To be fully prepared for the IELTS Speaking Test and achieve a high score, it helps to get familiar with the types of topics and questions that are commonly found in this part of the exam.
Below you’ll find examples of topics and questions for each section of the IELTS Speaking Test. But first, a quick overview of how the Speaking Test is structured and scored.
The IELTS Speaking test is the shortest part of the IELTS exam. It is divided into three sections, lasting in total from 11 to 14 minutes, and is exactly the same for both the Academic and General Training versions of the exam.
The Speaking test is conducted as a face-to-face interview in a quiet room, where an Examiner sits with a binder of questions that she may select from. These questions are designed to assess your communication skills in English — in other words, how well you can convey information and ideas using correct grammar, appropriate vocabulary, and clear pronunciation.
Your score is calculated according to four criteria:
- Pronunciation — your ability to pronounce words and express ideas with appropriate stress, intonation, and rhythm
- Lexical Resource — your ability to use words appropriate for a given topic, and to deal with situations where you forget a specific word or phrase
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy — your ability to form sentences with multiple parts (clauses) using appropriate pronouns and verb tenses
- Fluency and Coherence — your overall ability to speak easily and to be understood easily (without long pauses or confusing links between ideas)
It is important to note that the IELTS Speaking Test does not assess your public-speaking skills or truthfulness — so you will not improve your score by reciting scripted information from memory or by treating the test like a police interrogation or courtroom testimony.
Before looking at each part of the Speaking Test, you can see an example of the entire process and what a top score (Band 9) sounds like:
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Speaking Topics in Part 1
The first part of the IELTS Speaking Test lasts 4–5 minutes. You will be asked about two or three general topics, such as:
- People You Know — your friends, family members, neighbours, 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 familiar and unsurprising. They don’t require specialized vocabulary and you should be able to answer them without much hesitation or “thinking time”.
In other words, these are typical “small talk” questions, and preparing for this part of the test can be as simple as studying a vocabulary book and having lots of conversation in English.
In general, most of these questions in Part 1 fall into three categories — we can call them Do-You, Have-You, and Would-You questions. These three questions test your ability to use different verb tenses and grammatical structures.
“Do You” Questions
For each topic, the Examiner will begin by asking a general question about 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 this doesn’t mean you should keep your answers simple. Try to make an effort 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 speaking, 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 construction:
- “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.”
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Speaking Topics in Part 2
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 will be asked to speak for 1–2 minutes about a particular topic. The Examiner will give you a sheet of paper with the topic on which you should speak, along with a pen and a blank piece of paper. Before speaking, you will have 1 minute to read the topic and make notes about what you want to say. The Examiner will time you with a stopwatch, and tell you when to begin speaking.
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 a string of ideas, and what happens to your spoken English skills when the element of time pressure is added and the support of a conversation partner is removed. Does your pronunciation become less clear? Does your vocabulary become more limited? Can you remember which grammatical structures to use, even under stress?
Like Part 1, the topics in this are intended to be simple and easy to talk about. They do not require special knowledge, and most of them can be answered with basic vocabulary and grammar. However, 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 is 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 appeared on the IELTS 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.
Sample Questions for Part 2
Along with the topic, you will be given four related questions you should answer. These questions are not optional, and your score may be reduced if you fail to address them in your answer. However, there is no requirement about how much information you must include about each one, or in which order you must answer them. After you are finished speaking (or if you continue speaking past 2 minutes), the Examiner will ask you one or two simple questions related to the topic.
Let's look at an example, about a person:
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:
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:
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.
Watch another example of a high-scoring candidate:
Lastly, the Examiner may also ask you a couple “rounding off” questions, after you finish speaking. These are generally simple, “small talk” questions.
For example, here's a set of questions about an activity:
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:
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 before moving on to 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 practice this part of the Speaking Test, a good strategy is to 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 can 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
In other words, a very effective practice strategy is to speak for 2–3 minutes about five or six questions for each of the 25 topics listed above. After you do that, speaking for 1–2 minutes about four questions will feel incredible easy!
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Speaking Topics in Part 3
In the final 4–5 minutes of the Speaking Test, you will be asked a few more questions (usually four or five) that are more general and abstract. In contrast to Part 1, where you were asked to speak about yourself and your friends or family, you will be asked to talk about general trends among the people in your country, or general differences between men and women, or past or future generations.
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. In the examples below, you may notice 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?”
Just like in Part 1, you can boost your score by adding 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.
Below are examples of Part 3 questions related to topics featured above.
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?)