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How the IELTS Speaking test is conducted during the pandemic

IELTS Speaking test
Speaking English fluently will unlock doors for you while studying and working abroad. Source: Bulent Kilic/AFP

Since certain IELTS centres reopened in November 2020, students across the world have been keen to finally take it. The IELTS Speaking test is particularly important for international students; a strong command of conversational English will make it easier for you to make new friends, follow your studies, and get involved in the local community. Check out these updates on how the test is being conducted today, and how you can prepare for it.

There will be a human examiner

IELTS confirms that every IELTS Speaking test candidate will be marked by a human professional and not an artificial intelligence (AI) machine. Though AI machines can be useful for practice, assessments require the human touch. Research increasingly proves that AI machines are biased — for example, if fed samples of European candidates only, it would find it harder to recognise other accents from China, India, or the Middle East.

On the other hand, human examiners are more tuned in with the nuances of spoken English. They are trained to consider social context and cultural influences. Most importantly, they can engage in an organic two-way conversation that replicates everyday scenarios. As a result, they are better able to understand you and provide a fair, accurate assessment of your English-speaking ability.

IELTS Speaking test

Treat your IELTS Speaking test like a regular conversation; it will help you feel at ease. Source: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

It’s still a three-part test

For the IELTS Speaking test, you will be in a room with your examiner for the duration of the test. It usually lasts between 11 to 14 minutes and consists of three parts. Each part will be recorded.

In the first part, you and the examiner will both introduce yourselves in under five minutes. Expect to answer general questions about your home life, family, work, and personal interests. Then comes the individual long part segment, in which you will speak on a particular topic for two minutes, after preparing for one minute.

Finally, there’s a two-way discussion that should last no more than five minutes. This is when the examiner will further question you on the topic presented earlier. Your conversational ability will really be put to the test here as you discuss general issues and ideas.

How to ace the IELTS Speaking test

Speaking English or any other second language can make anyone nervous, especially in a test. Remember, though, confidence is key to acing your IELTS Speaking test. With that in mind, IELTS presents some tips for you to become the best speaker you can be.

First, don’t worry about your accent. Examiners are familiar with various accents, so they will be able to understand you. If it takes time for you to translate your words, use appropriate phrases to buy time. Instead of using fillers like “Umm” or “Ahh,” say, “Let me think about that for a minute” or “That’s an interesting point you raise.”

It also helps to familiarise yourself with common topics. What do you do to unwind? What’s your family like? What experiences are you seeking abroad? Ask yourselves these questions and practise the answer in the mirror.

Lastly, while you may seek to impress the examiner, remember to keep the conversation within your ability. Stay away from words that you’re not sure how to pronounce, especially if you’re also unsure of the meaning. Keep it simple; the point of conversation is to understand each other, after all.