This article will look at how long your answers should be in Part 1 of the Speaking test and some simple ways to make your answers better.
I am often asked by students how long answers should be in Part 1 . There is no definitive answer to this, but they should not be too short and not too long. That’s a confusing answer, I know. Let me explain more.
They shouldn’t be too short because you want to show the examiner that you can actually use English, so ‘I’m a student.’ is not really long enough.
However, they should not be too long either, because Part 1 is on familiar topics (family, work, hobbies etc.) and you don’t normally talk for 2 minutes when someone asks you where you are from. Also, you will have lots of opportunities to give longer answers in Parts 2 and 3.
As a general rule, if you only give a single sentence with a single clause like ‘I’m from Ireland.’ then your answer is too short. I also don’t think Part 1 answers should ever have more than three sentences. Somewhere in between is just right.
The main point is that you should not worry about length too much in Part 1. Your use of English is much more important.
Below are a few ways that you can easily extend your answers from a short sentence to a more comprehensive answer that will sound better and hopefully get you a higher score.
Feelings and Opinions
You can easily extend your answer by saying how you feel about the question you were just asked. It will also make your answer more interesting.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Short answer: ‘I like shopping.’
Longer answer: ‘I like shopping because I love trying on new clothes and I always feel more confident when I’m wearing a new outfit.
One of the easiest ways you can extend your answer is to simply use the word ‘but’ to contrast details.
How long have you worked there?
Short answer: I’ve worked there for three years.
Longer answer: I’ve worked there for three years, but I’m going to change careers next year.
Instead of giving a very short answer you can add in some extra details with ‘and’, ‘with’ or ‘also’.
Do you live in a flat or a house?
Short answer: I live in a house.
Longer answer: I live in a house with my two brothers and my mum. We’ve also got a dog and a cat.
You can talk about what you ‘used to’ do and how that has changed now in the present.
Do you play sport?
Short answer: I play football.
Longer answer: I used to love basketball, but now I play football more because that’s what my friends are in to.
Always try to explain why you think or do something in the test. You can do this using ‘because’ or ‘so’.
Do you like your job?
Short answer: Yes, I really love my job.
Longer answer: Yes, I really love my job because I get to help people with their problems everyday.
If something will change in the future, you can use one of the future structures, like ‘will’ or ‘be + going to’.
Do you work or study?
Short answer: I’m at university at the moment.
Longer answer: I’m at university at the moment, but I’m graduating next year and I will hopefully get a job in advertising.
Contrast Opposite Opinions
You might be asked a question where you have to talk about your opinion or another person’s opinion. Use ‘even so’ or ‘although’ to show that you have considered both sides.
Is your hometown a nice place for tourists to visit?
Short answer: Yes, it has a really nice beach.
Longer answer: Yes, it has a really nice beach, although it is getting really busy these days, so it’s not as pristine as it used to be.
Real life examples are always the easiest things to talk about because you can talk about them naturally and in more detail.
Do you get along with your brothers?
Short answer: No, we’re not in to the same things.
Longer answer: No, we’re not in to the same things, like when we are both watching TV we always fight about what show to watch.
You can use words like ‘usually’, ‘never’, ‘always’ and ‘more often than not.’ to extend your answers.
What do you do at the weekends?
Short answer: I watch TV and play computer games.
Longer answer: I usually watch TV and play computer games, but sometimes I go out for a drink with my friends.
How can I use these?
The best candidates use English naturally in the Speaking test. They don’t think ‘Should I extend this with an example or talk about the future?’ and then give an answer, they just reply spontaneously.
You can improve by doing something I call practicing ‘slow and fast.’ Practice slowly first with old exam questions and think about how you could extend your answers and even have notes and books in front of you. Think deeply about what structures you need to use and focus on getting your answers perfect.
You can then practice ‘fast’ with new questions and without any help and hopefully, because you have studied the structures in detail, you will be able to use them naturally without any help.
Can I use more than one?
Of course! They are totally flexible. Combining two or three of the above structures in a single answer is very impressive.
Where are all the complicated structures?
Trying too hard to use ‘complex structures’ normally leads to mistakes. Remember that the main goal in the Speaking test is being able to communicate effectively and fluently with the examiner. If you are thinking about complicated grammar structures, you probably won’t be able to do either of those things.
You do have to use a ‘range of structures’, but that does not mean that you have to use every complicated phrase and tense in the English language. Focus on real communication and the ‘range of structures’ will look after themselves.
How can I practice?
We now have a private Facebook group for the people on our mailing list and there are lots of people on there sharing their details and practicing together. Just join our list below and I will share the Facebook group with you in our weekly newsletter.
For lots of Part 1 examples, check out our sample answers page.