IELTS Speaking Test Format-An Overview

ielts speaking cartoon with speech bubbles

If you are a candidate beginning to study for the IELTS exam, you’re probably wondering, “What is the IELTS Speaking Testformat?” The good news is whether you need to prepare for the IELTS Academic exam or the General Training exam, the speaking test follows the same format and is marked using the same criteria! In this article, you’ll learn when you can or can’t ask questions of the examine, and what those questions can be. I’ll also explain the format of the IELTS Speaking test, including the criteria so you know exactly what the examiner is looking for before your test!

An Overview of the Format

First, it’s important to know your date for completing the IELTS speaking test. This is the only section of the test that can sometimes be scheduled on a separate day from the rest of your exam. It usually depends on your exam center, so make sure you read their policies and contact them if you have any questions. You can register online for the exam at the British Council website.

Next, let’s take a look at the format of the Speaking test. The IELTS Speaking test:

  • Is a one-to-one interview with an examine that lasts about 11-14 minutes and consists of 3 parts
  • Is a test of your ability to verbally express your thoughts and opinions, so show off your skills!
  • Is graded on the same 0-9, where a native speaker would get 8.5-9
    • What band-score do you hope to get? Let us know in the comments!
  • Is recorded in case your responses need to be reassessed afterward
  • Requires a bit of confidence! This should help: mistakes are only considered serious if they occur often or if they prevent the examiner from understanding what you are trying to say. Even an accent is perfectly fine as long as it doesn’t prevent the examiner from comprehending your responses.

Let’s help you build up a bit more confidence by taking a closer look at each section.

IELTS Speaking Topics

IELTS Speaking Part 1: 4 to 5 minutes long

You’ll take the Speaking test seated across from the examiner. She’ll ask you to state your name and where you are from, and you’ll have to present your identification. Then, she’ll ask you general questions about your life and other familiar topics like your work or studies, your family, or your hobbies.

Remember to relax and enjoy the process if you can! Don’t just offer a short one-word answer, but expand by giving more information. Also, don’t try to plan out answers before the exam. This will come across as unnatural! There’s also a slim chance you’ll accurately predict the questions the examiner is going to ask you, as there are a lot of topics they can choose from!

Can I ask the examiner questions in Part 1?

The examiner cannot help you by defining or explaining questions or words in Part 1, but you can ask him/her to repeat themselves/the question.

IELTS Speaking Part 2: 3-4 minutes long

The second part often scares candidates because they have to come up with things to say about a topic on a cue card they’ve never seen, but don’t worry! The topics are selected to represent experiences that are common across all candidates, so you should be able to speak using your own thoughts and experiences about it.

ielts speaking cue card

The cue card will say something like:

Please read the topic below carefully.
You will talk about it for 1-2 minutes.
You have 1 minute to think and prepare what you are going to say. You can make notes if you wish.

The examiner may follow up your response with a question or two related to what you’ve said.

Remember to use the 60 seconds before responding to jot down 1-2 word notes next to each question on the cue card you need to address. The examiner will tell you when the time to prepare your response is up, when to begin, and when to stop.

We will be sharing more specific tips and strategies for completing each task of the speaking test, but remember that you don’t have to tell the truth! This is an English-proficiency exam, so there are no right or wrong answers as long as you can provide more information about them and support them. The examiner is assessing your ability to share your thoughts and speak your mind, as well as to respond in a tense that matches the questions asked.

Can I ask the examiner questions in Part 2?

You cannot ask any questions on Part 2 or change your topic. The examiner cannot explain the topic on the card or help you in any way, except to tell you when to start your 60 seconds preparing, when to start speaking, and when to stop speaking.

IELTS Speaking Part 3: 4-5 minutes long

The third part of the IELTS Speaking exam requires you to answer more abstract and detailed questions about the topics presented in Part 2. This allows you to further develop your previous responses by providing more opinions and thoughts about the subjects presented. Remember that the examiner is not interested in your opinions, but in the way you present them using spoken English. These questions are more difficult, as they are based less on your personal experiences and asses more your ability to speak about abstract topics. Here are some example questions for Part 3 related to the example cue card we gave:

Can I ask the examiner questions in Part 3?

As this section covers more abstract material, you can ask the examiner to explain a question or a specific word you’re unsure of. You can also ask them to repeat something they’ve said, just like in Part 1. This won’t affect your band-score negatively.

What The Examiner Is Listening For-The 4 Criteriaoutline of two people in speaking interview

Have you ever wondered exactly what the examiner will listen for in your responses-the exact criteria they will use to grade your answers? It helps to be informed about this and to be aware that all 4 criteria are weighted equally, so let’s talk about them now!

Fluency and Coherence

The fluency aspect of this criteria refers to your ability to speak at a natural rate of speed with continuity (without frequent, sharp breaks in your speech). For high marks in ‘coherence’, you must be able to link your ideas together in a logical sequence by using connectors like however, next, on the other hand, etc. and conjunctions to mark stages and a natural progression to your response.

Lexical Resource

Lexical Resource is just a fancy way of describing the accurate use of a range of vocabulary. The examiner will assess your ability to use this varied vocabulary appropriately, as well as your ability to paraphrase and use synonyms to quickly overcome a vocabulary gap by expressing your idea using other words. This can clearly influence your fluency and coherence marks as well since you don’t want to take long pauses to resolve the vocabulary gap. This is why it is useful to learn a wide range of synonyms and practice expressing a response from 3 different perspectives.

Remember that even native speakers correct themselves sometimes, so don’t worry if you have to do this now and again!

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

How accurate is your English grammar? Can you speak using a range of grammatical structures including complex sentences, subordinate clauses, and proper tenses accurately? If you said ‘yes’, you’ll likely score well in Grammatical Range and Accuracy!

Speakers who can correctly use the simple past, present and future tenses will usually score between a 5-6 in the IELTS Speaking section. The examiner will mark you higher if you vary the tenses and make use of modal verbs, the passive voice, and conditionals. He/she will take into consideration the extent to which your use of grammar affects your ability to adequately communicate with them.


Finally, we have Pronunciation, which refers to your ability to accurately use a range of phonological items without putting too much strain on the listener. The examiner will listen for the smooth and accurate production of individual sounds, as well as word and sentence intonation and stress. Remember that it is normal to speak with an accent, and it shouldn’t affect your markings negatively as long as it doesn’t cause too much strain or difficulty for the examiner to understand you. It should also be noted that any form of standard English pronunciation, whether British, Australian, American, Canadian, etc. is accepted.

IELTS Speaking Tips

We will be sharing specific strategies for each section. For now, here are a few general tips to think about when preparing for the IELTS Speaking section: checklist cartoon

  1. Read texts related to your job, your studies, etc. and practice telling others about your family, your hobbies, and future plans.
  2. Listen to news reports or interviews in which the people give their opinions so you can learn relevant vocabulary and structures to do the same.
  3. Speak only in English with friends, join an English-language club, practice online with free apps like HelloTalk, or receive coaching and feedback from an expert to improve your speaking skills.
  4. Can you introduce yourself, give an opinion and support it, discuss your personal experiences and goals, agree or disagree with an opinion, and ask a speaker to repeat or explain something he/she said? Practice, practice, practice!


I hope this overview has helped you answer the question, “What is the IELTS Speaking test?” Stay tuned for the coming guides that will offer more specific strategies!

Which part of the IELTS Speaking test do you think will be the most difficult for you? Which do you need to work on the most? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to ask any questions!

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One thought on “IELTS Speaking Test Format-An Overview

  • The information is very helpful. It helps me understand everything on the topic. I say it’s very accurate and informative. As a person that is poor in English this is very helpful for me.

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