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Learn English: How to prepare for a speaking test

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Practising your speaking skills
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What are some of the strategies you can use to prepare yourself for an English speaking test? We spoke to Aussie teacher Gwendolen (Gwen) Warnick from RMIT University to find out more.

There are a number of approved English tests in Australia including IELTS, PTE and TOEFL. So how do you prepare for them?

Preparing for a test

Being confident in an exam situation can be tough. If you're worried about being confident, Gwen recommends you prepare for it and practise as much as possible.

The topics that are asked during an English speaking test are usually common topics that people from all around the world can talk about.

"They're going to be about experiences, people who are important to you, celebrations, events. So think about the topics that everyone would be able to talk about in the world and give yourself a bit more practice about those," Gwen says.

"So if you're finding when you're practising that, all of the kind of topics are confusing to you, you might want to be maybe reading the news or reading a bit more widely and having a bit more knowledge so you've got a bit more content and background knowledge behind you."

And it's perfectly fine to be nervous! After all, it's an exam situation. Gwen offers two tips to overcome those nerves:

  • Visualise the whole day

"Before the day, visualise. Visualise yourself feeling calm, feeling confident and having control," Gwen says. She says that it's helpful to visualise the whole day, from start to finish so nothing surprises you.

  • Take deep breaths on the day itself

"If you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, you can actually slow your heart rate a little bit. That usually prevents really obvious signs of nerves," Gwen says.

The importance of fluency

According to Gwen, fluency comes from having a very clear understanding of the language and giving yourself a lot of opportunities to practise it in different ways. Fluency can't be achieved overnight.

"To learn a language and be able to speak it fluently, that means you need to have spent a lot of time and... done a real variety of activities around it," she says.

The human brain tends to remember new words when you "engage with it emotionally" according to Gwen. She says it's a good idea to make a list of topics that are of interest to you.

"You should read about them, listen to them, talk about them and do that in as many different ways that you can," she says, adding that this way your brain is having to reinforce what it has learnt.

"Eventually when you do that enough times, you're making those pathways in your brain thicker or stronger and that means eventually the messages are travelling faster and faster. And that's where fluency comes from," Gwen says.

"Have realistic expectations and be patient with yourself. It's a lifelong process. I'm still learning new words all the time."

How to structure your response

Structuring your response during a speaking test is very important, and Gwen says it all depends on the task. For example, part 1 of the IELTS test asks you general questions about your family and your life.

Gwen says it's a good idea to practise extending your answers.

"Think about what you're going to say and what are the broader issues around that," she says.

"Let's say you come from China and we all know smaller families are quite common. Or you come from a country where big families are common. Think about that in your response."

Gwen recommends that you use:

  • Varying sentence structures
  • Different linking words
  • Sequencing language i.e. firstly, secondly and finally
  • Complex language like phrasal verbs or collocations

"When you organise your response and when you use different linking words, you're also showing that you have grammar [and] you have control of the language. Which is what you want," Gwen says.

Learn English Hacks is a Facebook Live series featuring Australian teachers where they discuss challenges learners face and how to overcome them. For more information, visit our Learn English Facebook page.