Top tips to help you ace your English speaking exam

As we’ve seen before, there’s a wide range of English exams available for you to check your level or prove you abilities with. Although all exams are slightly different, these speaking tips will help you to score highly in the speaking portion of any exam.

1. Research the structure of the test

Most English exams have information about how the test is structured on their websites. Make sure you read this carefully or ask your teacher to explain it. Knowing what to expect in the test will make you feel more confident, and understanding what you need to do in each section will help you make sure you meet the requirements to pass.

2. Make sure you answer the questions

Examiners are trained to spot people who have memorised answers before the exam. One of the ways they spot this is when people give an answer that is related to a question but doesn’t actually answer it.

Make sure you listen to the questions or read them carefully and answer all the points needed. It’s fine to add more information afterwards but make it your priority to cover all the information you need to give in order to fully answer the question first.

3. Prepare well but don’t memorise answers

Make sure you can cover all the basic information that you know you will need for the exam. Think about how to talk about your past, your goals for the future, things you like (and don’t like), your daily life and the place you live in. These are all common topics asked about in the opening questions of speaking exams. Don’t just memorise answers for questions, though. The examiner will be able to tell and in some exams, you will lose marks for this.

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4. Learn some specialised vocabulary related to your life and interests

In most exams, range and vocabulary are factors in the mark you will get. If you can use specific, advanced vocabulary to talk about your life and interests, you will gain marks.

For example, compare these two statements:

“I have a pet dog. She stays with someone when I am at work.”

“I have a golden retriever. She stays with a dog­sitter when I am at work.”

Just by being more specific, the second answer demonstrates a more advanced level of English. Expand on your answers (show off!) As long as there is enough time, add some extra information to your answers. Adding more detail helps show your range and fluency. It also helps you show off extra vocabulary or interesting sentence structures you are able to use.

For each answer, give the main answer, then explain why and add an example if appropriate. If there is a chance to use an interesting or advanced sentence structure, make sure you take it. Hypothesising using conditional sentences is often a nice way to do this.

5. Keep an eye on the time

This doesn’t apply to all tests but some, for example OPIC, have time limits. If there is a time limit, make sure you leave enough time to answer all the questions.

6. Breathe!

Take a breath before you answer the question. It’ll give you time to think, you’ll have plenty of air in your lungs to speak nice and clearly, and it’ll make you feel more confident. Making sure to breathe regularly also helps you organise your speech into ‘chunks’ that make it easier for the listener to understand.

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