IELTS Speaking Part 1 | How long should my answers be?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked by IELTS students. I have two answers: a simple answer and a not-so-simple answer.

Not-So-Simple Answer

IELTS Speaking is intentionally structured to be more conversational than typical language test ‘interviews.’ How many sentences do you typically use when speaking with your friends? Answer: It varies! Just like it should in IELTS …

Sometimes you have a lot to say; sometimes you don’t. If an examiner asked me whether I enjoy watching movies, I would probably say:

No, not really. I haven’t watched a movie in years.

This is a short answer with very little detail. That’s fine. But if every answer is this short, you will score poorly.

I had a great day yesterday, so if an examiner asked me what I did, I would probably get quite animated:

I went with a couple of friends to watch my favourite football team, Sheffield Wednesday, play Brighton. I haven’t seen Wednesday win in years, so I had a great time because they won 1-0. Seeing as it was a Championship side beating a Premier League team, it was also one of the main sports stories on the BBC, and I always enjoy listening to the media discuss an event I was at. I can’t wait to go again.

This is on the longer end of the IELTS Speaking Part 1 spectrum. But that’s also fine. The key takeaway from this is:

Mix up your sentence lengths.

This is what you do in a conversation in your native language. If every time you speak you use the exact same number of sentences, you will sound like a weirdo in any language.

Simple Answer

Some students aren’t happy with the not-so-simple answer, so I tell them:

IELTS Speaking Part 1 Answer = Answer + Extra Information

Basically, answer the exact question you are asked by the examiner then follow it up with some extra relevant information. This typically runs to two or three sentences.

What are your hobbies?
To be honest, my only real hobby is shopping. (Answer) I usually go shopping two or three times a week as there’s a huge shopping mall next to my house. (Extra Information)

What kinds of thing make you laugh?
I really enjoy slapstick humour, so I always find it funny when one of my friends falls over. (Answer) My parents hate it when I laugh at that kind of thing. I can’t help what I find funny, though. (Extra Information)

So my short answer is:

Two or three sentences

This is a good guideline, but please don’t treat this as gospel. Just like the key to a healthy diet is variety, the key to sounding natural when you speak is to mix up your sentence lengths.

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