For a lot of people, the speaking part of a language test is the most stressful! But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your English speaking exam. They will help you to relax and feel more confident, so that exam nerves don’t get in the way of your true English speaking ability.
1. Understand the format of your English speaking exam
Whether it’s IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, PTE Academic or a Cambridge exam, the speaking section of each English exam has a different format. Knowing exactly what to expect in the speaking section will help you to prepare, especially if some parts involve a time limit.
For example, IELTS has 3 parts. The second part involves speaking about topics on a card for 1-2 minutes, followed by a question about what you’ve spoken about. Moreover, you only get a minute to prepare what you want to say. Knowing the structure of the exam helps you prepare for what’s ahead and perform better.
If you have an in-depth understanding of the structure of the speaking exam before your test, you’ll know what the examiner is looking for and how to get a good score. Plus, it’s much less nerve-wracking when you know what’s coming up next!
2. Learn useful sentence starters
It’s not a good idea to memorize answers when you’re preparing for your English speaking exam. There’s a risk that your memorized answer won’t match the question, and you won’t make sense or sound natural – in which case the examiner will score you lower. But, there are lots of sentence starters you can learn. These phrases will help you sound fluent while giving yourself a couple of seconds to think about your response.
Here are some useful ones:
- That’s a really interesting question.
- I’ve never thought about that before but …
- So, in other words, you mean …
- That’s a really good idea. How about …?
- The first picture shows […] whereas the second picture shows […]
- Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you say it again?
3. Practice with a friend
In the weeks leading up to the speaking exam, practice mock exams to help you prepare. You can find IELTS practice speaking tests, tips for the speaking section of PTE Academic, TOEFL speaking questions or a TOIEC sample speaking test. Practice these sample tests with a friend who speaks English. Use a timer so you are as close to exam conditions as possible.
If you don’t have a friend who speaks English, there are lots of online groups of English learners who are preparing for tests. So, join one of these groups so you can practice with someone else who has a speaking exam soon. On the ELSA Discord server, you’ll find lots of learners looking for speaking partners, as well as test preparation clubs with other people preparing for English exams.
On the day of the exam itself, it’s really important to speak English before you start the test. Think of it like an athlete warming up before a race so they don’t pull a muscle and injure themselves. Just like the athlete, you don’t want to go into your exam ‘cold.’
So, find someone to speak in English to for the hour just before the exam—maybe even the other candidates waiting outside the exam room. This hour of speaking practice will get you into the English zone, and help you feel more confident, too.
4. Prepare mentally
Of course, it’s important to know how to prepare for English exams, but it’s not just about the language. How confident and calm you feel will affect your performance and this is something you can work on.
Do your best to get a good night’s sleep before the exam by doing something relaxing before bed, like having a hot bath or shower. If you start to worry about the exam, imagine yourself walking out of the test with a smile on your face, knowing you did well.
First impressions are important so, when you arrive make eye contact with the examiner, smile and say hello. You will seem more confident and relaxed about using English. (If it’s a recorded English speaking exam or a Zoom call, look directly into the webcam.) Even if you’re feeling nervous, breathing normally will help you to speak clearly and with confidence.
Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat something if you need it. Even better, rephrase what they said in your question. For example, if they ask you to describe a picture but you aren’t sure which one they mean, you can say “So I think you want me to talk about this one, right?” Asking questions shows confident communication skills and that will help you get a good mark.
If you realize you made a mistake, don’t worry about it. Try not to hesitate, or worse, forget what you were saying. You’ll get a better score if you ignore your mistake, or correct yourself quickly and move on.
Improve pronunciation and fluency with ELSA Speech Analyzer
With ELSA Speech Analyzer you can practice each part of the different English Exam speaking types, like IELTS, TOIEC and TOEFL, so you become familiar with the format of the exam. And, even better, you can record your answers and ELSA’s AI will give you an overall score as well as a breakdown of your scores for pronunciation, intonation, grammar, vocabulary and fluency.
The best thing about the app is that it doesn’t just test you, it guides and supports you through the exam. There are prompts to give you ideas for what to say and it reminds you to express opinions and justify your ideas. ELSA shows you the transcript of what you said and tells you what grammar mistakes you made!
With AI helping you improve, you don’t need to feel nervous and the results are available immediately. Plus ELSA lets you check how your score compares with other international English speaking exams. Try ELSA Speech Analyzer and improve your speaking score!
And… good luck with your exam!