IDP IELTS Blog

IELTS Speaking Exam Tips: Worried about questions you can’t answer?

22 Feb 2019
IELTS Speaking Exam Tips: Worried about questions you can’t answer?

Job interviews, airport immigration, and the IELTS speaking exam – what do these all have in common? They sometimes ask you questions, and you don’t have the answers. This is not a relaxing thought. Nobody likes to be asked questions they can’t answer. And what if this is an important situation? Airport immigration and job interviews are important! The IELTS speaking test is important! So, what can we do in these situations? The answer is that you don’t have to give an answer. This isn’t philosophy, it is a communication technique. Let’s have a look at some ways we can successfully respond if a tough question comes up.

Respond with another question

This is a great way to give yourself time to think about the question and to see a different perspective. If the question is What developments for green energy are there your country?, you could respond with What do you mean by green energy?. This will give you some clarification on the topic. It will also give you more time to answer in a different way.

Shift your response
Woman contemplating question marksDuring a test, a topic comes up that you don’t know much about. However, maybe you do know about a similar topic. What am I talking about? Let’s take a closer look. Ok, so someone asks you Have you ever been waterskiing?. Maybe you don’t know about waterskiing. So, here’s what you can do. Respond by saying I don’t know anything about waterskiing, but I do know a lot about alpine skiing. At this point you’ll be able to go on and speak about a topic that you do know about – alpine skiing. This allows you to both be fluent and to answer the question. You simply shift the topic.

Give reasons why you don’t know

This is a great technique to practice. Some people can talk for hours using it. Respond to the question by explaining why you don’t know. Imagine the topic is about Cricket. Now, imagine you don’t know anything about cricket. So, instead of just saying I don’t know about this, you can go on to explain why you don’t. You could say something like I don’t know about cricket because in my country we don’t really play this sport. I guess we don’t play it because things like baseball and soccer are the main sports people play. If I were to travel to countries that had cricket, I would love to learn. I love to learn about new sports. So, you see, even though you don’t know about the topic, you can still talk a lot.

Apologize and move on
three people with speech bubblesGoogle might seem to know everything, but individuals do not. In life and on the speaking test you could be asked about something you just don’t know. Maybe the topic is about international laws. Maybe you know nothing about this. So, another way to deal with this is just to move on. Respond in a polite and thoughtful way with phrases like the following: I’m not sure about that topic.; I’ve never thought about that before.; or That’s an area I’m unfamiliar with. Because IELTS wants you to speak as much as possible, the examiner will probably jump to the next question. Be careful though and only do this once in a while. If you do it too much, it might hurt your score!

Tag questions

More advanced speakers of English are good at using tag questions. In this situation, a tag question will allow you to fluently respond while trying to understand the question. If you use the tag question carefully, you’ll be able to get more information about the question and hopefully develop an answer. So what is a tag question? A tag question is a statement, followed by a yes/no question. The yes/no question is used to check if your statement is correct. Here are some examples to make it clearer.

Speaker A: Have you played cricket?
Speaker B using tag question: Cricket is the sport that is similar to tennis, isn’t it?
Speaker A: It is a sport, but they use a bat and it’s similar to baseball.
Speaker B using tag question: Oh cricket. It’s an outdoor sport popular in Canada, right?
Speaker A: No, actually its more popular in India and southern hemisphere countries.
Speaker B using a tag question: Oh, they all wear white, right?
Speaker A: Yes! Now you got it.

So there you have it. It isn’t what you know, it’s how you communicate. You can chat with anyone for hours if you use the right communication techniques. Practicing responses to questions you don’t know not only makes you more fluent, but can improve your score. Best of luck on test day!  

Testimonials

IELTS has been growing steadily for 20 years because it works. It’s good to know that IELTS has been the choice of millions of people over the years. IELTS stood out immediately because it tests all four skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening, giving a well-rounded assessment of my English
Arnik Surasarang, Teacher
Instructions before the IELTS written and speaking test were very clear and the people were nice and helpful. I found the written test pretty good. It was not too difficult, nor too simple. The results came quickly and I was accepted in the program and I am currently in the middle of my first year exams.
Nicholas Cletz, Company CEO
I like that they are open to give us some information and kind of training course without any cost so we can get ready for this important test.
Danna, Student
The webinar which was held on the 1st of November was satisfactory, informative and valuable. All the questions were answered and explained in a proper way. Thank you!
Olena, Company CEO
Thanks to IDP IELTS Masterclass for the interesting webinar, it was very informative, well organised and practical.
Hussein, Student
This was a fantastic presentation! It was very clear, practical and moved at a good pace. I would highly recommend these webinars
Shauna, Student
IDP IELTS Masterclass really helpful, as preparation for the IELTS exam and give us support in many ways to improve our English.
Leny, Company CEO
80+ Test Locations Across Latin America
World's most popular English-language test for work, study, and migration. IELTS is recognised by over 10,000 organizations in over 140 countries worldwide. Speaking test administered face-to-face in a private, quiet room with a certified IELTS examiner