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  • Writer's pictureSte Sharpe

From language learner to examiner... my experience of speaking tests

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Confused student in a speaking test

Some of you know that I’m a language learner at heart (read information about me here) and this has helped me better understand some of the struggles my students have when preparing for the IELTS Speaking Test.

I studied French and Spanish at university for 4 years and really struggled in the final speaking tests at the end of each year, which is hard to understand, as I’m a chatty, outgoing and confident person… but when it came to the pressure of speaking in front of an examiner, I freaked out!

The best example of this nerve-racking moment was at the end of my first year of university. We had to prepare a presentation about renewable energy and then had to answer some questions. I’d spent weeks preparing and practising for the presentation and even had some help from my Spanish friends to practise answering random questions on the topic. I felt prepared and confident.

When the day came, I walked into the room and sat in front of the two examiners. They gave an introduction and then said (in Spanish) ‘Stephen, please begin your presentation’. I opened my mouth to speak… and nothing… not a word… I went completely blank. I tried to remember what I’d learnt, but nothing came to mind. I could see the examiners looking at me with strange faces and I smiled to try to hide my fears. I tried to speak again, but still nothing. I started to panic: my palms became sweaty, my legs were shaking and tears started forming in my eyes. I stood up quickly and ran out of the room. I was outside crying, thinking what on earth had just happened.

Panic had taken over me and affected my performance. I took some deep breaths and told myself ‘Just relax, Ste. You’ve prepared for this and know the topic well. They might ask you some questions you don’t know, but you have enough language to answer. You’ve got this!’ I walked back into the room, apologised for running out and started again. This time, I took my time, spoke slowly and calmed my nerves. At the end, I felt happy with my performance and the results showed this, but I couldn’t help feeling stupid over my little panic attack.

This experience has helped me understand the importance of preparing for a speaking test: developing your overall language skills, learning new vocabulary, using strategies to help you answer questions better, getting feedback on your speaking… but most importantly, learning how to calm your nerves.

During my time as an IELTS examiner, I had some candidates panic because they couldn’t control their nerves, which resulted in them not being able to show their range of language to answer the questions.

Thanks to having taken several speaking tests myself as a language student, as well as examining thousands of IELTS candidates over many years, I can fully empathise with students preparing for the IELTS Speaking Test. I know what examiners are looking for when examining IELTS candidates and how to help prepare students to receive a high band score in the IELTS Speaking Test.

If you need help preparing for the IELTS Speaking Test and want to work with a knowledgeable, professional, motivating and understanding teacher, check out my Online IELTS Speaking Course where you’ll learn all about the IELTS speaking test, while also learning about how to calm your nerves to deliver your best on the speaking-test day.

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