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!)

IELTS Speaking: Can I ask Examiner Questions?

Can I ask the examiner questions during the exam?

This page explains to your questions you should and shouldn’t ask examiners in each part of the IELTS speaking test. Take a moment to go through 🙂

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 1

Of course, you can ask the examiner to repeat the question in IELTS speaking part 1 (Could you repeat that, please?) but that’s about all you can ask. You can’t ask other questions. The examiner is limited to asking questions only in speaking part 1 and can’t help you or explain. The examiner can’t explain questions and can’t explain words.

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 2

You can’t ask any questions in part 2. And you definitely won’t be able to ask the examiner to change the topic. You must use the topic that has been given to you and try your best to talk about something related to your cue card. If you don’t understand a word on your cue card, the examiner can’t help you. You need to follow the topic on your card and follow the prompts you understand. You can add any other information you want to your talk to make it longer which relates to the topic. Remember to use plenty of LINKING PHRASES!!
The examiner will tell you when to start talking and when to stop. You don’t need to ask.

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 3

You can ask the examiner to explain words and to explain the question in IELTS speaking part 3.  This is useful because the examiner will rephrase the question using different words and make it easier to understand. You can also ask the examiner to repeat the question, the same as part 1.

Here is the list of questions you can ask in speaking part 3:

  • Could you explain that, please? (the examiner will rephrase the question)
  • What do you mean exactly? (the examiner will rephrase the question)
  • Could you explain what X means, please? (for a specific word)
  • What does X mean? (for a specific word)

Don’t ask the examiner the following questions:

  • Have you been there?
  • What do you think?
  • Where do you come from?
  • Do you agree with me?
  • Can you change the question?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • Can you give me a different topic?
  • What are your opinions?

Thinking Time

Sometimes you need to time to think about the question and think of your answer. One way to do that is to ask the examiner to repeat the question. It is a useful way to gain time to think. Alternatively, you can say “It’s an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about it before. I suppose” You could use that method for difficult questions in part 3.

Will I lose marks if I ask the examiner to repeat the question?

No, it won’t affect your score. Your score is calculated on fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. There is no score for understanding or comprehension. So, it is fine to ask the examiner to repeat one to two questions in part 1 or to explain a question in part 3.