It’s common for IELTS students to worry about getting an unfamiliar topic on the speaking exam. However, this article will outline the reasons why this shouldn’t be your priority and what to do if you do receive a topic you know little about.
I know that it can be a lot of pressure speaking about an unfamiliar topic in a second language. I’m a native English speaker and even I struggle to talk about topics that I know little about!
We conducted an experiment on our YouTube Channel a few months ago, challenging our native-English team members to answer IELTS Speaking questions with no prior preparation. You can see them struggle (and maybe even feel a bit better about your own skills!) by watching the video below:
What are the chances that I’ll get an unfamiliar topic?
Honestly, this depends on the amount of time you’ve invested in your IELTS preparation.
However, it is unlikely that you will receive a topic in the IELTS exam that you know nothing about. The topics chosen by IELTS are typically those that most people are comfortable discussing.
More importantly, it’s not a knowledge test – it’s a speaking test. The marking scheme doesn’t mention knowledge-specific criteria, but the following:
Fluency and coherence
(If you didn’t know this already, you should click this link to read our guide to IELTS Speaking.)
Many individuals on the internet create their own exam questions with crazy topics because they think it will help students practice.
However, such questions make many IELTS students more nervous than they should be.
Because they think they could be asked about any topic in the world!
Using non-official speaking topics does not help you prepare for the speaking exam because it distracts you from the type of questions that you could actually receive. This is why we only recommend using official IELTS materials to practice.
Therefore, you shouldn’t worry about getting an unfamiliar topic in the speaking exam – the chances of this happening aren’t as likely as you might think.
Don’t waste your valuable time worrying about unfamiliar topics – spend your time on focused preparation.
What if I do get an unfamiliar topic?
There are two possible strategies that you can follow if you receive an unfamiliar topic in IELTS speaking:
Be open and honest.
You can always tell the examiner that you know very little about the topic or that it’s not relevant to your own experience. However, it is important that you explain why.
Explaining that you don’t know much about a topic will allow you the opportunity to develop your answer while demonstrating your pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and fluency skills.
Remember: no two people will answer a question the exact same way, so it’s not a case of your answer being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Your ultimate goal is to communicate with the examiner effectively.
Make up a story.
The IELTS exam isn’t a lie detector test!
Therefore, it is completely fine to make up a story in the speaking exam – the ultimate goal should be for you to demonstrate your English speaking skills.
This strategy is more suited to those who are naturally good storytellers or creative types. If you struggle to speak creatively or dishonestly, I would not recommend lying to the examiner.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of lying, you can always speculate about other people’s experiences of your given topic. It is much better to speak about other people and keep talking than to hesitate or pause because you don’t know what else to talk about.
You can read our complete guide to lying to IELTS examiners by clicking this link.
I completely understand how stressful the IELTS exam is. Hopefully, this article has helped you realise that you have one less thing to worry about! If you’re feeling more confident about your exam preparation, let me know in the comments.
Alternatively, if you’re repeatedly failing to get the scores you need, you might need more help than free materials can offer. If this sounds like you, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll do everything we can to help you get your required score.
We’re always happy to help!