In this episode Andrea describes IELTS Test Speaking Section 2 and runs through a model answer – explaining what makes the answer good and how students should answer when they know nothing about the subject of the question being asked.
IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 10
IELTS Speaking: Section 2
The IELTS Test Prepcast provides three free IELTS test lessons each week for candidates who are aiming for IELTS band scores 7, 8, or 9.
I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since.
Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS, and has previously lived in Spain. She is a qualified teacher of English as a second language and has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.
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And now for today’s IELTS lesson .
Steve: Hello. Today we’re going to talk about IELTS speaking, and in particular, we’re going to talk about section 2. Andrea’s going to give us an overview of the process that candidates have to go through.
Andrea: Hello. In IELTS speaking section 2, you have three to four minutes. The whole section takes three to four minutes. You’ll be given a topic to talk about, and when you’ve read that topic, you’ve got one minute to make notes about what you’re going to say. After this time, the examiner will tell you you have two minutes to talk. For example, you’ll be given a topic, such as “Describe your favourite piece of architecture”. This topic will have three body questions and a final question, which is a summarizing question. So for example, “Describe your favourite piece of architecture. What is it? Where is it? When did you first see it? Why is this piece of architecture your favourite?”
Steve: So in that instance, presumably, they don’t ask the questions all at once. This is all part of, the examiner would act as if it’s a conversation.
Andrea: No. The examiner gives you a piece of paper, and the topic I just described is on it. All the examiner will say is “Describe your favourite piece of architecture”.
Steve: I see.
Andrea: And then you look at the cue card you’ve been given, and your questions will be there.
Andrea: And this is just to know that your cue card will always have five points. The first line “Describe your favourite piece of architecture is the equivalent of an introduction in a presentation. There are then three body questions. The three body questions are what we call “wh” questions, so they’re always things like “what”, “where”, “why”, “how”, “who”. Those are the “wh” questions. And here I’ve chosen “What is it?” “Where is it?” “When did you first see it?” And then the final sentence is what you should use as your conclusion. So that it’s a very natural presentation with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
Andrea: If you don’t know what to say about your topic, what happens? You can’t change your topic, but if there are, for example, some words you don’t understand, you can ask the examiner, but of course, ask the examiner for this help before you start speaking. Don’t worry if you have to ask that question. It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand that part. The examiner is only assessing your English and how you deal with a problem if you have a problem.
Steve: Okay. So your knowledge of the question isn’t what’s being assessed. It’s how you use English in trying to answer the question.
Andrea: Yes. No, exactly that, yes. Then, so you want to know, what you can ask the examiner. What can I say? You can only ask the meaning of a part word. So you might say to the examiner, “What does ‘architecture’ mean, please?” Maybe you’ve never come across that. The examiner is then allowed to give you one- or two-word synonyms.
Steve: Okay. So is part of how they would ask that question being examined, or is that just . . .
Andrea: Yes, that will be, because you’re showing the examiner that you can cope with the problem by using your English.
Andrea: You can solve a problem by using English.
Steve: So for example, if they were to use a phrase like “I’m not familiar with that word”.
Steve: “Would you mind just explaining what it means to me, please?”
Andrea: Exactly, yes. No, that’s a nice way to say it, and they would. That’s exactly how the examiner would respond.
Andrea: A typical speaking topic is something like “Describe your favourite sports person”. Then the body questions might be “Who is this sports person?” “What sport does this person play?” “When did you first hear about the person?” “Why is this person your favourite sports person?” The reason I brought up this particular topic was I was speaking to one of my very fluent students, who were having a practice. And I gave her that question, and she completely dried up. And I was thinking why and asked her what happened, and she said “I don’t know anything about sport. I haven’t got a favourite sports person”. And what I suggest here is make it up. As you just said, Steve, we don’t care if you’re not telling the truth. We’re only looking at your English. We don’t expect you to have googled every single fact about what you’re going to talk about, so we’re not checking to see if you’re telling the truth. We’re just looking at your English and seeing how you use it to express a difficulty. Everybody has a favourite relative. Think about what you would say about your favourite relative, and use these ideas and pretend that’s your favourite sports person. Or you might be asked about a business person you admire, and they ask typical questions like that. And I would say, always you can just use what you would say about a member of the family or a favourite friend and just pretend that’s the sports person or pretend that’s the business person.
Steve: Okay, that’s good common sense, I think.
Andrea: So now, what you should be thinking about, when you do your writing, you’re told the format is put a thesis statement in your introduction, and then each paragraph, each point that you want to talk about, needs a topic sentence, which is the main idea of your opinion. And then having mentioned the man idea, you should add support ideas, that your support ideas are telling the examiner in writing why you’re saying what you say. And you can apply this exactly to speaking as well. So the first line of the cue card is your introduction, so it should have your thesis statement. So your main idea of what you’re going to talk about. Then there are always three body questions, the “wh” questions. You could give yourself a topic sentence for each of these opinions and then support it by saying why you’re saying what you’re saying. And then the last sentence of the cue card is your conclusion, so you could do it exactly like a conclusion in writing and sum up your ideas.
Steve: So in that sense, when the student is practising their writing and they’re learning how to think in terms of a thesis sentiment, a thesis, or a topic sentence and underpinning, supporting sentences, then they could be doing the same for English as well.
Andrea: You can do it exactly, you can do it in speaking, yes.
Steve: Yes, okay.
Andrea: You can, yes.
Steve: Yes, for speaking I meant, of course. Now I guess they still need to be careful to not to come across as if they’ve memorized something.
Andrea: Yes, but they’ll never, it’d be really hard if they’d memorized something. It’d be, they’d be so lucky if they happened to pick on a topic that they could have gone in and spoken about by memory.
Andrea: Yes, of course. But you are right. If it sounds memorized, they won’t get any points. You get zero points for something that’s memorized.
Andrea: So I’m now going to give you a model answer, and I’ll tell you why I’ve done it in such a way. So this is a model answer about my favourite famous person. “I’ve been asked to talk about my favourite famous person, and the one I’ve chosen to talk about is Paolo Nutini. The reason I’ve chosen to talk about him is that he’s one of the best young singers to write and sing his own songs that I’ve heard in a long time.” So you see that in my introduction, I’ve included a thesis statement. So that is Paolo Nutini and why I like him. I used “I have been asked to talk about”. That’s a passive sentence, so you get good marks. It’s a present perfect passive, so because that’s quite a complex passive, you’ll get a good tick from the examiner for that. And I said “I’ve been asked to talk—the reason I’ve chosen to talk about him is”—that’s what we call a split sentence, and that’s actually quite easy to play around with. And if you’re putting “is” in the middle of a sentence like that, you get extra marks again, and then you’ll just have to finish with the second half of your idea. There’s a collocation as well, things like “He’s one of the best young singers to write” and “He’s one of the best I’ve heard in a long time”. So those are, collocations are typical expressions that English people use where the—you know that some words have to go with other words, and if you hear them, you know they go together. So for example, “one of the best” and “in a long time”. So those are collocations.
Andrea: And you’ve used all those, and that’s only the introduction. The examiner is already giving you a lot of ticks for a good band score. Here comes the body of that topic now. “I remember very clearly exactly where I was and when I first heard Paolo. I was at work very early one morning about six years ago when my friend and colleague arrived. He always loved to play music in the work room to start his day off well. ‘I’ve discovered a brilliant singer-songwriter!’ he told me excitedly. ‘You must listen.’ And from that time onward, I was hooked. For me, the most important aspect of Paolo Nutini and his character is his incredible gift with the lyrics he writes linked together with his expertise in writing music to go with them. For example, a song which really moves me is a song called ‘Autumn Leaves’, which Paolo wrote about both the death of his grandfather and his undying love for his father too, and he couldn’t have been more than twelve. I’m absolutely amazed that such a young boy could not only write with such emotion, but also at the incredible beauty I see when I read his lyrics. Ever since I heard his first song, it had been high on my list of priorities to go to one of his concerts. And for the rest of my life, I’ll remember the many concerts I’ve been to, even flying to Scotland to see Paolo perform in Dundee, where, as a child of Scotland, the love from the audience for him was almost tangible.” And the conclusion of my talk, and it’s highlighted by something, an expression like “All in all, there are many examples I can give to explain my admiration of Paolo Nutini and why he’s my favourite entertainer. However, whether or not you’ll feel the same, I don’t know. Although I would just say go and listen to an album and come to your own conclusion”. It’s very important to use the last sentence of your cue card to make the conclusion and to have put your conclusion into your presentation before the examiner stops you. The examiner will stop you at exactly two minutes, and you need to have had your conclusion in before she stops you. If you don’t have a conclusion, you will lose valuable marks.
Steve: Okay. So is there an, a clock in the examiner’s room.
Andrea: Yes. The examiner has a recorder, and the recorder has a timer on it. And it’s very, very strictly controlled by the people who’ve created IELTS.
Steve: So, okay, so we’ve heard you speak very lyrically about Paolo Nutini. We heard you introduce the fact you were going to talk about him and why you admired him. And then you went into a bit more detail with sentences that underpinned what you had already said and why you admired him so much. And then you ended that with a conclusory sentence, which then summarized everything about it. So now you happen to be a fan of Paolo Nutini. Now had we asked the same question about a football player, which I know you don’t like very much, would you have been able to use your recollection of why you like Paolo Nutini to be able to talk in a similar way about a football player?
Andrea: I think I would, yes. You just obviously have to change some of the ideas. So where I said “He wrote really brilliant lyrics”, you could say something about a footballer, about maybe his incredible footwork or his brilliant footwork. So what you use in your model, you should be able to transfer most of it quite easily to something else instead. And also, what was important in the speech I prepared, the presentation I prepared was that there are lots and lots of good things that just can be transferred to any task, any speaking section 2 presentation. And if you look back at what I’ve said, you’ll see lots of complex grammar, lots of collocations. And just remember that you can apply these to every single thing that you’re going to talk about. Yes, quite a lot of the basic expressions are things that can be applied to, for example, David Beckham.
Steve: Right. Okay.
Andrea: Yes. Now I’m about to analyze the introduction for you so that you can see why I’ve included everything. You can say for every topic you’ve been given “I’ve been asked to talk about David Beckham”, and you’re using the present perfect passive. Or “I’ve chosen to speak about” so that your paraphrasing just the way you begin. Or “The reason I decided on this topic is because” or “What I like about this is”. So those are just the ways to begin your speaking, and there you’re using good grammar that will get you good points. This also makes sure that the introduction leads smoothly into the body of your talk. Okay, I’m going to give you an analysis of the body, of the expressions I used in the body. These are all useful collocations. So “I remember where I was and when”, and that can be applied to David Beckham, to Richard Branson, so to anybody you want to talk about. “Start the day off”, so “I use him to start the day off well”, “I like to watch a bit of football to start the day off well”, so just think about expressions that can be used very generally in every task 2. I’m going to tell you some more: “From that time onwards, I was hooked”, “what really moved me”, “undying love”, “absolutely amazed”, “incredible beauty”, “ever since I first”, “high on the list of my priorities”, and “for the rest of my life”. And all of those collocations or typical expressions that always go together can be applied to any task 2, I would say, really.
Steve: Okay. So I guess, sorry, is there any more to your analysis? Yes, there is.
Andrea: Yes, there’s a bit more to the conclusion. So “all in all” is just a nice, it’s a collocation, again, to tell the examiner you’re about to conclude. “However”, that shows off—words like “however”, “although” show that an opposite idea is coming. And that also makes what you’re saying more complex, and every time you do something like that, the examiner gives you extra ticks and points, things like “whether or not”, and come to your own conclusion. So all of those are useful things you could put in the conclusion.
Steve: Okay. So when they’re practising this sort of thing, is there a recommended way for practising? Do they, would students, or should students be practising in front of a mirror or with a friend or with another English speaker or anything? Or is it really up to them?
Andrea: Well, an ideal way, obviously, will be with an English speaker so that the English person could correct you. You could practise in front of the mirror so that you know how you should look. One of my students recently, when she was practising with me, wasn’t looking me in the eyes, but that’s not bad. That’s not something you’ll be penalized for. And that’s how she controlled her nervousness.
Steve: I see.
Andrea: Instead of looking at me. So if you, of course, you’re going to get very nervous. All the students are nervous, and that’s just something to think about. If you look in the mirror, that might give you more confidence.
Steve: Okay. Those are all good suggestions.
Andrea: Okay. And then, when you finish your presentation, there are one or two questions the examiner might ask just to round up section 2, and it’s always linked to the topic you’ve just spoken about. So this one might be “Do other people like this person?” So you see, it is a general question, but it can be linked to a favourite sports person, favourite business person. Or “Do you think you’ll see this person again?”And then you can just reply with one of the, with one or two sentences, really. That’s not supposed to be a long discussion. And you could dis—a sort of reply would be “Yes, I’d say that she is one of the most likeable people I know. If I could see her again, I certainly would, but she lives on the other side of the world”. So just think about how you can respond to questions to give yourself extra marks in the grammar column or in the langue column. Unusual grammar to reply to the rounding-off question would give you some very good marks from the examiner.
Steve: Well, I guess what we’ve learned today, or certainly I have learned today, is quite the extent that the skills that you would apply in writing also apply a lot in, and are very applicable to, speaking. So the idea of the topic sentence and the underpinning words that follow and then concluding, all of that obviously has a place in speaking. It must be a little bit more complicated to be able to think of it on the fly. When you’re writing, you’ve got a bit of time to prepare. I guess, when they are speaking and they are given their topic cards, they are allowed to spend a bit of time working out what they’re going to say. But even so, they’re having to remember it, so it’s going to be quite hard.
Steve: So I think your suggestion of thinking of someone who’s a favourite or thinking of maybe something that made you feel sad or made you have some emotion and then practising those, describing those events in, and then maybe introducing in your practise some complex, more complicated grammar, would all be helpful when they’re having this short discussion as part of IELTS speaking 2.
Andrea: Yes. Something I always recommend—I do it for the writing as well as the speaking—is to look at the public band descriptors. So there are public band descriptors for speaking, and if you practise—of course, you’re going to practise before you go into the exam—look at the public band descriptors and see if what you’re saying matches the band you’re hoping to achieve.
Steve: Okay, yes. That’s a lot of good sense. So the students really ought to be keeping sets of public band descriptors anywhere where they’re doing their works.
Steve: So they can polish up their skills.
Andrea: I think so, yes.
Steve: And can understand what they’re trying to achieve.
Andrea: And to, just one last point, so you did say correctly that what you can use in writing, you can use in speaking. I suppose you might say that speaking is a little less formal than your writing, but I certainly agree. Whatever you learn in reading—keywords and synonyms, remember, we say are the most important thing—are also useful in listening to help you answer the questions. And then you can apply anything you’ve learned from listening and reading to writing and speaking. So you see how everything is linked, really.
Steve: Okay, right. Well, I think that’s covered everything we wanted to cover in this particular lesson. So until next time, thank you very much.
Andrea: See you soon.
End of Lesson
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