Why do so many candidates waste time during the speaking test?

During Part 2 of the speaking test you are given one minute to prepare what you want to say, along with a piece of paper and a pencil to make notes. One minute is not a long time, but it is enough to prepare a response to the topic. Remember, you have to speak for two minutes. If you don’t, the examiner will encourage you to say more, or may ask one or two questions to get more language from you.

Speaking for less than two minutes is not a disaster, but if you don’t then you may not meet the band 7 criteria for Fluency and Coherence (‘speaks at length without noticeable effort’) or even band 6 (‘is willing to speak at length’). So you have to use that one minute preparation time to generate enough language so that you will be able to speak for two minutes without difficulty.

When I do test practice with my students, I see so many of them wasting the minute with writing, not thinking. This is the speaking test, not writing, so why are they writing phrases or even sentences?! Here’s what I mean. Imagine the topic is ‘Describe your favourite festival in your country’. I’ve watched students write:

favourite festival lunar new year

I’m an English speaker, and a fast writer, and it takes me 12 seconds to write those 5 words. That’s twenty percent of the total preparation time. And when the student comes to speak the first thing they say is ‘My favourite festival is lunar New Year’. That takes about 3 seconds at natural speed. And look, two of those words written down were copied from the topic, which will be in front of you when you’re speaking anyway. Using 20% of the preparation time to prepare for 0.025% of the speech is not a very good use of the time. During the 12 seconds it took to write those five words the student wasn’t preparing: they were writing.

It is far more efficient to use the 60 seconds to write down information words, and in English a lot of information is contained in nouns. So write down a list of nouns, and it helps to write them in a column so that you can read them quickly and continue talking.

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