8 Ways to Help Learners Pass the IELTS Speaking Exam

8 Ways to Help Learners Pass the IELTS Speaking Exam

These days with more and more students going abroad for further studies, it’s imperative for them to take the IELTS exam.

IELTS is made up of all 4 skills and there’s a lot of focus and controversy surrounding the speaking section. However, there doesn’t have to be – the controversy is due to a combination of teachers not teaching the exam properly and learners believing they can automatically pass the exam because the can already speak English and don’t need to focus on its practice too much.

The IELTS speaking exam, no matter what the learner’s level is, needs attention like the other skills because of the different sections, tasks and strict time restrictions.

It could be that you’re a new teacher when it comes to teaching IELTS or perhaps you feel like banging your head against the wall out of frustration because there is little evidence of progress being made with your students. Either way, contrary to popular belief, the IELTS speaking exam, no matter what the learner’s level is, needs attention like the other skills because of the different sections, tasks and strict time restrictions. What’s even more important is that teachers need to remain up-to-date with IELTS news, changes to the exam and of course, they need to be aware of the learner’s goal and what band mark they need. In other words the IELTS teacher needs to know this exam inside out.

Try These 8 Ways to Help Your Learners Pass the IELTS Speaking Exam

  1. 1

    Keep It Real

    The IELTS speaking exam is a one-on-one interview between the candidate and the examiner, therefore if you’re teaching a class IELTS, it would be inappropriate to have group work practiced. To help achieve the class’ goals in getting the marks they need, they need to have realistic practice. Include more pair work with one student acting as the examiner and the other as the candidate and vice versa. Ideally, an IELTS group needs to have an equal number of students, with the ideal number being 4-8. As time is precious in an IELTS language classroom, the students should practice at once with the teacher constantly moving around the classroom.

  2. 2

    Be a Model

    Teachers often make the mistake of asking students to flip open the book and start practicing the speaking exam. IELTS to both native and non-native speakers can be confusing and unclear if no definite instruction is given. Students also need to be given an example and this is where you come in. Ask your students to read the interlocutor’s script and model the answer. It’s a good idea to give a good example and a bad example and discuss what the differences are between the answers. There are also plenty speaking examples on YouTube, however, it will take you going through them carefully prior to lessons, taking clear notes and using ones that set good examples.

  3. 3

    Get Rid of the Course Books

    Avoid using course books when practicing speaking. When learners practice their answers they’ll always read the questions, which of course is not realistic as they’ll never have the written form in front of them in the actual exam. Both teachers and learners often forget that the speaking exam is not only testing the learners’ speaking skills but it’s also testing their listening skills as they’re required to appropriately answer according to what they are asked. If the teacher doesn’t activate their students’ listening skills properly for both parts 1 and 3, then they’re not preparing their learners for the IELTS speaking exam properly. It’s a good idea to get your learners out of the habit of reading the questions right from the very beginning so they get used to how the exam will really be when it comes to exam day.

  4. 4

    Avoid Generic Language

    ESL students tend to get stuck in certain ways when it comes to expressing their opinions. What students and teachers alike often fail to realize is that the use of generic phrases and words that ESL learners prefer to use can dramatically lower the final speaking score. How can you overcome this? Simple, ban certain words and starters such as I believe, I think, I agree, because and so on. You need to push your learners outside of their comfort zones when it comes to speaking to really impress the examiners and to get those high band marks. Banning of words won’t work by just stating the rule, enforce a mild type of ‘punishment’ or ‘penalty’ for learners who use them such as having to recall a number of different words or speaking non-stop about a topic for 2 minutes – they’ll soon learn that there’s no place for generic, below average language when it comes to killing the IELTS speaking exam.

  5. 5

    Make Use of the Useful Language Boxes

    Almost all IELTS and other exam preparation books will have separate boxes with useful and appropriate language that will help them answer questions well and avoid using the generic language as mentioned in point number 4. Although the boxes are there, teachers often don’t make the most the language. Instead they’ll often just direct learners to the box and have them read over the phrases and their meanings. What is a word without being able to use it? Start with more controlled exercises and have learners practice using the phrases in short answers related to a theme. Gradually build them up until the student has answered the whole question in parts. Then have the learners put it all together and repeat what they’ve said as a whole. Encourage learners to use the language box in their practice answers by giving them an incentive. Like the penalty method mentioned above, the learners could collect points for how many phrases they use correctly in an answer. At first the learners will need the phrases in front of them to refer to but as you get into deeper levels of practice they’ll gain the confidence they need to use these words freely and they’ll come more naturally to the learner. It’s important that this is emphasized right at the very beginning of a course as examiners can smell scripted dialogues a mile off!

  6. 6

    Utilize Scripted Examples

    ESL learners prepping for exams always need to be challenged so they don’t grow complacent therefore it’s necessary for the IELTS teacher to always stay prepared with new ideas to help improve their learners’ speaking levels. After having heard and practiced the questions and answers a number of times the learners will have more of an idea of what kind of questions could be asked. Challenge your students by taking away the question and just have them read the suggested scripted example answer in their course books. Upon finishing it ask the learners to predict what kinds of questions the example answer could be. This will help learners to think like the examiners and it’s a great way of getting them prepared for any kind of question they could come across.

  7. 7

    Take Notes

    It’s absolutely essential to NOT interrupt your learners while they’re speaking as it interrupts their flow of speaking and knocks their confidence. Instead as you move about the classroom take notes of the most common errors you hear. It’s not necessary to highlight the answers in that particular lesson either. After having collected enough examples organize one lesson dedicated to frequently made mistakes and use it as a workshop. It’s likely that the learners will make a number of different grammatical and vocabulary related mistakes therefore it’s the job of the teacher to prioritize them and focus on what’s more important with the first one being L1 interference mistakes.

  8. 8

    Peer Assessment

    Teach your learners what the examiners are looking for and equip them with suitable feedback tools that they can use to assess each other with checklists and scoring criteria. The learners will benefit from learning what the examiners are looking for and it also motivates the learners to perform better when performing and being assessed by their peers.

While many will write off the speaking component of the IELTS exam as easy, it shouldn’t be viewed like that.

Yes, it may be easy to get through the exam without too many hiccups but scoring a high band score can be difficult therefore it’s in the teacher’s best interest to thoroughly know the exam well and even practice taking it themselves to put themselves under the same exam conditions with the strict time limits. You need to know how it feels to have to speak so much and include everything within a certain time frame so you can really help your learners master their exam and achieve all their goals.

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