How to solve some common problems in speaking

Article contributed by Dominic Cole of

Each part of the speaking test asks you to speak in a slightly different way. This means that each part can create its own problems and it’s sensible to prepare different techniques and strategies for each part. Here are some common problems and ideas for how to solve them.


Part 1 - extending your answer

In this part of the test the most common problem is knowing how to extend your answers. You get about 12 questions in 4 minutes and so you shouldn’t give very long answers but you also want to try and extend your answers slightly.

There are many ways to extend an answer but the best way is to answer the question directly and then explain that answer in a few short statements. It’s normally best to keep the structure of what you say simple, e.g.:

Here is what I think - this is why I think it - and this is an example

One way to do this is to use some simple connecting language - this is the language we use most in speech. These are the words you should use most and how they can help you

because - explain with a reason
for example - add an example
but -  add a different idea
so - talk about the consequences
and - add another similar idea


How often do you use a computer?

Actually not that much. [short answer first]. That’s because I mostly use my smart phone to send mails and check things online. It’s much easier to carry a phone around than a computer and so I only ever really use my computer now for writing documents and word processing.

Another possible technique is to make comparisons. This works particularly well when you are asked questions about your habits or what people in your country do - both very common question types. Here you don’t give one answer but two short answers - normally joined by but. Some words to help you here are

quite often
from time to time
some people
most people


What type of music is popular in your country?

I suppose different kinds of music are popular with different people [short answer first]. Some people - mostly the younger generation - prefer to listen to pop and dance music but older people tend to prefer traditional folk music or classical music.


Part 2 - speaking for 2 minutes

The common problem here is knowing how to speak for 2 minutes. It’s important that you do to avoid being penalised for lack of fluency. The solution comes in two parts. The first  part is learning how to use your one minute preparation time well.

Typically the best thing to do in your preparation time is not to try and think of words - something a lot of candidates do - but rather concentrate on ideas. The problem with trying to think of words is that you probably won’t find many in one minute and the ones you do find may not be that helpful. Ideas are better just because they give you more to talk about. And it’s important to note that you can also add ideas in that are not on the prompt.

To make this work you need to make notes in your preparation time that you can use. The best thing to do is jot down a few words about each item you are asked to talk about. This is how it can work:


Talk about a journey you have made. You should say:

where you went
what transport you used
who you travelled with

And why the journey was memorable


Cambridge - last year - job interview
by car - train expensive
with Pete - best friend - 15 years

These idea notes allow me to add details about the interview and what it was for, compare the costs of train and car travel and talk about my friend. Now there is lots to say.

The second part of the solution for getting to two minutes is to use the cue card to help you structure what you say. It can be much easier if you try and speak about each topic on the card separately for 30 seconds or so than try and give one long answer. It allows you to break your talk up a bit and gives you natural pauses when you speak.


Part 3 - thinking and speaking

In the last part of the test you’re given harder thinking type questions based on your long-turn speaking in part 2. The problem here is that unlike in part 1 when the questions are very straightforward you may need some thinking time but you also need to start speaking immediately.

One solution here is to learn to discuss the question and not to try and answer it immediately and to structure your answer. This is in some ways the opposite of what you do in part 1. There are a variety of different strategies for doing this but here is one possibility to consider. You start off by saying you don’t know the answer and explain why and discuss possible different ideas and then at the end state a conclusion. It really doesn’t matter if you say “I don’t know” as the points are for how you use language not for your ideas.


F- focus on the question by rephrasing it in your own words
E - explain why it is a harder question for you
A - analyse different possible answers
R - repeat the main idea


Is it better to get the news online or from conventional newspapers?

I’m not sure which is the best way to get the news [focus on question]. It’s tough question for me to answer because I don’t actually read the news that often [explain why the question is hard]. I suppose it could be better to read the news online because it’s cheaper to use the net than buy a paper. But then again not everyone has internet access and I suppose some people find it more convenient to have a paper they can carry around everywhere. [analyse possible answers]. So to answer your question I don’t really know which is the solution as they both have their own advantages. [repeat the main idea]