9 Strategies for Better Speaking Exam Scores (And 3 no-nos)

To study in an English speaking country, you have to prove that you have a good level of English. There are a few different exams that are recognised, such as IELTS, TOEIC and TOEFL.

The speaking sections of these exams are often the most stressful. They require you to respond to questions, readings or recordings quickly. Sometimes you don’t even get much time to prepare.

In this post we’re going to look at nine effective strategies to help boost your speaking exam grades.

And then we’ll look at three mistakes which students often make in speaking exams!

Speaking Exam Strategies

  1. Speak at a comfortable pace and volume – After you receive the question, pause for a second before you start to speak, and take a deep breath before you start to speak. Aim to speak slower and louder than you usually do. By speaking slower and louder than usual, you will sound more confident and your pronunciation will be better. This post goes into more detail about this.
  1. Use words that you’re comfortable with (meaning and pronunciation) – This is not the time to use new words and phrases. Don’t try to be too clever by using long and complex words. Use the words and phrases which you know well. Poor pronunciation or grammar mistakes will cost you marks.
  1. Give answers like paragraphs – Give a one sentence introduction about what you’re going to talk about. Then give your main points and support them. Then do a really short summary of your main points at the end.
  1. Make two or three points – Don’t plan to make more than three points, you usually won’t have time. Make your points, and then explain them. Your points don’t need to be too complicated.
  1. Use transition language and phrases – You can make a template of what to say. Include phrases like, ‘my first point is…’, ‘however’, ‘as a result’. If you have to respond to statements that your examiner has made, this post will help.
  1. Lie – I don’t mean lie about your name or anything. Just one of those lies which don’t hurt anyone. I mean that you don’t have to be completely truthful about your opinions in your answers. If you want to be creative, go for it. 
  1. Practice answering Qs quickly – Get together with a friend and ask each other questions you’d expect to find in the exam. Give each other time limits to answer. You can use websites like this  and this  to get some sample speaking exams.
  1. Record yourself – Use the voice recorder on your phone while you practice. Listen back to your answers and evaluate them. Ask yourself: how can I answer this question better? One answer might be to use Silent Fillers.
  1. Stick to the time limits – Time yourself using a stopwatch. Find the perfect length answer for the exam time limit.
speaking

Making a note of key phrases can help

Top 3 mistakes to avoid

  1. Don’t paraphrase the question: The examiner already knows the question, so you’ll just waste time if you paraphrase the question.
    • What to do: Just go straight into the answer with a really short introduction.
  1. Don’t use idioms or technical words: Both of these are easy to get wrong. If you use them incorrectly, you can lose marks.
    • What to do: Use words, phrases, and language structures that you already know. The language structures in my free guide are really useful here.
  1. Make unnecessary comments: For example, don’t say:
    • Hello, nice to meet you. Today, I am going to make three points about renewable energy, etc…”

After you’ve said all of that, you’ve lost 30seconds+ of speaking time. You won’t have much time to actually answer the question!

    • What to do: Be brief and conscise. You don’t need to be too polite and chatty in the exam.

Final words

Use these strategies to make a plan for when you enter the exam room. You only need to focus on answering the question when you have a plan of action!

Do you know anyone who is taking the IELTS, TOEIC or TOEFL tests? Share this post with them.

About the Author Sam

Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.

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