The IELTS test is a requirement of governments, universities and employers worldwide, as well as being an achievement to be proud of and a gold star for any CV. But reaching our IELTS goals is not always easy. For many the hardest part of the test is speaking, and at eleven to fourteen minutes we only have a short time to prove ourselves to the examiner. Here is some advice for making the most of that time.

It seems obvious that vocabulary is important, but one of the four criteria used for marking the speaking test relates to words and phrases and the way they are used by the candidate. So that means that using uncommon words is a good thing, but they also must be used correctly and in an appropriate context.

Before taking the test it may be a good idea to keep a list of words that are unfamiliar to you that you come across when you are doing reading and listening exercises. The kind of words and phrases that we are most interested in will probably be more academic words that are related to the 'global issues' found in the IELTS test.

You can then try using your list of terms in sentences or paragraphs of your own, in order to practice your use of the words and terms while practicing your writing skills at the same time. Ask your teacher to check your work for feedback.

Useful language
There are lots of phrases that we can use in certain situations. For example, when we want to explain how we personally think or feel about something, we often begin by saying 'in my opinion...' or 'I would say that...'. These examples may be particularly useful in part 3 of the speaking test which is usually about our own views on a given topic.

It's useful to keep a list of stock phrases like these that we can use again and again when we need them. When speaking about childhood we might say 'as a child I used to...', when making an additional point 'I'd also say that...', or when speaking about the future we might say 'I imagine that in the future...'.

When it comes to pronunciation, everyone has some kind of issue to that needs practice and improvement. Of course there are many different accents within the English speaking world and there can be no international standard of English pronunciation, but particular ways of saying words can make it difficult for listeners to understand what the speaker is saying, so these errors should be minimised.

Think about the way your tongue and mouth move when you make the individual sounds. For many English learners (especially those from Asia), the difference between / r / and / l / sounds is unclear. Remember that the soft English / r / sound is made by the teeth close together and the tongue flat, whereas to make the / l / sound the tongue is curled with the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth.

For people from all around the world the English / th / sound is very difficult. To make this sound we need to rest the tip of the tongue on the bottom of the upper front teeth and breathe air between the tongue and the teeth.

Take some time to practice this at home and be positive - everyone is physically able to make these sounds, we are just not always used to it.

Gesticulation is a feature of speech that is more common in some cultures than it is in others, just as it is more natural to some individuals than it is to others. If you gesticulate when you are speaking in your own language, then you can also do this when you are speaking in English. It helps us to express our thoughts and feelings more clearly, and it also helps others to understand us more clearly. Gesticulating may also help us to feel more at ease in a situation.

It's the most difficult thing to do when you're under exam conditions, but the more relaxed and comfortable you are when you take the test, the more fluent you are likely to be.
Also, we all know that telling ourselves to relax usually doesn't work. But there is simply no reason that we should not feel relaxed in the IELTS speaking test. It is not a strict, formal test and the examiner will not be stern and scary like a police interrogator. The test is just a friendly conversation in English with someone who will be warm and welcoming.

Enjoy the test, and remember that while IELTS may be a way of securing a job or university place in the future, studying English is a way of communicating and connecting with people and is something to be enjoyed.
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