Speaking

Task 

Description

Skills tested

Interview

The task is to answer 3 questions on different topics

comparing, stating an opinion, giving explanations, describing a place, describing a person

Picture Story

The candidate receives a picture story with an opening line; the task is to tell the story

sequencing events, describing cause and effect, comparing, describing experiences

Transactional Dialogues

The candidate receives a cue card and the task is to act out the situation on the card

functional exponents for requesting /giving information, asking for clarification, booking something, confirming / denying, paying for something

Discussion

The two candidates receive a card with a sentence describing a problem or situation. The task is to discuss the issues in pairs

stating an opinion / preference, giving reasons, and comparing / getting to an agreement

 

Preparing Students for the Speaking Test

Students who have been following a general English course in a situation where English is primarily used in the classroom, and where the focus is on using English in everyday situations, will already be able to make a reasonable attempt at the exam tasks. It is important that they have an understanding of what is expected in each task, particularly of the functional language that Tasks 3 (Transactional Dialogues) and 4 (Discussion) focus on.

For the first task, candidates should be able to introduce themselves and say a few things about themselves, their interests, their family, etc. In practising this in class, the teacher should discourage scripted, memorised monologues, but rather get students to interview each other (here scripted questions are fine), getting the interviewers to ask questions in an unpredictable order so that the ‘candidate’ gets practice paying attention to question content and responding spontaneously. It is vital too for students to know what to do and say when they don’t understand a question – how to ask the interlocutor to repeat the question for instance – so that a communication breakdown does not occur at the outset of the speaking exam. Assure students that the interlocutor is interested in them feeling at ease, so that they can carry out the subsequent tasks to the best of their ability, and this first stage is intended partly to warm up and relax the candidates.

As the picture story task requires a comfortable use of narrative tenses, specific practice in this area (all coursebooks have a unit devoted to narrative tenses) is essential; work on sequencing linkers (then, later on, at the same time) is also important. The teacher can provide practice activities where students are given a picture story and notes made by the teacher. The latter serve as a model for the kind of notes the candidate might prepare, and also give practice speaking from limited prompts (untrained candidates often try to write out the whole story instead of just brief prompts). In class, students can practise telling stories to each other, have competitions for whose is the funniest, the most original, etc., and also write their stories out, both for the amusement of anyone who might read them, and as a means for the teacher to give focused feedback on language.

To complete the presentation successfully, students will benefit from having considerable practice in class, mostly to sort out some of the common pitfalls that can lead a candidate to under – perform on this task. For topics, the teacher can use the ideas in the sample exam set and develop some of his or her own; the detailed description above gives an idea of the kind of topics that might come up, and can be helpful in writing ones own presentation topics.

One problem that students have with the presentation task is that they either run out of things to say and fall silent, well before the two minutes have passed, or they repeat themselves and can’t seem to move on from a given point. Practicing shorter (1 minute) presentations, and practicing short segments of the presentation, e.g. via the paraphrasing exercise suggested just below, are useful; in addition, warmers and fillers such as “Just a Minute” – where a student has to talk for one minute on a given topic without repeating him or herself – are effective ways of acclimating students to the long speaking turn that the presentation demands.

Candidates need to be able to work from the sort of note form that is given in the task sheet, expanding on the ideas in natural, appropriate formal or semi-formal spoken English; for this reason, it is a useful exercise to have students expand orally on brief notes, and give feedback on the extent to which they lift (unnaturally) verbatim from the notes, or manage to paraphrase, orally, the given text. The structure of the presentation is in part given by the table of notes on the task sheet, often with a list of problems and a series of possible solutions. It is logical, and appropriate to the task, for candidates to expand on the ideas by discussing at least one advantage and disadvantage for each possible solution, and in-class practice can follow this format, where students are given a problem and proposed solution, and they have to describe as many advantages and disadvantages as they can think of.

The latter points – the pros and cons of the solutions – should constitute a large part of the notes that the candidates prepare beforehand. The teacher can demonstrate and practice note – making by getting students to brainstorm these points on paper, telling them only to write a few key words for each point. Some students will be good at this already, while others might tend to write full sentences, in which case the teacher can tell them to cross out all words that are unessential to meaning, paring the phrases down to key words and chunks. Some guidance and practice in using notes may be necessary; the teacher should observe if, in a practice as described above, students are over-dependent (or, on the other hand, afraid to look at) their notes, and give feedback on this. The teacher may need to demonstrate how to write useful notes for such a presentation – how to include only key words and prompts that will support the speaker and help them find their place when they get lost.

When practising presentations, the teacher should always encourage listeners to note down two or three things that the speaker says that they would like to question or react to. This constitutes the third task on the speaking test, and it is important that a candidate demonstrates that they are able to respond to the presentation.

To complete Task 3 (Transactional Dialogues) successfully, the candidate needs a basic range of functional language. Using the list of functions in the task description above, the teacher can create a series of situational drills, e.g. if the function is apologising, the prompt could be “What would you say if you broke your friend’s CD player?” Students will also benefit from (and enjoy) brainstorming situations where that function is used, writing each one on a card, and acting them out; the teacher can focus on error correction of the functional language.

For Task 4 (Discussion), it is important that candidates have practice in and feel comfortable working in pairs, and discussing ideas together – with someone listening. In the exam, the interlocutor does not normally intervene, and after the clear structure and direction of Task 3, candidates must be ready to take initiative and direct the discussion on their own in Task 4. Classroom practice should include simple decision-making tasks – e.g. where to take a holiday – and the teacher’s feedback and language support should focus on language used to ask opinions, give opinions, agree and disagree, seek clarification, and give reasons for decisions.