end (approximately 13 minutes total).
Let’s now look in more detail at the topics and typical questions for each part.
Part 1 Topics, Questions & Answers
The first part of the IELTS Speaking Test lasts 4–5 minutes. You’ll be asked to introduce yourself and to speak about two or three personal topics:
- People You Know – your friends, family members, neighbors, etc.
- Places You Know – your hometown, country, school or company, etc.
- Things You Like – your preferences about music, food, books, art, etc.
- Things You Do – your studies or occupation, your hobbies and habits, etc.
The common theme among all these topics is that they are personal and predictable. They are typical ‘small talk’ questions, and the Examiner expects you to be able to answer them without a lot of hesitationhesitation: the action of speaking or acting slowly because you feel nervous or uncertain.
Preparing for this part of the test can be as simple as studying a good vocabulary book and having lots of conversations in English.
In general, most of the questions in Part 1 fit into three categories – we can call them Do-You, Have-You, and Would-You questions. These three forms challenge you to use different verb tenses and grammatical structures.
‘Do You’ Questions
Your first question will usually be quite general, and may be related to your interest, habits, or preferences:
- ‘What do you do on weekends?’
- ‘How often do you listen to music?’
- ‘Do you usually watch films at home or go to the cinema?’
Questions like these can be answered with simple present tense verbs, but simple doesn’t mean short.
Try to expand your answers with reasons, examples, and comparisons:
- ‘On weekends I like to spend time with my friends, because we rarely see each other during the week. In the summer we usually visit the beach, whereas in the winter we like to do indoor activities, like visit museums or play board games.’
- ‘Generally, I only listen to music at home – for instance when I cook dinner, since music tends to distract me at work.’
- ‘Nowadays I tend to watch movies at home, due to the fact that there are so many more options available through websites like Netflix. However, I don’t mind going to the cinema from time to time.’
‘Have You’ Questions
Very often the Examiner will also ask a question that shifts the conversation to talking about the past and/or changes that have occurred over time:
- ‘Have you always enjoyed museums?’
- ‘Has your taste in music changed over the years?’
- ‘Have you ever left a theatre in the middle of a film?’
One of the odd things about the English language is how verbs shift from the simple to the present perfect, as soon as you add time-related words like always, ever, or over the years. This type of question checks your skill at using time-related phrases and switching between past and present tenses:
- ‘Actually, I never used to like going to museums, because I usually find them dull. But a new museum opened in our city a few years ago, and the staff there have done a really good job at showing art that is easy for less-artsy people like me to appreciate and understand.’
- ‘Yes, quite a lot. In the past I mostly listened to pop music, but over time I have grown to love classical music, especially composers like Beethoven and Brahms.’
- ‘Only once, as far as I can remember. I walked out of a film, a really sappy romantic comedy, after only 30 minutes. But I also left because the theatre was freezing cold, and I have never been back there since then.’
‘Would You’ Questions
You can also expect the Examiner to ask you at least one question related to future scenarios or hypothetical situations:
- ‘Do you have any hobbies that you can imagine doing as a job?’
- ‘Is there a musical instrument that you would like to learn to play?’
- ‘Which actor or actress would you most like to meet?’
These sorts of questions are less common in Part 1 of the IELTS exam (but frequently appear in Part 3). The purpose of these questions is to test your ability to form conditional statements, which can be a simple as using I would like to. However, this type of question also offers you an opportunity to boost your score with a well-crafted if/then conditional:
- ‘To be honest, I would rather keep my hobbies and my job separate, because I think that I would lose interest in my passion if I had to do it for a living.’
- ‘If I ever have enough money, I would love to buy a piano, one of those huge black ones that you see in symphony halls. But a small electronic keyboard would also be nice.’
- ‘I think it would be fun to meet Charlie Chapin, if he were still alive. Among living film stars, however, the person I would enjoy meeting the most is Dwayne Johnson.’
Notice that these questions require fairly simple grammar. You don’t need to prepare for any ‘Had you had’ or ‘When will you have’ questions! Instead, you can focus your preparation on mastering English’s present tenses and adding relevant reasons and examples.
Part 2 Topics, Questions & Answers
After about 5 minutes, the Examiner will introduce the next phase of the Speaking Test, which is sometimes called ‘the Long Turn’.
During this part of the test, you must speak for 1–2 minutes about a single topic. The Examiner will give you a sheet of paper with some questions, along with a pen and a blank piece of paper. Before speaking, you will have 1 minute to read the questions and make notes about what you want to say.
The purpose of this task is to test your ability to speak fluently and coherently for an extended period of time (1–2 minutes). The Examiner now wants to see how well you can organize and connect multiple ideas. The Examiner also wants to see what happens to your speaking skills when the element of time pressure is added and the support of a conversation partner is removed.
Like Part 1, the questions are intended to be simple and easy to talk about. They don’t require special expertise, and most of them can be answered with basic vocabulary and grammar. Having said thathaving said that: an idiomatic phrase to connect two ideas that seem opposite but are both true, you have the opportunity here to boost your score by using advanced words, phrases, and grammatical structures (just make sure you use them in the right way!).
Although it’s impossible to predict which topic the Examiner will give you, most of the topics fit into one of five categories: people, places, things, activities, and past events.
Below are some topics that have the Examiners have used in previous years:
- Describe a well-known person you like or admire.
- Describe someone you know who has started a business.
- Describe a person who has been an important influence in your life.
- Describe someone you know who does something well.
- Describe a film actor from your country who is very popular.
- Describe a shop near where you live that you sometimes visit.
- Describe an interesting place you have visited.
- Describe a place you would like to visit in the future.
- Describe a famous tourist destination in your country.
- Describe your dream home.
- Describe a special gift or present you gave to someone.
- Describe something you own which is very important to you.
- Describe a technological device that you would like to buy in the future.
- Describe a website you use to help you in your work or studies.
- Describe a song or piece of music you like.
- Describe an interest or hobby that you enjoy.
- Describe an activity that you dislike doing.
- Describe a game that you enjoy playing.
- Describe what you usually do on an average day.
- Describe a festival that is important in your country.
- Describe a time when you helped someone.
- Describe an event that you attended recently.
- Describe an important choice you had to make in your life.
- Describe a very difficult task that you succeeded in doing.
- Describe an interesting discussion you had related to your work or studies.
Practice Questions for Part 2
Along with the topic, you will be given four questions to answer.
These questions are not optional, and the Examiner may dockdock: (informal) to reduce a payment or score, often as punishment for bad behavior or poor performance your score if you fail to address all of them in your answer.
Having said that, there is no requirement about how much time or how much information you must give for each one. So it’s OK to answer three of the questions in 15 seconds and then focus on the fourth question for the rest of the time.
Let's look at an example, about a person:
Describe a well-known person you like or admire.
You should say:
- who this person is
- what this person has done
- why this person is well-known
Compare the questions above with the set below, about a place:
Describe a shop near where you live that you sometimes visit.
You should say:
- what sort of products or services it sells
- what the shop looks like
- where it is located
And here's a set of questions about a thing:
Describe a gift that you gave to someone.
You should say:
- whom you gave it to
- why you gave it
- what it looked like
One thing you may notice: the format of these questions is a little strange.
There are no question marks, and the fourth ‘question’ is separated from the list. It’s not clear why the makers of the IELTS exam do this, except perhaps to test your reading comprehension skills.
Here’s another example of a high-scoring candidate:
After you are finished speaking, the Examiner may also ask you one or two extra questions. These are generally simple, ‘small talk’ questions.
For example, here's a set of questions about an activity:
Describe an interest or hobby that you enjoy.
You should say:
- how you become interested in it
- how long you have been doing it
- why you enjoy it
After you finish speaking, the Examiner may ask you:
And a speaking prompt about a past event:
Describe a time when you helped someone.
You should say:
- whom you helped
- when you helped this person
- how you helped him or her
The Examiner may ask you:
Don’t stress out about these questions. They are simply intended to offer you a brief pause, a moment to relax between the stress of Part 2 and the complex questions in Part 3.
How to Prepare for Part 2
Like the topics themselves, it is impossible to predict exactly which questions you will get. You can feel assured, however, that the questions will be simple and unsurprising. They will be about who, what, where, when, why, or how.
To prepprep: (informal) to prepare – especially for a task that requires attention and skill for this part of the Speaking Test, you can brainstorm questions and answers for each of the topics listed above.
For instance, for the topic ‘Describe someone you know who has started a business’, you should practice answering questions like:
- who this person is
- what kind of work this person does
- where and when the business operates
- why this person decided to start a business
- how you would feel if you did the same kind of work
Answering all of these questions may require a lot more than 2 minutes, but if you do this exercise for each of the 25 topics listed above, then 1–2 minutes will start to feel incredibly easy!
Part 3 Topics, Questions & Answers
In the final 4–5 minutes of the Speaking Test, you will be asked a few questions that are more abstract. They often require you to make comparisons, to describe trendstrend: the general direction in which something is changing over a long period of time (e.g. better and better, or worse and worse), and to talk about causes and effects.
These topics are a bit similar to the topics you see in Task 2 of the IELTS Writing Test – and for that reason, you can use a lot of the same vocabulary and grammar constructions here in order to add reasons, examples, and comparisons to your answers, using words and phrases like because, due to the fact that, for instance, such as, by contrast, on the other hand, etc.
In every case, the questions in Part 3 will be connected to the topic you spoke about in Part 2, and the Examiner will try to push you a bit with further questions related to your answers.
Below are examples of Part 3 questions related to topics featured above.
Notice that a lot of questions that begin ‘What about…?’ What about young people? What about people who live in small towns? The Examiner will also press you to explain ‘Why?’ or ‘Why not?’
We’ve been talking about a well-known person you like or admire. I would now like to ask you a few more general questions related to this:
- In your country, what kind of people become famous?
- What about in the past? Were these kinds of people also famous in the past?
- What about in the future? Do you think that these people will continue to become famous in your country in the future?
- Famous people are often used in advertisements. Can you give me some examples of that?
- Do you think advertisements featuring celebrities can produce a negative effect on young people?
- How might celebrities be used to influence public opinion?
We’ve been talking about a shop near where you live. I would now like to ask you a few more general questions related to this:
- What types of local businesses are there in your neighborhood (e.g. restaurants, shops, dentist offices)?
- Do you think local businesses like these are important for a neighborhood? (In what way?)
- How do large shopping malls and shopping centers affect small local businesses? (Why do you think this is?)
- Why do you think some people want to run their own business?
- Are there any disadvantages to running a business? (Which is the most serious?)
- In your opinion, what are the most important qualities for a businessperson to succeed? (Why?)
We’ve been talking about a special gift you gave to someone. I would now like to ask you a few more general questions related to this:
Gift Giving in Families
- On what occasions do family members give gifts to one another in your country?
- What about from children? What sort of gifts do children give to the adults in their families?
- How important do you think it is for family members to give gifts to one another?
Business & Society
- In what situations might people give gifts when they are in business?
- What about gift giving for the economy in general? Is gift giving an important part of the economy in your country?
- Some people say that it would be better for society if all the money spent on gifts was given to poor people instead. What do you think about that?
We’ve been talking about an interest or hobby that you enjoy. I would now like to ask you a few more general questions related to this:
- How might having a hobby be good for a person’s social life?
- What about hobbies that people do alone (e.g. watching movies, reading books)? Do you think these hobbies can also positively influence a person’s social life?
- Are there any negative effects? Do you think that there can be negative consequences of spending too much time on a hobby?
- In your country, how much time do people spend on work compared to leisure activities?
- What about in the past? Would you say that people in your country worked the same amount in the past, or did they work more?
- What about in the future? Do you think people in your country will have more or less free time in the future?
We’ve been talking about a time you helped someone. I would now like to ask you a few more general questions related to this:
- Can you tell me some of the things that people sometimes do to help their neighbors?
- In your opinion, is it important for neighbors to help each other? (Why?)
- Do you think people who live in small towns help each other more than people who live in big cities? (Why?)
- Can you give me some examples of jobs that focus on helping people?
- What sort of qualities does a person need to do these kinds of jobs?
- Do you think that they are paid fairly for their work? (Why, or why not?)
Keep in mind that these are just a few of the potential topics you may be asked to talk about during the IELTS Speaking Test. For more practice topics, check out:
Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet