7. Practise saying “I don’t know” 练习说“I don’t know”

Another reason why some candidates go wrong in the exam is that they feel they have to give a complete answer to very question and they think of IELTS as some academic test. It isn’t. It’s simply a test of your language. In parts 1 and 3, you may well be asked questions that you have very little to say about. That’s not a problem, there’s always another question coming. The big mistake is to try and give a full answer when you have nothing to say. What happens is that your language becomes confused and so do you, with the result that things get and worse and worse.


All you need to do is say you don’t know and explain why and then wait for the next question. This may take a little practice. You want to build a set of phrases such as:


Q. What colour is your favourite room and why did you choose that colour?

A. I’m not sure what to say about that. It’s not a question I’ve ever thought about before. I suppose yellow is just my favourite colour and so I painted my room yellow?

8. Talk to a mirror拿个镜子

This is another strange sounding piece of advice, but it can be very practical – especially if you don’t have a speaking partner. The idea is that when you practise speaking, you should sit in front of a mirror and speak to yourself. It can work because:


Eye contact is extremely important in all parts of the test. As a former speaking examiner for other exams, I can promise you that examiners are influenced by candidates who make eye contact - even though they may not be aware of this. Typically, the candidate who makes good eye contact gets a more generous mark because they seem to be communicating better as body language is around 70% of all communication.


the other point is that, for most people, sitting and looking at themselves in a mirror is an uncomfortable experience. After that, the exam will seem easy!


9. Write your own questions写下你自己的问题

This is another activity that I suggest everyone should try at least once. You should of course practise with “real” exam questions too, but there is a lot to be learnt from writing the questions first and then trying to answer them. The way it works is that if you write the question yourself:


you are more likely to try and answer it properly and give a full answer because you understand what the question is asking – good practice


you learn to add details to your answers by thinking of more question words. So when you answer the question “Are you a student or do you have a job?”, you are more likely to say “I’m a student at Wuhan University and I have been studying there for the last 3 years” – adding information by thinking of the question “How long” even though you weren’t asked it.

你会打破脑袋想出更多的词汇来增加答案细节。所以呢,比如你要回答,”你是学生还是工作啦?“,你会说,哦,我是武汉大学(微博 招生办)三年级的学生。虽然问题中没问,但是你加上了念了多久这个信息。

10. Improve your coherence and fluency – easy as 1-2-3 0r 3-2-1 提高你的连贯性和流利度

This is another of my favourite classroom speaking activities. Ideally, you need one or two more people to practise this with, but you can do it by yourself. The idea is that you don’t just practise speaking for 2 minutes. Rather, you start off by speaking for 3 minutes about that topic, then you do the same thing for 2 minutes, then for 1 minute. In the perfect world, you would also speak to a different person each time.


How does it work? The first time your answer is probably slightly incoherent and lacks fluency. The next time you speak though, you know what you want to say and, if you have listened to someone else speak, you now have more ideas. The result is that when you speak, you answer becomes more fluent and coherent. Then when you do it for 1 minute, your answer needs to become even more coherent because you now have lots of things to say but not very much time to say it.


I should add that this activity works best if you have different people to speak to. It works because each time you speak to someone different, it becomes a different conversation – even if you are talking about the same thing.