Here is a quick list of some common mistakes made in IELTS Speaking Part 1.
Even though Part 1 is a relatively simple interview, many candidates don’t perform as well as they could if they had more awareness or experience.
To begin with, I will give you a brief overview of Part 1 then move on to listing the mistakes and how to avoid them.
Part 1 overview:
Part 1 is:
- All about you (and your country).
Try to speak as personally as possible, don’t speak generally or vaguely when you answer.
- Familiar conversation topics related to your life.
Though you may not know much about some of the topics (museums for example), the questions will always be related to you and your life. The examiner does not expect you to have vast knowledge about the topic themselves, but the examiner does expect you to be able to talk about every topic.
- Designed to make you relax.
What better way is there to make you relax than talking about yourself? Don’t be shy, just speak freely and openly in preparation for Part 2 and 3.
- Conversational style, not formal.
Treat Part 1 like a conversation with a new coworker outside of work. Just imagine you work with the examiner and you’re enjoying a meal together or a few drinks after work.
- Your best opportunity to show a range of topic-specific vocabulary.
In no other part of IELTS Speaking will you be able to talk about such a variety of topics, as Part 2 and 3 will be related to a single topic after finishing Part 1. Try to brush up on some vocabulary about each topic by reading some of my model answers here.
- Predictable question formats.
The questions you’ll be asked are predictable. The majority of questions will be ‘closed questions’ which require a positive or negative response followed by a short reason why or more details.
Keep all of this in mind before moving on to the next section.
Common mistakes made in IELTS Speaking Part 1
1. Failure to paraphrase.
This must be the most common mistake I see people make during the exam.
For band 6 and 7, you don’t need to show a perfect use of paraphrase, nor does it always need to be appropriate, but you do need to show your use of paraphrase.
Many students aren’t fully aware of what or when they should paraphrase, so now, let’s have a look at what and when to paraphrase.
- Key language
Most questions have some sort of key language used in them, such as; like / enjoy / in the future / prefer / often / have you ever / favourite / many / popular / in your country.
Try your best not to repeat any key language from questions.
When you hear a noun, just try to use a pronoun instead of repeating the noun.
Here are some examples:
“Was your hotel nice?”
Yeah, it was great!
“How often do you visit parks?”
I usually go once or twice per month.
“Who is your favourite celebrity?”
I absolutely adore Johnny Depp
“How popular is tea in your country?”
Here in Vietnam, most people tend to drink it.
“Do you enjoy your work?”
Yeah, I love it.
Now you try:
“Do you like coffee?”
_______________________. (Yeah, I love it)
“Is seafood expensive in your country?”
Here in ______, _______________________. (it’s quite cheap)
“How important is your health for you?”
__________________________. (it’s absolutely essential)
“Have you ever visited a farm?”
__________________________. (I haven’t been to any)
“What’s your favourite TV show?”
__________________________. (I adore The Soppranos)
By paraphrasing key language and nouns, you will appear to be more confident whilst speaking English, and you’ll also be hitting the criteria for paraphrase early on in the exam.
Keep in mind that paraphrasing in Part 2 and 3 is much more difficult than in Part 1.
The questions in Part 1 will use simple language and should be familiar to you, therefore it’s your best opportunity to show this skill.
2. Length of answers.
Many candidates do either of the following:
- Speak short answers
- Speak too much
The ideal length of Part 1 answers is between 15 to 25 seconds.
Some answers may be shorter (for introductory questions when the topic changes) and some might be longer (for more challenging questions, such as comparing or reflecting), but on average, your answers should be around 15 to 25 seconds.
For most candidates between bands 6 and 7, a couple of sentences with multiple clauses should be sufficient, sometimes even as much as 3 (rarely 4) is fine.
Based on the average rate of speech for bands 6 and 7, one sentence is around 10+ seconds.
Try not to think in sentences though, as it can be distracting and may affect your fluency.
I recommend you read my model answers out loud and see how long it takes you to say each answer.
Record yourself answering and pay attention to the length of your answers.
Candidates who speak too short answers won’t sufficiently answer the questions, and they may appear less confident (which is the last thing you want to happen in part 1 as your main objective is to sound confident and natural whilst speaking about yourself).
“What do you do right now? Do you work or study?”
At the moment I study…
At the moment I study. I’ve been studying _______ at _______ university for around 2 or so years already + (some details about it) I mostly learn about ________ among other things.
Candidates who speak too much in their answers might be giving examples when it isn’t relevant to do so, or they may be going off on a tangent and talking about things that aren’t totally relevant to the question.
Remember, you don’t need to support your reasons in Part 1 with examples, save that ability for Part 3.
Many popular YouTubers who make IELTS related content recommend that you speak until the examiner interrupts you, however, this is NOT recommended by tutors who’re worth their salt.
By doing so, you’ll appear as if you are unable to control your speech, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes, you won’t speak with clear intention, and you’ll probably go slightly off-topic or say something irrelevant.
Just remember that 15 to 25 seconds is more than enough to sufficiently answer any questions in Part 1.
3. Too many details.
I can’t even begin to explain to you how many of my students give too many details in their answers that may (or may not) answer other questions than the one asked.
This mostly occurs during the first few questions which are either about: Your work or study, hometown, accommodation or where you live.
When candidates first start preparing for their IELTS, they feel like they need to say everything they can for each answer. This can, however, leave you in a difficult position a few questions down the line.
Q: Where is your hometown?
A: I’m from Manchester, in the UK. We’re famous for our football and music scene, I love everything about my hometown because it has developed so much in recent years. Compared to when I was younger, I almost don’t recognize it anymore, actually, there’s nothing I’d change about it.
By answering like this, the candidate has answered the following (possible) questions already (in less detail than they could have if they waited):
Q: Is your hometown well-known or famous for anything?
Q: What do you like about your hometown?
Q: How has your hometown changed since you were younger?
Q: What would you change about your hometown?
You might think it’s a good idea to say everything you can when asked a question, but sometimes it really isn’t.
Just try your best to appropriately answer what you were asked in a sufficient amount of detail.
Q: Where is your hometown?
A: I’m from Manchester, which is up in the North-West of England. It’s one of the many major cities in my country, you might have heard of it, actually.
Do you see how much better this answer is? Even though the candidate didn’t say as much, the answer is appropriate to the question asked and has enough detail to satisfy any examiner after answering a question like this.
4. Inappropriate answers.
This common mistake directly (and indirectly) links to number 3, but there are also a number of reasons why a candidate gives an inappropriate answer. In regards to the 3rd common mistake, when candidates give too many details in their answer, they are likely to speak about things that aren’t relevant or linked to what they were asked.
So why do so many candidates give inappropriate answers? Well, that’s a good question.
One of the main reasons for this is that they misunderstood exactly what the examiner asked them.
A good example of this is:
Q: Were you healthier as a child than you are nowadays?
A: I think I am much healthier now than I was when I was a child because I eat healthy food and exercise three to four times per week. I believe that health is the most important thing in my life, without my health, I wouldn’t be able to work or study.
Though this answer is perfectly fine, it isn’t so appropriate to the question asked, which is why I feel like it’s a good example to mention here.
The examiner used a ‘comparative adjective’ in his/her question, the examiner also mentioned ‘than’ in his/her question.
“Did you sleep more when you were a student than you do nowadays?”
“Do you watch as much TV as you did when you were younger?”
“Did you write more in school than you do today?”
If you’re familiar with my course or have taken any of my classes before, you’ll easily identify this as an ‘X than Y‘ type question.
In order to give the most appropriate answer to this kind of question, you should at least produce some comparative forms in your answer, however basic they may be.
Keep in mind that this is quite a challenging question to answer in Part 1, but it is another one of the many common question types that you’ll be asked in your exam.
Many candidates miss opportunities given to them by the examiner when they answer inappropriately. Though this is more common in Part 3, it’s also commonplace in Part 1.
5. Repeating your own language.
I’ve already discussed the importance of paraphrase in Part 1, but I haven’t mentioned this yet.
Do you know many other ways of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’? A lot of? Many? Relax?
I hope so.
Many candidates will constantly repeat the same responses in Part 1, whether they just say a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or a few other positive or negative responses, after a few questions the examiner will consider your range of vocabulary shorter than it really is.
So why is this important? Well, like I just mentioned:
Your range of vocabulary.
If you’re constantly repeating the same vocabulary and grammar, you are not showing the examiner your range of vocabulary or grammar.
I recently met a student who is more than able to achieve a band 7-7.5 in his exam, but he consistently repeated the exact same positive response to my questions in part 1. This was a shame because his ability wasn’t being shown in each answer.
Consider the way you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, too.
Don’t say it flat without any expression or feeling (intonation) in your voice.
Think, most native speakers say “yeah” rather than ‘yes’.
The nice thing about saying “yeah” is that you can add a bit of style to the way you say it. By adding style (pronunciation features), you’ll show more confidence and ability.
Also, don’t just say “yeah”… Try to add more to it:
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“I suppose so, yeah.”
You’re going to sound way more natural this way and also show a better range of vocab & grammar.
Even though this is a very simple mistake to make, you’d be surprised how many people make it.
6-10 coming soon…