If you’re like most English students, speaking exams are the stuff of nightmares! When I was learning French in school, speaking exams filled me with terror…at first. Once, I felt so nervous that I said pamplemousse five times in one sentence! (Pamplemousse is the French word for grapefruit.) But by the time I graduated, I was actually looking forward to my speaking exams, and I always did well.
Now that I’m an English teacher, I’m excited to help you improve your performance on your English speaking exams, whether it’s an exam at your school or you’re preparing to take the speaking portion of the TOEFL, IELTS, or other international English exam. Instead of focusing on specific English exams, these strategies will help you on any English speaking exam.
Watch this video for my top 6 tips to help you master your next English speaking exam. Let us know what you think afterwards! Are there other tips that have helped you? Post them in the comments so that you can help other members of our English family!
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1. Speaking Exam Tip 1: Fib a Little
Remember, the person giving you the exam only cares about how well you can communicate in English. They’re not looking for information, and they don’t care about who you are as a person. This isn’t a date or a job interview, the sole purpose of the exam is to assess your skill when you speak English.
So, if the examiner asks you about your favorite animal, don’t freeze because you don’t have the vocabulary to talk about whale sharks. Instead, fib a little. If you know lots of vocabulary about farm animals, say that your favorite animal is a cow or a pig. It doesn’t matter if that’s a lie. All that matters is that you speak well.
2. Speaking Exam Tip 2: Search for Synonyms
You’re probably nervous during your speaking exam, and that can lead you to forget words that you know in normal circumstances. Don’t allow that to fluster you. If you can’t remember a specific word, don’t agonize over that word. Rather, think of another way to say the same thing.
For example, imagine that you forgot how to say that you love Italian food. Here are some other ways you could say the same thing:
• There’s nothing that makes me as happy as a plate of spaghetti.
• Italian food is my favorite.
• I would rather eat Italian food than any other type of food.
• Have you ever tried Italian food? Isn’t it delicious?
I’m using a basic example to illustrate the point, but this technique works with advanced topics, too. Before moving on, grab a pen and paper and think about the example below. You want to say “Playing soccer gives me energy,” but you’ve forgotten how to say that. On your paper, brainstorm a few other ways to convey the same idea. When you’re done, look at my examples to get even more ideas.
Playing soccer gives me energy.
There are lots of ways to convey this same idea! Here are a few examples:
• When I play soccer, I feel 5 years younger.
• Playing soccer fills me with vim and vigor.
• I don’t need to drink coffee. I play soccer!
• After a game of soccer, I’m wide awake and ready for anything!
• After a game of soccer, it’s impossible for me to fall asleep. I’m pumped!
3. Speaking Exam Tip 3: Buy Time
Sometimes, you may need an extra moment to think about what you want to say. When that happens, it’s useful to know a few English expressions for introducing a thought:
• In my opinion…
• If you ask me…
• That’s an interesting question…
• I’d like to begin by talking about…
• That’s a complex issue, but my opinion is…
• Believe it or not, I was thinking about that just this morning…
Using one of these will give your brain just enough time to think about what to say next.
4. Speaking Exam Tip 4: Prepare Some Idioms
Using idioms will make you sound more fluent when you speak English, and using a few idioms during your speaking exam is sure to impress the person assessing you.
For example, instead of saying “I felt like giving up,” you could say “I felt like throwing in the towel.”
5. Speaking Exam Tip 5: Offer Detail
In a conversation with a friend, it’s perfectly acceptable to give short answers. However, remember that this isn’t about giving information or being your natural self, this exam is your opportunity to show what you can do with the English language. That’s why it’s important to offer detail when you answer.
Here are a few ways that you can offer detail during your English speaking exam:
• Use adjectives
• Outline your reasons for feeling a certain way
• Talk about the opposite point of view
• Provide an anecdote related to the topic
6. Speaking Exam Tip 6: Keep Calm and Carry On!
In the days leading up to the exam, take some time to meditate. Imagine yourself in the testing center. And, as odd as it sounds, imagine yourself forgetting a word or making a basic mistake. Imagine the feeling of panic, feel your heart racing and your cheeks redden in frustration. Then breathe deeply and train yourself to stay calm.
As you meditate, also envision your success! Picture yourself speaking fluidly and easily during the exam, using idioms and advanced vocabulary words. Imagine yourself sitting up straight with your head high, confident and happy.
Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before and have a good meal before going to take the exam. Arrive at the testing center early, and envision success!
As a special thank you for being part of our Next Step English family, I’ve made an infographic summarizing these tips for you. You can save it to your phone, or print it and refer to it even when you’re not online! Good luck on your next speaking exam, Stepper! We’re all rooting for you!