There are four criterion on which you are graded for the IELTS Speaking Test, one of which is grammatical range and accuracy. This refers to the number of different grammatical structures that you can use in your speaking and how frequently you make mistakes. Put another way, you need to be accurate in your grammatical use and you need to use a variety of structures (range) too. In today’s post, we will look at what this means for Part 1 on the Speaking Test.
Part 1 is where you answer questions about yourself. It is very important that you use the right verb tense —in its simple or continuous form—depending on what you want to say. In Speaking Part 1, it is crucial that you first identify the time frame referred to in the examiner’s questions so that you can choose the most appropriate tenses to frame your answers.
Have a look at these examples of questions you might be asked in Part 1:
- What hobbies did you have when you were a child?
- How has your hometown changed since you were a child?
- How long have you been studying English?
- Do you have much time to do your hobbies?
- Where are you living at the moment?
- What are your plans after you take the IELTS test?
- How do you think your town will change in the next 20 years?
- What job would you like to do?
What is the time frame for each question? The clue is always in the question – look for markers such as:
- Time phrases, eg. at the moment/when you were a child/since you were a child
- Modal verbs, eg. …would you like to do
- Auxiliary verbs, eg. did/do/have
Once you have established the time frame, you will know the appropriate tense(s) to use in your response. Now let’s look at when to use certain tenses in more detail.
When you want to talk about general things that you do regularly, then you need the Present Simple. This tense describes general truths, habits and descriptions of things or events that are current. When you want to refer to actions that are temporary or happen around the moment of speaking, then you need the Present Continuous.
Tell me about your accommodation.
I live in a small apartment in the centre of my town with two other students. There are only two bedrooms so currently my friend and I are sharing a room, which is a little inconvenient because space is limited. There’s a small kitchen which we’re redecorating at the moment and we share a comfortable living room where we all hang out together and relax after work.
You may also have to talk about different events from your past. Decide if the actions are still relevant in the present. Do they still have an impact or not? If they do, then you should use the Present Perfect. If they are past actions with no connection to now, you should use the Past Simple. You can also use used to or would to talk about habits or routines in the past.
Have you always liked the same food?
No not at all, I think my tastes have changed very much since I was a child. Back then, I used to eat only plain food like white bread and pasta. I would refuse to eat any vegetables! Since then, I’ve lived in many different countries as an adult and tried many foreign dishes, and these days I think the important thing about a good diet is variety.
You may also be asked a question about your intentions in the future, in which case you should use a future structure, will or going to. These structures imply different degrees of commitment and it is important that you are familiar with how to use them correctly. In general, ‘going to’ suggests a stronger intention than ‘will’.
Do you plan to live there in the future?
Well, right now I am not sure. I will probably stay there for the next three years until I finish my studies but after I graduate, I am going to take a year off to travel around Asia so I guess it depends whether I come back after the year is over or decide to stay abroad longer.
Sometimes a question requires a hypothetical answer. This means you need to give an answer based on your own idea or theory and you need specific grammar to do this – the Second Conditional (if/would).
What would you change about your job?
Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I love my job! I guess it would be good not to have to work such long hours though. Sometimes my shifts are very long and tiring. If I finished work earlier, I would have more time with my kids, which would be good for us. But that’s the only thing I would change. Everything else suits me fine.
In conclusion, although it is important that you use a range of tenses and structures throughout the IELTS speaking exam, it is also important you demonstrate fluency and that you sound natural. Don’t try to show off with complex grammar unless you are confident you can use it accurately and appropriately. Familiarise yourself with the tenses discussed here and use the abundance of sample questions found on the internet to practise, practise, practise.
Why don’t you try answering the questions above in full? You could record yourself speaking and then review the recording afterwards to see how many structures you used in your reply. Then compare your responses with the model answers on the free downloadable resource.