Part 2 of the IELTS speaking exam seems to worry students the most. This ultimate guide provides both beginners and experienced students with the expert tips you need to do well. 

1. Beginner’s Guide

If you clearly know the test format you can skip this part and jump straight to the Expert Tips below.

What will Happen in Part 2?

For those who aren’t so confident, let’s quickly run through the basics:

  • You will be asked to talk about a personal topic for 1-2 minutes.

  • You can’t see the clock during the exam, but the examiner will check the time.

  • The examiner will give you the question booklet, a pencil and some paper.

  • The examiner will read out the question then start the time.

  • You will have one minute to make notes.

  • After one minute the examiner will ask you to start speaking.

  • Most examiners will give you the whole two minutes to speak.

  • If you stop speaking very early, the examiner will ask if you’ve finished, or they will ask you to talk more.

  • If you stop speaking slightly early, the examiner may wait silently until the two minutes is finished.

  • You will be asked one or two follow up questions after you’ve finished the two minutes.

What Kinds of Topics?

Part 2 topics are usually personal so it could be:

  • an object e.g. a gift you bought someone

  • a person e.g. someone famous who you admire

  • a place e.g. somewhere you know where people go to read

  • an event e.g. a time you worked in a team

Some Part 2 topics are about your country rather than about you personally:

  • an environmental problem in your country

  • a traditional product made in your country   

The topic could be in the past, present or future:

  • Past e.g. a toy you had when you were a child.

  • Present e.g. an activity you usually do to keep fit

  • Future e.g. a country you would like to visit

Sample Question 

Each question card always contains one main topic and four question prompts. Here is the topic and the four questions for the example below (taken from Cambridge 10):

Main Topic:  a local shop you sometimes visit

Question Prompts

1. What does it sell?

2. What does it look like?

3. Where is it?

4. Why do you go there?

2. Expert Tips

Note-taking 1 – Copy the Questions from the Booklet

You should think of your part 2 as a two minute ‘story’ about the main topic. You should stick closely to the topic (e.g. a local shop) but you DON’T need to answer the four question prompts, as they are just there to help you. 

However, some grumpy examiners might get annoyed if you ignore the question prompts completely, so my advice is quickly cover these points first before moving on to other aspects of the topic. 

One note-taking strategy is to spend the first 20 seconds of the one minute note-taking time doing the following:

  • Read the question card

  • Drawing a spider diagram / mind map

  • Make notes (in your own words) of the four question prompts.

You can write whatever kind of style of notes you want (writing in English or your own language), so long as you understand your own notes. Number these prompts or underline/circle them to remind you to do them first.

The notes below relate to the following questions:

1. What does it sell?

2. What does it look like?

3. Where is it?

4. Why do you go there?

Later, when you start speaking you DON’T need to spend A LOT of time talking about these 4 things. You can just talk about them quickly and move on to other parts of your ‘story’, but it’s a good idea (re: grumpy examiners) to try and cover these first.

Note-Taking 2 – Write More Questions!

Here’s one strategy to make sure you NEVER run out of things to say. For the next 20-30 seconds of your note-taking time, think about as many different questions that the examiner could ask you about the topic (your local shop).

Write down these questions and quickly think of the answers (in your head). See the example below which relate to the following questions:

  • Who works in the shop? / Who are the staff?

  • When/What time do you usually visit the shop?

  • How do you usually get there?

  • Who do you go to the shop with?

  • What is your favourite thing about the shop?

  • How long has it been open?

This strategy will give you lots of things to talk about. You don’t  need to talk about all of them – Just choose them one at a time and talk about each one for as long as you want.

Don’t worry if you pause for a few seconds between ‘questions’. That is a natural thing to do. The examiner doesn’t expect you to talk constantly for the whole two minutes.

Here’s another example with an event (Taken from Cambridge 12), rather than a place:


Note-taking 3 – Write down the Verbs

An alternative strategy for Part 2 topic that are in the past (which is very common), is to write down all the past simple verbs that you might want to use.

See an example question (taken from Cambridge 12) and notes below. Check out more information about this strategy here.

Go Back to an Earlier Point.

Following these note-taking tips, it’s very unlikely that you will run out of things to say, but if this does happen, then naturally go back to something you said before and talk more about that.  

So if you have been talking about a trip to Singapore with your sister, then tell the examiner more about your sister. You could use ‘As I said earlier’ to reference back to that point.

“As I said earlier, I went to Singapore with my sister. She’s a really good person to travel with because…”

Talk for the Whole Two Minutes!

As with all parts of the speaking exam, the examiner is assessing four parts of your speaking: fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

You are asked to speak for 1-2 minutes, so if you dry up completely (stop speaking) in the first minute then your fluency score will be affected (this doesn’t affect your vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation scores), so the best thing to do is just keep talking for the whole two minutes, until the examiner stops you (apart from natural pauses or to quickly look at your notes).

Don’t worry if you’re at the beginning, middle or the end of your story when the 2 mins is up. It doesn’t matter – just keep talking until the examiner stops you so they can give you a good score for fluency.

Don’t repeat the topic. Start simply and confidently

In all my experience as an IELTS examiner, I noticed that students always struggled with starting their part 2 in a natural way. For the local shop topic students would say

“I’m going to talk to you about a shop near where I live that I sometimes use.”

By repeating the topic in this way, you are starting your part 2 in kind of a boring way, which won’t impress the examiner at all.  The examiner knows the topic (they have a copy of the question booklet and they read the topic to you), so you don’t need to repeat it. It would be much better if you started like this:

“I’m gonna talk to you about a shop called Home Mart.”

“I’m gonna talk to you about Home Mart, which is a shop near my apartment.”

I’ve never been to a shop!!!

The Part 2 questions are designed in a way that they should be suitable for everybody, but what if the questions don’t relate to your experience.

For example, what if you live on a mountain, in the middle of the countryside with no shops, or you have spent your entire life in bed on Facebook, and you’ve never been to a shop in your life?….WHAT DO YOU DO?

You can’t change the topic, so just be honest and talk for two minutes about why you’ve never been to a shop, and then talk about one you saw on TV or heard about from a friend.

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

Try out some of the expert tips and strategies with the question above (taken from Cambridge 12). Let us know how it goes.

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