IELTS Speaking – can I change the topic?

Many students have asked us if it is possible to change the topic during the IELTS speaking exam. They also asked us why the examiner continues to ask questions about a particular topic that they have answered, which they don’t like. We are here to explain to you 🙂

Changing the topic in IELTS speaking

At no time can you ask the examiner to change the topic. You must prepare enough information and vocabulary on common topics so you can talk about a range of topics.

If the examiner asks you “Do you like art?” and you answer “No, I don’t.”, the examiner will continue to ask you questions about art. Just because you don’t like the topic, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the topic in English. This is an English language test and high level students should be able to talk about a wide range of topics that you like and also don’t like. Below is an example of how you can still talk about a topic you don’t like.

Part 1

The questions are often simple in speaking part 1. Even if you don’t know much about the question, you can still answer it. Here are some examples:

Q: What kind of art do you like?

A: As I don’t like art, there isn’t one type of style or art form that I particularly like. Of all the art forms, I really don’t like modernist paintings.

Examiner Comment: The student gave a clear and concise answer. The answer was an appropriate length for part 1 and it contained a clear explanation. This answer contains complex sentences which helps the grammar score.  The answer also contains a good range of vocabulary such as “art form”, “style” and “modernist paintings”.

Q. What kind of extreme sports are popular in your country?

A: I don’t know anything about extreme sports so I can’t say which ones are popular. Most people just play regular sports like ball sports and water sports.

Examiner Comments: This reply gives a direct answer and also adds more information. It helps with the criterion of fluency. Although this candidate didn’t give examples of extreme sports, they gave examples of other sports which is appropriate to the topic. This is a strong answer.

More Tips

  • Part 2 –  Try to talk about the topic as closely as you can. If you do not understand it, talk about something similar. Don’t worry if you don’t use all the prompts on the card.
  • Part 3 – If you really don’t have any ideas for the answer, explain that. The most important thing is to use your English to express yourself.  You can still get good marks for using strong English in your answer. Below is an example of a part 3 question when the candidate can’t think of a clear answer or ideas:

Q: How do you think sports equipment will develop in the future?

A: I have no idea really but I guess that as technology develops, equipment will also change. That is clear from the development of equipment over the past 50 years and the introduction of new materials.

Examiner: Although the answer didn’t go into details, the candidate was able to offer an answer which used both future forms and past tenses which would give a strong score in grammar.

  • Don’t expect the examiner to change your topic because you don’t know much about it. This is a language test and the examiner must test how well you cope talking about different topics.
  • Prepare a range of topics for your IELTS test. Prepare ideas and vocabulary.
  • There are no marks for a right or wrong answer in IELTS speaking. There are only marks for your use of English language (so hint hint, do throw in plenty of linking phrases!)
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IELTS Speaking: Students’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below are answers to some of the most frequent questions students ask us in relation to IELTS speaking. They will provide you useful tips and information about IELTS speaking. Happy studying 🙂

  1. How many parts are there to the IELTS speaking test?
    There are 3 parts. There is an interview, a talk and a discussion with the examiner.
  2. How long does the speaking test take?
    It takes a total of 11 to 14 minutes. Part 1 is 4-5 mins, part 2 is 3-4 mins and part 3 is 4-5 mins.
  3. Is the speaking test face to face with an examiner or by computer?
    Your speaking test will be face to face with an IELTS examiner. There is no option to do your IELTS test by computer.
  4. How will the speaking test be marked?
    You will be marked on fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Each one accounts for 25% of your marks.
  5. What kinds of topics will be asked in the speaking test?
    There are many different topics for each part of the speaking test. 
  6. How many questions will I be asked?
    You will be asked 12 questions in part 1 (these are based on 3 different topics) and in part 3, you will be asked 5 or more questions – it depends on the length of your answers. Try to aim for long, detailed answers in part 3.
  7. Why do I need to expand my answers in my speaking test?
    To get band score 6 and above for the criterion of fluency, you must show the examiner that you are willing to speak at length. This means you are happy to give longer answers.
  8. Do I need to talk for 2 minutes in part 2?
    In part 2, you must talk for between 1 and 2 minutes. I recommended you aim for between 1.5 to 2 mins which will show a good level of fluency and the ability to speak at length. However, if you are not a confident speaker, don’t try to push it too far and just aim for slightly over 1 minute.
  9. What happens if I continue talking past 2 mins in speaking part 2?
    The examiner will control the time very strictly in your test. The examiner will stop you when you reach 2 minutes and then he/she will move on to part 3.
  10. Can I choose my topic to talk about in part 2?
    No, the examiner will give you a topic card which contains a list of prompts.
  11. Can I ask the examiner to change the topic is part 2 if I can’t talk about it?
    No, you can’t change the topic. You must try to talk on the topic you are given.
  12. Do I need to follow the prompts on the cue card in speaking part 2?
    No, you don’t have to, it’s not compulsory. However, I recommend that you do follow the prompts because they offer a good structure for your talk. This is part of the criterion of fluency.
  13. What’s the difference between part 1 and part 3 in the IELTS speaking test?
    Part 1 is like an interview. The examiner will ask you short answer questions on common topics relating to your life or your country. In part 3, it is more similar to a discussion. The examiner will ask you about world issues or broader, more complex questions. In part 3, your answers should be longer and more detailed.
  14. Should I give examples in my answers?
    Yes, it is very useful to do that, particularly in part 3 when you need to give longer, more detailed answers.
  15. What can I do if I don’t understand the question?
    In speaking part 1, you can ask the examiner to repeat the question but the examiner can’t explain it or help you. In part 2, the examiner will give you a topic and you can’t change it. In part 3, you can ask the examiner to explain the question, just say ” I’m sorry could you explain that, please?
  16. Will I get a lower score if I ask the examiner to repeat the question?
    No, it will not affect your score. However, only do this two or three times and no more.
  17. What can I do if I don’t have any ideas for the answer in part 3?
    It sometimes happens that you are asked a question for which you have no ideas. Here’s a typical example “How do you think space exploration benefits mankind?” If you get a question but you have no ideas for the answer, you can say “To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it before. I guess there are benefits to space exploration but I can’t say what they are.” This answer is still good. You are still using a range of good language.
  18. Does it matter if I have an accent when I talk?
    No, as long as the examiner can understand clearly. If your accent prevents the examiner from understanding you, it will lower your score drastically.
  19. Why did the examiner interrupt my answer?
     It is possible for the examiner to interrupt your answer and not let you finish. There are three main reasons why this might happen. Firstly, there is a time limit and the examiner must move on to the next question. Secondly, the examiner is satisfied with the language in your answer and wants to move quickly to a new question which tests another part of your English. Thirdly, your answer has gone off topic and the examiner wants to start a new question. So, if the examiner interrupts your answer, don’t worry about it. Just focus on the next question and answer confidently.
  20. Can I ask the examiner for his or her opinion?
    No, this is a language test, the examiner wants to hear your English and your opinions.
  21. Where can I get a practice speaking test from?
    Check out this page if you would like to practice speaking with an experienced IELTS teacher.
  22. Should I correct my mistakes when I’m speaking in the test?
    It is ok to correct some mistakes but make sure it doesn’t affect your fluency. Every time you stop speaking to correct a mistake, it will affect your fluency score.
  23. How should I greet the examiner?
    When you walk into the speaking exam room, the examiner will greeting and do an ID check. Follow this link to learn all about the questions for the ID check and how to greet the examiner.
  24. What should I wear for my speaking test?
    You can wear whatever you want. This is not a formal interview, it is only a speaking test. Wear clothes that you are most comfortable in.
  25. What happens if my answer includes the answer to the next question on the examiner’s list?
    The examiner has quite a long list of possible questions and they choose which questions to ask and which not to ask. So if you answer includes the answer to the next question on the examiner’s list, he or she will skip that question and move on to the question after that. So never worry about adding extra information to your answer – it won’t affect the next question.
  26. Can I use body language in my speaking test?
    The examiner is only interested in hearing your English language. It is your choice if you want to use body language or not. Most people find it natural to use body language while talking so feel free to use it. It is important that you are relaxed and talk naturally during your test.