Beat the Test.

July 10, 2007

General Speaking Tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — beatthetest @ 4:22 am

1. Know the questions. The speaking is far more structured than many people realize. There are only 6 types of speaking questions. Being prepared for each will give you a huge advantage.

2. Learn the patterns. If you become familiar with the phrases and expressions commonly used in each of the six question types, you will be able to answer more quickly and confidently and will have a much greater chance of getting a high score.

3. Watch the time. Students’ #1 problem is not using time effectively and getting cut off at the end. Keep checking the clock while you practice at home and in class.

4. Practice speaking quickly. Even English speakers have to speak quicker than normal to get all the information for certain questions. Time is your #1 enemy. Your first step should be memorizing speaking patterns so you can quickly get to the good stuff – the details.

5. Say at least something. The first mark is the easiest. Even if you don’t really understand the listening or reading, if you just say the main idea you’ll most likely get a point for it. Listen for some key words, and throw them in with a few memorized patterns and you’re well on your way.

6. Use transitions. They will make your answers seem organized. Just don’t overuse them. Generally a couple sentences of detail should come after a sentence with a transition word – avoid using transition words in consecutive sentences (though sometimes this can be done for effect).

7. Use every word wisely. Only say things that get points. That means no disclaimers like “this may be stupid” or “I’m not sure, but…” As well, don’t apologize or ask for a high mark at the end of your speaking. Some students often try this, but it’s better to just include more details with this time.

8. Don’t leave silent space. It’s OK to use sounds like “uh” or “um” to fill space, just as native English speakers do. Again, just don’t do it too much.

9. Correct yourself. Don’t worry too much about small pronunciation and grammar mistakes, but if you make a bigger mistake, correct yourself by using phrases such as “sorry, I mean…,” “that is…,” etc. If your explanation seems a little unclear, explain your ideas by saying “This means that…,” “What I mean is…,” etc.

10. Use collocations. Collocations are natural word combinations in English. They are a sign of a highly developed vocabulary, and are always present in 4/4 speakings. To improve this farea, simply read or listen to English a lot, and notice which words occur together often. A quicker way to find great collocations is by studying my lists of common speaking phrases.

INDEPENDENT QUESTIONS

11. Brainstorm well. One of the biggest problems for many students is a lack of ideas. To do well on independent questions, students must be able to think quickly and creatively. The only way to get better at this is through practice. Use my list of independent speaking topics and try brainstorming by yourself at home.

12. Keep introductions short. The focus is on the details, so keep your introduction around 10 seconds long.

13. Give 2-3 examples of support in your independent speaking. Three is best. If you give two main details, they should be very strong answers that hold a lot of information.

14. Spend about 10-15 seconds on each point.

  • If you use 3 examples: 10 seconds for the intro, 10 seconds x 3 points = 30 seconds, 5 seconds for emergency use.
  • If you use 2 examples: 10 seconds for the intro, 15 seconds x 2 points = 30 seconds, 5 seconds for emergency use.

15. Conclusions are often unnecessary. If you have time, include one, but mostly avoid conclusions, as they usually just repeat information.

INTEGRATED QUESTIONS

16. Don’t give any personal opinions on any speaking questions except for #5. In integrated questions, you’re just reporting information. Imagine yourself as a journalist in the corner of the room, explaining what the professor and/or the reading have to say.

17. Use reporting words. This follows the last point. Make sure you say where the ideas are coming by using phrases like “The professor feels that”, “According to the reading,” etc.

18. Answer the question. Make sure you read the question and answer the question being asked. You don’t always need to summarize everything that was said. For example, in a dialogue between students, the question may only ask for the man’s opinion, so don’t spend much time at all giving the woman’s.

19. Kill list introducers and excess bridge words. You have no time to repeat information, so don’t use structures like this: “I prefer A for reasons of X, Y, and Z. First, X”.

20. Focus mainly on the listening. For questions #3 and 4, spend only about 10-15 seconds of the time summarizing the reading, and the rest on reporting the listening.

21. Take very organized notes. This will help you speak more fluently. Write the main idea of the listening at the top, and circle or underline it. For conversations, use a chart with headings of “man” and “woman”. For lectures, number the major points and use subheadings for the details. For conversations between the professor and students, be sure to keep track of who is saying what.

22. Pay attention to the beginning of the listening. The main idea will almost always be stated in the first few sentences.

23. Listen for details you can put into a list. In both lectures and conversations, the speakers will usually include from 2-5 main details – examples, problems, steps in a process, reasons, etc. Listen for these, as every detail should be included in the body of your response.

24. Listen for transitions. Major details are very often signaled by a transition word or phrase. So if you hear a transition, get ready to write something important down.

25. Listen for questions. Especially in type #4 speakings, questions from the student or professor will be followed by an answer that will be a main detail.

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