Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

Can you decrease your score for going off-topic in Speaking Part 2?

This question was asked in a comment to our video about the Speaking Part 2 topic: Describe an occasion with cake.

This video has a partner lesson, on how to expand your Part 2 answer by discussing before/during/after, and providing context.

The question was:

Quick question about your YouTube video on extending Speaking Part 2 with before/during/after. In the example given in the video, the speaker goes way off topic, talking about various details of a party, barely mentioning the cake, and briefly touches on the topic. I’ve had an ex-examiner tell me that if candidates essentially avoid the main topic in Part 2, they can be penalized due to lack of vocabulary or misunderstanding the cue card. Can you clarify this?

So, if the topic is about a cake, and you start talking about your favorite bicycle, that is avoiding the topic.

The interesting thing is, there isn’t anything explicitly in the scoring system about going off-topic.


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Nonetheless, if you completely avoid the topic and never mention it, the examiner can find ways to mark you down.

However, how are you going to fill 2 minutes, fluently, only talking about a cake? You can’t.

Therefore, in order to build out your answer, and complete the 2 minutes, you must provide a lot of context around the topic.

Giving context is not going off-topic, it’s expanding on the topic and supporting your basic answer.

So, directly address the topic immediately when you begin your Part 2 talk, so the examiner knows you understand the question.

The way you transition into the context also raises your score. For instance, you could say:

Well, actually, the most interesting part of that cake was not the cake. It was who I was eating it with.

The way you connect your ideas matters for your Fluency and Coherence score.

For more vocabulary and ideas related to cake, in case you get this card, watch the show Nailed It on Netflix.

Also mentioned in the episode is our video 11 Experiences You Need Before Your Exam.

Do you want the most comprehensive and complete system to get the scores you need? Check out 3 Keys IELTS!

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