Speaking tips for English proficiency exams

Designed for IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge exam preparation.

[Last updated on 21/10/2023]

Would you like some speaking tips for English proficiency exams? Many English learners are interested in taking an official English test to assess their English skills, and most exams include a speaking component. The most well-known exams are IELTS, TOEFL and the Cambridge exams.

We take a look at what English speaking tests include, how they are assessed, and give valuable tips to help you achieve your goals.

What do English speaking tests include?

Speaking tests for English proficiency exams have different tasks, and often these include:

  • introducing yourself and speaking about general topics,
  • speaking alone about a specific topic or picture,
  • answering questions about a specific topic or picture,
  • having a more detailed conversation or discussion about a particular subject.
speaking tips for english proficiency exams

What do examiners assess in an English speaking exam?

Our first speaking tip for English proficiency exams is that you should familiarise yourself with the asessment criteria. This knowledge can help you to prepare for your English exam.

During the speaking test, an examiner will make notes to assess your English speaking skills. They focus on specific areas to decide your English level of proficiency in speaking. Here is an outline of the different areas that they are listening for, and questions to indicate the assessment factors.


  • Do you use a good range of grammar?
  • How accurate is your grammar for the task?


  • Do you use a good range of vocabulary?
    How accurate is your vocabulary for the task?


  • How natural is your pronunciation?
  • How accurate is your pronunciation of individuals sounds, word stress, rhythm and intonation?


  • Do you express yourself clearly and effectively in all situations?
  • How well do you keep the communication going in a natural flow?


  • Do you link information and ideas in a logical sequence from sentence to sentence?
  • How well do you link ideas and information?
preparation for english speaking exam

Speaking tips for English proficiency exams

Before the speaking exam

These valuable tips will support your preparation for the English speaking section of a proficiency exam such as IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge.

Tip 1
Learn about the different parts of the speaking test beforehand.

If you know what to the speaking exam involves, it will be easier to prepare and perform well on the day.

Tip 2
Find examples of the questions and topics used in each stage.

The types of questions and topics are somewhat predictable (e.g. talking about your family, sport, education, etc). If you have researched examples, this can help you to practise in advance. However, you should not try to give scripted responses that you have prepared before the exam – this will not end with in a good speaking exam result!

Tip 3
Prepare by practising speaking

Speak with friends or with an English teacher to talk about common English proficiency exam topics and to practise answering questions. An English teacher can give valuable feedback, and you can even record yourself and listen back and set targets.

Tip 4
Try to stay calm

The examiner knows that you may be nervous, and this may actually help you do better. It can also be beneficial if you try to relax before the exam, e.g. by talking to friends, reading or listening to music. (Some even recommend drinking a nice glass of wine beforehand – but not a whole bottle!)

speaking tips to prepare for an english proficiency exam

During the speaking exam

These additional tips can be useful during the speaking section of an IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge English exam and help you to achieve the best possible result.

Tip 5
Be natural with the examiner – they are human too!

Try to have a natural experience with the examiner, smile and keep good eye contact. Don’t worry if the examiner records the exam, and they will also make notes. This is natural and they are not simply making notes of your mistakes. Just try to interact naturally. Imagine you’re talking to a friendly and interesting stranger in a pub!

Tip 6
Speak clearly with good pronunciation

It is important to speak clearly and with good pronunciation so that the examiner can understand what you are saying. There is a limited time, so try to speak at a natural speed and without repeating yourself. You can also take small pauses to think before you answer. This is natural in any language.

Tip 7
Use a variety of English grammar

Try to use different tenses and longer sentences. Are you speaking about the past, the present or the future? Do you use modal verbs, and sentences with multiple clauses? Try to show your knowledge of grammar to the examiner.

Tip 8
Use a variety of English vocabulary

Try to use a variety of words to describe something or discuss ideas. Try not to just repeat the same vocabulary that is used by the examiner, and try to make it interesting with adjectives and adverbs. For example, you are talking about holidays. You could say “We drove to France for our holiday.” However, it will be more interesting and give better results if you say “We drove carefully to a beautiful little village in the south of France for our summer holiday last year”.

Tip 9
Link ideas and information together

Remember to link information together so that it is logical. Sentences often link to previous sentences that you have said, or link to what another person has said. This will show the examiner that your English is smoother and more coherent.

Tip 10
Accuracy and fluency

Try to be as accurate as possible, but also try not to think too much! If you keep stopping and hesitating to be accurate, this will be a disadvantage for your fluency. The examiner is measuring your ability to naturally communicate in English, so accuracy is not always the most important.

Ideas to improve your English speaking skills

Listen to test examples and watch television

In an English speaking exam, you need to speak alone and to interact with others. You can often find examples of English proficiency tests online to get an idea of the different English levels. If you think your English level is B2, then you should be able to find real examples of test takers who scored B2 in their speaking exam.

Watch television!

You can also watch native English speakers on television for different situations, e.g. the news, drama etc. This can help you to see the changes in pronunciation, body language and the type of grammar and vocabulary depending on each situation. For example, in a news broadcast you will experience more formal English grammar and vocabulary.

Practise speaking in different situations

There are many examples on the internet of questions that can be used in English proficiency examinations. You should be able to find the examples and practise possible answers for each question or scenario.

What English proficiency exam is right for you?

Many English learners take an internationally-recognised proficiency exam for work or study. There are several exams to choose from, and it is important to check in advance which exam meets your requirements. 

We provide a comprehensive English proficiency examinations guide to the most well-known options, and give advice and tips to help you decide which exam is right for you.

Take an exam preparation course

We also recommend that you practise speaking English with a qualified English trainer who is familiar with your English proficiency examination.

We offer an exam preparation course both in Munich and online that has two targets:
(1) to develop your English level of proficiency, and
(2) to train you with exam strategies and give practice tests that help to achieve your goals on the day.

Our English trainers are experienced with the most popular international exams such as IELTS Academic, Cambridge B2 First (FCE), C1 Advanced (CAE) and C2 Proficiency (CPE).

Your English trainer can give you continuous speaking practice and feedback. This helps you to express yourself:

  • more accurately and fluently;
  • naturally with good pronunciation;
  • with a greater variety of English grammar
  • a broad range of vocabulary.

Please contact us about your exam preparation course and we’re happy to help.

You can also check your English language level with our free online English test.

Good luck and feel free to share this post with others interested in taking an English exam!

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