In the speaking section of English proficiency tests, such as IELTS, fluency is part of the marking criteria used to assess students’ ability and performance. A former IELTS examiner, Peter Crosthwaite, shares his tips on developing and demonstrating fluency in a speaking test.
During a speaking test, you might start talking and then feel unsure about your answer. Peter says that it is still possible to sound fluent in this situation.
Using appropriate hand gestures, discourse markers (such as so, well) and fillers (such as umm, like, you know) are all great ways to “develop fluency”.
Managing your time during the test
If there is preparation time, Peter discourages writing out your answer — in response to the question set by the examiners. "It's not a good strategy," argues Peter.
During the speaking test, Peter recommends that you "keep talking until the examiner asks you to stop talking.”
“When you hit the two minutes, the examiner has to stop you and they might ask you one or two follow up questions.”
It's suggested that you try to avoid awkward silence, otherwise the examiner won't know whether or not you have finished.
If you run out of things to talk about, even though you have answered all the prompts, Peter suggests asking yourself 'what happens next?' and “make up what happened next” on the spot.
Practising before the test
There are a number of ways for you to practise at home, before the actual test.
Firstly, Peter suggests practising with a partner.
"A really good strategy" is to get one person to start answering a practise question and then "when one person gets stuck, the other person has to jump in and take over," describes Peter.
Secondly, you could also practise responding to speaking prompts by yourself.
"By the third time, you should really know the direction of your talk and you’ll be able to see how it fits together a lot more clearly.”
Recording and timing yourself are also useful ways to help you become more comfortable with the requirements of the speaking tests.
Moving on from your mistakes
It is normal to make mistakes, especially if you are feeling nervous about a speaking test. Peter says that it is still important to demonstrate fluency, even if you have made a mistake.
"What we see is students who will try to go back and try to correct the error three or four times. When they’re doing that, they’ve lost the fluency.”
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