Here’s an example of a topic card used in Part Two of the IELTS speaking test:
Describe your favourite leisure activity. You should say:
- what it is
- how often you do it
- when you first started doing it.
You should also say why it is important to you.
Using the preparation time
When the examiner hands you the topic card, you will also be given a piece of paper and a pen or pencil to make some notes before you begin talking. You have one minute to prepare what you are going to say. There are a number of common errors that candidates make in this preparation time, as shown below.
Common error #1 – telling the examiner you are ready to begin
The examiner will tell you when your 1 minute preparation time is up – you should NEVER tell the examiner you are ready before that time. You are wasting valuable time that you could use thinking of relevant points or vocabulary, and most people that start early do not finish the full two minutes of speaking.
Common error #2 – writing sentences
The one minute preparation time should be used to get ideas and make notes, not write complete sentences. With only 60 seconds to prepare, you do not have time to write complete sentences.
Common error #3 – making no notes
Some candidates spend the whole 60 seconds simply reading the topic card and thinking about what they are going to say, not making any notes at all. The problem here is that as soon as you begin to start talking or if you become a little nervous, the good ideas that you had seem to disappear, leaving you with no backup.
Common error #4 – not pacing the notes
As you can see from the topic card above, there are four sections – three bullet points and one final sentence. You are required to speak for two minutes, so divide that by the number of ‘sections’ on the topic card and you have 30 seconds per part. When making notes, try to add something for each of the 4 parts and do not move on to the next part until you think you have spoken for 30 seconds or you truly have nothing left to say.
Common error #5 – reading from your notes
Don’t be be tempted to ‘read’ your answer directly from the note paper, and this will have an impact on your pronunciation (most people read differently to how they naturally speak). Keep your head up, looking at the examiner for the majority of the time, and only glance down to scan your notes.
Common error #6 – not being flexible with your notes
Do not worry if you decide to change a little of what you have planned. It is much better to keep the conversation natural than stick rigidly to something that you are not so comfortable with. In addition, remember that the IELTS test is a communication test – it is not a memory test. If there is a fact you cannot remember, then tell the interviewer. You can show your English ability just as well by explaining that you do not know something. For example: ‘I’m not really sure when I began doing this, but I’m sure I was very young’ is just as good an answer as giving a date.
Practice your note taking skills
Now practice making notes on the topic cards below.
Describe a friend who is very important to you.
You should say:
- who they are
- how you met
- what they are like
You should also say why they are important to you.
Describe a hotel you have stayed in.
You should say:
- where it is
- what facilities there are
- when you stayed there
and say whether you would recommend it to a friend