Tips for working and studying from home

EN Podcast: Improving your performance in speaking tests

Watching your favourite TV series and movies in their original version is a great way to improve your English.
These tips will help you get the most out of the experience.
There’s also a surprise quiz!

And now, let’s listen to the podcast Improving your performance in speaking tests

Improving your performance in speaking tests

Today, I’m going to talk about an important event in many students’ lives, the test, but specifically the speaking or oral test. It is important because a good score can give you access to a new school or university you want to join. In some cases, the test might give you access to a new job or even allow you to move to a new country. The test you’re going to take could be a Cambridge test, IELTS, TOEFL or even a school test, such as the Baccalaureate.

All of these tests have different formats. For example, the Cambridge speaking tests are normally done in a pair with another candidate. IELTS is always an individual test. And for most people, TOEFL is an online test where you speak to a computer. However, there are some tips which will help your performance for all of these tests, regardless of the format.

But, before listening to the tips, here is a question. In English, we have many proverbs that can help you understand the value of hard work, the virtue of working in a team or why it’s important to be patient. There’s a proverb for virtually every message. Here is one that gives the following message. My tips might be right for some people, but not for everyone. There is not necessarily one correct way of doing things, but it depends on what works best for you. What is the proverb?

• There is more than one way to catch a bird.
• There is more than one way to skin a cat.
• There is more than one way to cook a chicken.

Answers at the end of this podcast.

Tip Number 1 – Familiarize yourself with the test content

You have to do very different tasks in different speaking tests. For example, in IELTS you need to speak on your own for about two minutes about a subject given to you by the examiner. In many Cambridge tests, you have to discuss a situation with a partner and reach agreement. If you know what is around the corner, you will not waste precious mental energy trying to understand what to do, but will be able to concentrate on using the language to the best of your ability. If you have a VivaLing coach, they will help you to practicing the tasks.

Tip Number 2 – Don’t worry about making mistakes

Some candidates worry so much about making pronunciation or grammar mistakes that they restrict their language just to be on the safe side. Modern test practices mean that the examiners are trained to reward you for the use of complicated words and grammar, not to punish you every time you make a mistake. So go for it. Impress the examiner with the words you know. Your teacher knows how good your English is because they hear you every day. The examiner only has 10 minutes to realize how good you are.

Tip Number Three – Expand your answers

Most tests involve an examiner interviewing or asking questions. These questions are created to give the candidate an opportunity to voice their opinions, agree, disagree and explain ideas. Even if the question is not interesting to you or the subject is one you know little about, remember it is not your knowledge or opinion that is tested, but the language that you use. Never give short, one-word answers. Expand by using phrases such as, “because, for example, that reminds me.” Then you will be forced to give more details and speak longer.

Tip Number Four – Remember body language

This may seem strange, but your body language affects not just the person you are speaking to, but also your ability to speak well. It is completely normal for candidates to be affected by nerves. Everyone gets nervous in tests, especially when you know how important it is to get a good result. Scientists have proved that, when you smile, your brain automatically releases neurotransmitters that calm your nervous system, lower your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Even the most professional examiners are nicer to candidates they like. So, smile and use positive body language. In a TOEFL test, the computer cannot see you, but the smile will affect you and let you produce the language you know you’re capable of. So, take a deep breath, smile and relax.

Tip Number Five – Get ready

You probably know what you do best in English. Some candidates know lots of words they can use to disagree with someone. Some candidates find it easy to use phrasal verbs such as put up with, look forward to or get over. It may be that you are comfortable using a particular grammar structure, like the third conditional – If I had been there, I wouldn’t have done that. You might know some nice idiomatic expressions, like, “It’s a piece of cake” for something easy or, “light at the end of the tunnel” to express hope in a difficult situation. Think about how you can incorporate these phrases naturally into the test. I guarantee that the examiner will notice, and this can definitely boost your score.

Here are two sayings that can be related to the experience of taking a test.

• Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The city of Rome is beautiful. It is considered one of the great achievements of civilization, but it took a long time to build. We use this expression to emphasize that anything worth doing will take time. Don’t expect to get the best score ever tomorrow. Be patient, study hard and take your time.

• Little things make big days.
To improve your speaking, you don’t need to spend hours and hours practicing. We all lead busy lives, but the internet makes practice so much easier these days. Reading and listening will expose you to more language. Exposure is the key to knowing more. Regular, short practice is more effective than sitting down once a week and studying for four hours. Listen to a short podcast in the car, read an article while you’re waiting in the bank and turn your radio on when you’re cooking and change your smartphone settings to English. Every little bit helps.

Remember the key points for today: familiarize yourself with the test, don’t worry about making mistakes, expand your answers, remember body language and get ready.

But, before we finish, there was a question at the beginning. Which of the 3 expressions means that one approach is not always the best approach. There is more than one way to catch a bird, skin a cat or cook a chicken. The correct answer is there is more than one way to skin a cat. Meow. This is not a nice expression because it’s not nice to remove the skin from your cat, but I suppose it’s not nice to catch birds or to cook chickens either. So, whatever works for you, do it.

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