6 Best Tips for Reviewing for an ESL Speaking Test

6 Best Tips for Reviewing for an ESL Speaking Test

Speaking English in day-to-day situations is often a source of frustration for ESL students – imagine how frustrating it is for them to take a speaking test.

Tests in which ESL students are required to show whether they have the skills, vocabulary and structures to succeed in communicating in English are quite common in international examinations like the Cambridge ESOL Exams. It is vital for students to prepare for these, or any speaking test you choose to give to your ESL class, and it is your job to review what they will be tested on. Here are 6 tips that should make a big difference in your review and practice lesson.

6 Best Tips for Reviewing for a Speaking Test

  1. 1

    Go Over What Is Expected of Them

    Students are rarely required to simply “speak” during a speaking test. There are a number of things they must be able to prove they can do, and these depend on the particular test. No matter how many speaking tests your students have had in the past, it is very important to go over what will be expected of them in each particular case.

    Let’s see an example. The speaking test for the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) Exam has four parts: in the first, the student is required to provide information about him/herself and express opinions; in the second part, the student is shown a pair of photographs and is expected to describe them and make comparisons; the third part is a collaborative task, where the student talks to another candidate and together they must reach a decision; finally, the last part is a discussion with the other candidate based on the previous task. It might seem like a lot but it often takes no more than 15 minutes.

    If your students are taking a standardized test like the FCE, make sure you go over the exam format well in advance. But the same goes if you are giving your class your own custom-made speaking test. Will you be placing them in pairs or will each speak on their own? What types of questions or tasks should they expect? Will you test them through role plays? Simply telling your students that they can expect “a speaking test” will only let the anxiety build up.

    One important caveat: telling them what is expected of them does not mean that they should prepare or memorize specific answers, or even a long speech. They must understand the types of things they will be asked, try to listen carefully and provide the best answer.

  2. 2

    Review the Vocabulary

    Each test has an expectation in terms of the vocabulary the student is required to use – some even provide vocabulary lists. Should you print out the list and go over each word, one by one, to make sure they know them all? This is not only totally unnecessary; it’s also very tedious and boring for your class. Instead, look at the list and make sublists organized by topics. In the example above, you’ll see that there are many words related to health, others are adjectives used for physical description. Plan review activities for each subset of words where students have the opportunity to use these words.

  3. 3

    Review the Structures

    In some cases, your students will need to know very specific structures and grammar in order to succeed in the test. For example, because candidates are required to make comparisons in Part 2 of the FCE Speaking Test, it stands to reason that they should practice comparatives. They are probably reviewing plenty of verb tenses and structures for the written test, but make sure they get oral practice as well.

  4. 4

    Review Useful Phrases

    The Cambridge tests have phrases that are typically used because the tasks usually require the same thing. In Part 3 of the test students must reach an agreement, so it is very useful to review phrases used for agreeing and disagreeing, for example.

  5. 5

    Provide Special Tips

    Besides the vocabulary and structures they will need to use, it is also a great idea to provide some extra, useful tips. For instance, when students are asked questions by the examiner, it is best that they first answer the question directly, and then expand by providing more details, than vice versa. Also, you may tell them that it’s very useful for them to record themselves as they practice at home, and try to pick up on any difficulties they may have.

  6. 6

    Give them Plenty of Practice

    This is probably the most essential point in preparation for any speaking test and the one you’ll spend the most time on. Give your students the opportunity to practice with exercises that recreate the test scenario.

Remember: the goal of the review lesson is not to teach them something new.

 Your goal should be to provide your students with two essential things: first, the information they need to know to be prepared (you won’t want them to get caught unawares) and second, the practice they need to boost their confidence.


If you have tips to add to the ones above, don’t be shy! Add them in the comments below.

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