Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Planning process for an IELTS essay

The process of planning an IELTS essay

Plans matter because they should ensure that you answer the question and you write enough words. Or put the other way, if you do not plan, you may not answer the question or you may get half way through the essay and find you have nothing to say.

How to plan

There is no easy answer to this question. Planning tends to be very individual and what works for one candidate may not work for another. However, there are one or two guidelines to follow:
  • Be methodical: before you get to the exam, know exactly how you are going to plan your essay and stick to that plan in the exam.  
  • Give yourself enough time: you only have 40 minutes to write in the exam, but don’t start writing too quickly. Time spent planning is rarely wasted and candidates who fail to finish are generally those who start to write too soon.
  • Remember it’s a language exam: IELTS is a test of language, so make sure your plan helps you produce good language
  • Keep it simple: your plan is there to help you write. If it is too complex, it may not work in a 40 minute exam scenario.
  • Read the question: make sure your plan relates directly to the question.
How long to plan

Again, there can be no exact answer here, but I would suggest 10 minutes is approximately correct. That may seem a long time, but the longer you stop and plan for the better and the more quickly you will write. People who fail to finish in time are very often those who start writing too soon. For more on this see my 10 minute solution post.

What to plan – vocabulary and examples

Most text books suggest planning ideas. This is hard to do in practice when you are under pressure in the exam.

My suggestion is to focus first on vocabulary and examples. Vocabulary will give you ideas and examples will allow you to develop those ideas in coherent paragraphs.


Letter Writing tips for IELTS general test

IELTS letters – 10 top tips

How should you write a letter in general training IELTS? Here are some tips to help you maximise your band score so that your IELTS letters impress the examiner. A summary of these tips would be that letter writing may have its own conventions but so does IELTS – so whatever else you do, make sure you answer the question and use good English.

1. Make sure you answer the whole question

This is probably the most common mistake. Each IELTS letter question contains 3 bullet points and you need to make sure that you address all 3 points in your answer. If you leave one of them out, you will be penalised on task response. A more detailed point is that you need to make sure that you include the appropriate amount of detail for each point – this may mean you need to write more about one topic and less about another.

If you like, go and visit my sample IELTS letter questions page and make sure you can identify the tasks in each letter.

2. Think about who you are writing to

Perhaps the one complex thing about letter writing is that you need to be aware of register. This means that you need to be able to write in a more formal style if the letter is to someone you don’t know and in a less formal style to a friend. Part of the problem here is that conventions differ in different countries and cultures. One sensible piece of advice is to aim for a relatively neutral style and don’t try to be too formal or too informal.

3. Think about the purpose(s) of the letter

Before you start writing, you should think about what the purpose of the letter is. IELTS letters tend to be quite predictable and generally fall into one or more of these functions:

  • complaint
  • request
  • explanation
  • apology
  • application
  • suggestion

This information helps you because you can then use the appropriate letter writing vocabulary for each of those functions.

4. Don’t forget to use varied grammar

A common problem with letters is that candidates use language that is too simple. Just as in essays, there is a band score for grammatical range and accuracy. This means that even if you are writing to a friend, you still need to use varied sentences. You cannot just use short and simple sentences.

5. Learn how to start a letter

When we write more formal letters, we tend to start with a sentence explaining exactly why we are writing. A common phrase here is “I am writing to….”. We start like that because the person doesn’t know us and needs to understand what the purpose of the letter is.

When we write to a friend, we normally start by talking a little about our relationship in a fairly general paragraph. A common phrase might be, “I was so pleased to hear from you again. It’s been ages since we’ve seen one another…”. It’s important not to forget to do this in IELTS letters as it shows the examiner you understand the type of letter you are writing.

6. Learn how to end a letter

There are also conventional ways to end letters. If you are unsure how to do this, the best advice is to think about what you expect to happen next. In a more formal letter where you have asked for some information, you might write:

“I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

By contrast, in a letter to a friend who is coming to visit you, you might try:

“I can’t wait to see you. And don’t forget to give my love to all your family.”

You can learn some set phrases to help you do this but as I say the best advice is just to think about what you expect to happen next.

7. Plan your letter

What? Plan a letter? Well you may not bother in life, but IELTS is a very peculiar form of life and you should definitely spend time thinking about and organising your letter. This means that you should think carefully about:

  • how many paragraphs you are going to use
  • what the main points to include are
  • what details you need to add
  • what vocabulary you need

8. Make sure you write at least 150 words

This should be self-explanatory. You will be penalised if you write less than 150 words and my general advice is that you should aim for about 175 words. I say this because the examiner may not count any words you have directly copied form the question.

9. Check your spelling and punctuation

Perhaps because letters are often less formal than essays, candidates frequently make more basic spelling and punctuation mistakes in letters. Don’t be one of those people: even if it is an informal letter make sure you use correct English. This means:

  • you may use short forms like “can’t” if it’s an informal letter
  • you shouldn’t use abbreviations like “cos”
  • be very careful with spelling of common words like “believe” and “sincerely”
  • write in sentences with full stops and capital letters

10. Practise using standard letter writing phrases

Letters have their own language to some extent. One way to improve your letter writing is to look at sample IELTS letters and find phrases which you can use in your own letters.


Learning IELTS vocabulary 10 top tips

How to learn IELTS vocabulary – 10 top tips
Improving your vocabulary should be a priority for any IELTS candidate. The question is how to achieve this. Here are 10 of my top tips and, to make this really practical I give you some online resources or exercises for each tip. The tips get more practical and less general as you go down the list.

1. Give yourself time
Learning vocabulary takes time and it can be a mistake to force the process. If you try to learn too many words too quickly, you can end up only confusing yourself. 5 words a day is more efficient than 20 words. 5 words a day means over 30 words a week.
My best resources here are:
2. Be passive
This one may sound strange – normally teachers encourage you to be as active as possible. Here’s the thing. You learn words by using them and using words can include reading, writing, speaking and listening. By focussing on the passive skills (reading and listening), you expose yourself to huge amounts of vocabulary – far more than 5 words a day. More importantly, you will be learning how the words work – what other words they go with and the different forms of the words. What do i mean by being passive? Just read and listen in English lots and lots.
This passive approach does take time but it does also work. Ask most any teacher and they will tell you that the best writers are people who read most and the best speakers are those who listen best.
The resources I suggest here are:
  • BBC Words in the News: excellent variety of topics with vocabulary help and a listening option
  • The Economist: contains exactly the sort of texts found in IELTS
  • TED: a superb site with videos on a very wide range of topics with the bonus of subtitles
Or just read and listen about what you find interesting. If you are interested, your brain will start working. If your brain starts working, you are much more likely to process the vocabulary you hear/read. Within reason it doesn’t matter what you read as you will still be exposed to lots of general vocabulary. This can work. I taught myself Romanian by reading about sport in the Romanian newspapers.

3. Be active
Passive is good but so is active. Being active accelerates the learning process. If you spend some time focussing on vocabulary actively, you start to “notice” more about other words when you are just reading and listening. This concept of “noticing” is very trendy among language teachers for now. Being active means setting aside some time each day to specific vocabulary learning.
My resource here may sound strange: it’s a dictionary! No one reads dictionaries, right? Well, but you can. Online dictionaries are far more user-friendly than their book cousins.
Macmillan Dictionary : to see why I recommend this dictionary, you might care to check out this video tutorial.

4. Learn to spell
Oh dear, spelling. Spelling does matter in IELTS. Strange as it may sound, it matters most in the listening paper where it can negatively affect your score by up to 2 bands. There is of course no magic bullet where spelling is concerned but there are definite skills that can help you learn to spell.

One key can be to treat spelling as a looking exercise not a listening exercise. Part of the problem with English spelling is that what we say and what we write are often two quite different things. The idea is to look at the word, say it, close your eyes, see it with your eyes closed, test yourself. The process takes a little time but it works. What you will discover is that, after some practice, you get into the routine of just seeing words without having to learn their spelling.
The resources I recommend here are:
  • Look Cover: a superb site that I have used very successfully with students who have had serious spelling difficulties
  • BBC Skillswise: another excellent BBC site that works on the same principle
  • The Really Boring English Blog: not sure about including this one as it is one of my sites, but it does contain different ideas for teachers to make learning spelling more fun and, perhaps, more effective.
5. Learn the right words – the Academic Word List

This is a big one. We all have only so much mental energy and so if you are going to spend time learning vocabulary, it only makes sense to ensure that you are learning the right vocabulary for IELTS. A very common mistake is to see a word, not understand it and think that it must be important. Not so. Not all words are equally important.

You want to focus your energy on the words you are going to use most. It doesn’t really make sense to spend time and energy on words that you will seldom use. The suggestion here is to focus on the Academic Word List: these are the 570 words that are most common in academic writing of all kinds. The key point here is that the words aren’t really that academic: rather they are the common words that all academics use. Indeed, most learners are surprised when they look at the list at how simple most of the words are. Simple can be good.
My suggested resources here are:
  • Academic Vocabulary from The University of Nottingham: a seriously excellent site. For learners, perhaps the most interesting feature is the AWL highlighter and gapmaker. You can read a text and see which the important words are.
  • AWL exercises: this is a selection of point and click exercises on the AWL: typically, these types of exercise are much more stimulating on a computer than in a book.
A particularly interesting exercise for IELTS candidates here is to copy/paste one of their own essays into the AWL highlighter. I would suggest that you should be using around 10 academic words per essay. If you are not, you are probably using the wrong sort of language. 

6. Think word families
This one is slightly more technical. As a learner of English you need to be able to be flexible in how you use words. Suppose you have “learned” the word  ANALYSIS, you have done well as it forms part of the AWL. However, just think how much better it would be if you could also use ANAYTICAL, ANALYTICALLY and ANALYSE. Indeed, the AWL is not just 570 words, but 570 word families.
My best resources here should be familiar:
7. Don’t just write down one word – think collocations and phrases
If I had only one vocabulary learning tip, this would be it. The point here is that we don’t use words, we use groups of words – what some language teachers call chunks. And, more to the point, typically most words are used in fairly standard word combinations or collocations. So, as a learner what you need to do is learn those combinations and my suggestion is that when you write the word down, you write down those combinations.
Here’s an example:
the effect
collect and
record and

8 Write words down in groups – think synonyms
Writing words down should be part of your vocabulary learning routine – writing a word down is the first step towards making it your own. However, many language learners go about this the wrong way. The temptation is to keep a vocabulary notebook and to note down the words as you go. The problem is of course that you soon lose track of where the words are.This problem is particularly relevant for IELTS candidates. In IELTS, the topics you will need to speak and write about are fairly predictable (the family, transport, health etc).

So one suggested exercise here  is to make a separate page for each topic. The way this works is that each time you find a new word you want to learn, you write it down next to other similar words. This does not just allow you to revise the words together; each time you write a word down, you will be looking at and revising similar words.

Another possible exercise that is particularly good for IELTS candidates is to focus on vocabulary actively before you do a speaking test or a practice essay. Make a list of the words you want to use on that topic (see my post on planning an essay). You may not use all the vocabulary as you write or speak but you will certainly write and speak better for having planned the vocabulary and each time you do this, you will learn the vocabulary better.

9. Be an active listener – listen and speak
This is one of my favourite tips. I mentioned above that the best speakers tend also to be the best listeners. One thing these people tend to have in common is that they don’t just passively listen, rather they listen and then speak. The poor language learner (such as myself) will do nothing when they hear a new word – or maybe just nod – the word will not be learned. What the effective language learner will do in contrast is repeat what they have just heard. By doing this, they are not just communicating, they are using the word for themselves and so taking the first step towards learning it.
My suggested exercise here is to familiarise yourself with phrases such as:
  • “Are you saying…..?”
  • “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what you mean by…..”
Or just to repeat the word with a rising intonation. Another possibility that is particularly useful for IELTS candidates is to:
  • listen to a text from BBC Words in the News or TED
  • note down the key words (as you would do in the listening module
  • wait 5 minutes
  • try to reconstruct what you heard your notes – possibly recording yourself
  • when/if you have problems, you simply listen again – repetition is good for language learning
10. Don’t just learn new words – learn old words better
Often the best language is relatively simple language. Something I know IELTS-Simon would agree with me on (see for example his post on using moreover ). There is a positive danger in trying to learn “complex” language that native speakers don’t use that often themselves. More than that, very often mistakes are made with already “learned vocabulary”. In practical terms this can mean you should:
  • review the words you are learning on a weekly basis
  • with your teacher make a checklist of the words that you use incorrectly
Boring I know – but effective.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

IELTS Exam day Tips

IELTS exam day tips

These are some tips for what to do on the day of the exam itself and immediately before it. While IELTS is a test to measure your English, it does of course feel like an exam and the people who do best in exams tend to be those who have exam day strategies. This is my selection of what to do and what not to do. I have tried to keep it short as I believe it is important to keep thing simple on the day itself. Some of this advice may surprise you.

Don’t worry if you disagree with it. Different people are different and different things work for different people. My personal belief is that the only good advice is advice that actually works and if something else works for you – great! I’d add that the most important piece of advice is the first one – have a strategy.


1. Have a strategy – any strategy

This one sounds strange, no? What I mean by this is that if you have a strategy, you will feel more confident and if you feel more confident, you will perform better. What that strategy is will depend on who you are. I’d suggest that you try different strategies before the exam and see what works personally for you.

2. Forget all the advice you have been given and just focus on the question

Again, this will sound strange. What I mean here is that in the exam you are under pressure and people tend to perform strangely under pressure. If you are trying to remember all the different advice you have been given, you are putting yourself and your brain under more pressure. In my experience, most avoidable mistakes are caused by not focussing on the question and it is the avoidable mistakes you need to focus on: you can’t do anything about the unavoidable mistakes.

3. Don’t practise before the exam

What? IELTS is a test of skill (language is a skill), it is not a knowledge based exam where you can revise at the last minute. You are not going to improve your skills by doing four tests in four days. You will probably just make yourself more nervous.

4. Practise before the exam

Of course you do need to practise just before the exam. Though you need to think about how to practise and why you are practising:

Most people who take IELTS for the first time are surprised at how tiring it is: by the end of the day they are exhausted and lose concentration. It helps to do a complete exam in a day just so that you are prepared for what it will feel like.

Timing is an issue in reading and writing: you need to practise under exam conditions to know that you can finish in time. However, be warned that in the exam you will be on adrenaline. It is a marvellous drug in many ways as it makes you go quicker. That is good, but be warned again that you don’t need to go quicker, but go quickly and accurately.

It is good to practise getting things right, it is bad to practise getting things wrong. The danger of doing a test immediately before the exam is that you do it badly and you lose confidence. Bad news. Here’s a suggestion: practise doing a test you have done before or do a test while looking at the answers. It can work as you are improving your skills and seeing how to get the answer right and that is what you need to do in the exam.

5. Don’t book one exam, book two

The first time you take the exam it will be a strange experience, no matter how much preparation you have done and you may well underperform. If you have booked a second exam, the pressure is off as you have another chance. I have never met a candidate who was upset because they passed first time after booking two exams. Would you be?


Bad advice – always give a long answer

Keep on speaking until the examiner stops you and say as much as you can. This is wrong as the examiner may never stop you and you may start talking rubbish. More than that, the longer you speak, the less coherent you are likely to be and coherence is a key factor.

Bad advice – learn what to say and practise saying it

Look at lots of exam questions before the exam and learn what you are going to say. This is wrong because you will become more nervous, not less nervous this way and the chances are you will not answer the question you were asked, but another similar question. (Most “exam” questions on websites are not accurate but are badly remembered.)

Good advice – listen to the question

Listen to the question and answer it. If you have more to say, say it; if you don’t have too much to say, give a reasonably extended answer and wait for the next question.

Good advice – speak English before the exam

It’s important to relax before the speaking, but the one thing you should not do is relax by chatting to your friends in your language. Rather speak English before the exam so that you go into it thinking in English. Every little helps.


Bad advice – no more than one and half minutes per question

There are 60 minutes and 40 questions, so you should spend one and half minutes on each question. No. There are different strategies that you should also consider. In each text, the first questions will take longer because you do not yet know how the text is organised or what it is about. Therefore it can make sense to give more time to the first group of questions in each text and less time to the last questions when you will already know how the text is organised and what sort of language it uses.

In general IELTS the first text is much easier than the last text. In academic IELTS the difference is less obvious, but the last text is more complex. You have to decide how to divide your time. The paper says 20 minutes/20 minute/20 minutes. That’s possible. You could though decide to spend more time on the last text as it is harder to give yourself more chance. Another possible strategy is to spend more time on the first text in order to get 14 out of 14. If you need 23 correct answers for academic band 6, you are more than half way there. You only need another 10 questions right.

In summary: 20/20/20 minutes, 25/20/15 minutes, 15/20/25 minutes are all possible strategies. You need to try them all to see what works for you.

Bad advice – always read the question first

You should always focus on the questions first. No. It works for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone. Often it helps to read the text quickly to get an idea of how it is organised. You save time later by knowing which part of the text to read for each question. In truth, the only good strategy here is the strategy that works. Try both approaches and see which one works better for you.

Good advice – focus on the whole question

What this means is that most avoidable mistakes are made not because the text is difficult, but because the candidate didn’t focus on the meaning of the whole question. Mistakes happen because candidates look at key words and forget about meaning.


Bad advice – give yourself as much time as possible to write

No. Timing can be a problem in the writing paper, but the way to finish your writing is not to start writing quickly. This will be different for different people, but the best advice is to leave as much time as possible for the planning bit. The idea is that if you know what you want to say and if you know what words to use, you will write more quickly and more accurately than if you start writing after 2 minutes. Time yourself. How long does it physically take you to write 250 words? If you know what you want to say, the answer is very unlikely to be more than 20 minutes. Now consider whether it is better to think about what to say before you start writing or as you are writing. Your choice.

Good advice – check your writing for repetition

Checking your writing is not an optional extra for if you finish 5 minutes early. It is a must. It can be hard to see your own mistakes, but one thing anyone can see are repeated words. This is very practical advice. You will lose marks if you repeat the same language. So check repetition.


Bad advice – Listen for key words

I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating here. The cause of most avoidable mistakes is that candidates focus on key words in the question. In fact, until you have listened there is no way to know what the key words really are. What you need to do is focus on the whole question, not just a part of it.  At most, the “key words” tell you when the answer is coming, not what the answer is.

Bad advice – write as much as possible as you are listening

Put simply, if you are writing, you are not listening. It is a listening test.

Good advice – focus on the meaning of the whole question

Just as in the reading paper, look at the whole question and listen as closely as possible. Yes, you do need to read, write and think at the same time, but you need to spend as much time as possible doing the listening bit.

(Source: IELTS exam day tips | Dominic Cole's IELTS and Beyond

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

IELTS General Writing

The IELTS General Writing section measures your ability to communicate about common, practical issues and expand on topics of personal interest. You may be asked to provide factual information, make suggestions, express likes and dislikes, or present complaints, opinions, or views. This section lasts for 1 hour and includes 2 tasks. Task 2 carries more marks than Task 1. Therefore, you may wish to divide your time as follows:

Task 1 – 150 words – 20 minutes
Task 2 – 250 words – 40 minutes

According to the makers of the IELTS exam, assessment of General Writing tasks is based on the following criteria:

  1. Task Achievement - how thoroughly you do what is asked
  2. Coherence and Cohesion - how organized your letter is
  3. Lexical Resource - the range of vocabulary you use
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy - how correct your grammar is


You are asked to write a letter to a friend, government agency or interest group. The level of formality depends on who you are writing to and how well you know them, so the style may be formal, semi-formal or informal. You are given a brief description of a problem or situation, followed by bulleted instructions on what to include in your letter. Make sure you write about each and every one of the points mentioned. Also use appropriate grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

It will also help to read through several sample tests in order to both familiarize yourself with the type of situations presented, and to learn how to write these types of letter answers easily, correctly, and quickly. Sample Task 1 tasks include:

  1. writing to a college administration officer about problems with your dormitory
  2. writing to a landlord to resolve problems with the heating system
  3. writing to a friend to invite him/her to a surprise party


You have to write a minimum 250-word essay on a topic of general interest. You might have to solve a problem, present your opinion, or compare differing viewpoints on a given topic.
The usual rules of good essay writing apply. Plan before you write, use varied sentence structure, utilize linking words to connect ideas, use dynamic and rich vocabulary to put your thoughts across, be careful of your spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, and organize your essay into about 4-5 paragraphs. A sample structure is shown below:

Paragraph 1
Restate the topic, indicate your position
Paragraph 2
Main idea, supporting idea, examples
Paragraph 3
Main idea, supporting idea, examples
Paragraph 4
Summarize ideas, restate position

Sample Task 2 tasks include:

  1. whether it is possible to take a vacation from your problems
  2. whether families today are closer than they used to be.
  3. whether smoking in public should be banned
  4. whether old people should go to nursing homes
Write as many practice essays as possible, within the 40-minute time limit, so you can do so with ease and confidence on the day of your exam.


IELTS Vocabulary

If you have a good vocabulary, certainly it boosts up to get a higher score.Not only, for success in IELTS examination but also it is beneficial in your academic, personal and professional life. For example, if you wish to pursue higher education at university, research has shown that you may need up to 10,000 words.

There are a number of ways in which you can improve your vocabulary. Whichever method you adopt, you'll want to create a vocabulary notebook in which you write down new words and sample sentences.

Your strategy may be direct or indirect. The choice depends on your current vocabulary level. If you need major improvement, you should set up a study schedule which includes a specific time in which you work on learning new words and expressions. You could select one of the many excellent vocabulary enrichment books available today, or one specifically designed for the IELTS, which covers a number of different subject areas. You could work for as little as 10 minutes a day to as much as one hour a day. No matter how much you do, working steadily and daily will produce impressive results.

The second way is to adopt indirect strategies to enrich your vocabulary. This includes reading newspapers, magazines, textbooks, brochures, and fiction or non-fiction books. It includes watching and listening to news broadcasts, interviews, songs, documentaries, movies, audio books, and discussions. Not only should you write down the new words and their meanings, but also use the new words in your own written or oral sentences.

With such a wide selection of vocabulary improvement materials available, you can select the system you feel most comfortable with and enjoy the most. Identify the best vocabulary books for your needs at the local library, though friends, teachers, or online. If you have an auditory learning style, choose tapes and CDs. It takes time to build up your vocabulary so find a program which appeals to you and you'll stick with..

Along with general ESL vocabulary materials, there are general and specific IELTS vocabulary programs. General IELTS preparation materials address all the skill areas covered in the exam, and include vocabulary sections as well. An example of such a book is IELTS Masterclass by Simon Haines. On the other hand, specific IELTS vocabulary books are devoted exclusively to vocabulary enrichment. Examples are Check Your English Vocabulary for IELTS by Rawdon Wyatt and Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS (with Audio CD).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 10 tips for IELTS speaking

Improve your IELTS speaking skills – 10 tips

The aim of this lesson is to give you different practice activities for the speaking test. While most of the activities are based on IELTS speaking questions, the idea is to improve your skills and not just practise answering questions. The reason for this is that practice tests are not enough by themselves; if you want to get better, you need to improve how you speak and that means thinking about speaking as a skill.

1. Record yourself and then write down your answer

This is something everyone should try. It is almost certainly a bad idea to write your answer first and then speak it. This is because we speak and write in very different ways and it is a mistake to try and train yourself to speak in the way you write. But you can learn a lot from recording what you say and then writing that down word for word. Things you can learn are:

Do you say enough? Do you give very short answers? In parts 1 and 3, you should say at least a couple of sentences in answer to every question.

Is what you say organised? Can you see a structure to your answer? Is it possible to put in sentences and paragraph breaks? Do you have some organisation language like “The first point is..”

Do you speak too slowly or too quickly? Try counting the words in your part 2 answer. Most of my answers as a native speaker are about 240 words long. You should probably aim for around 200 or so. Less than that and you are speaking too slowly, but if you have more than that, it may be that you are speaking too quickly.

How long are your pauses? You can pause, but your pauses should generally come between sentences/paragraphs and they shouldn’t be more than 2/3 of seconds

Did you answer the question?

Is your pronunciation okay? If you can’t immediately understand what you say, the examiner won’t either!

Are there some words you repeat a lot? You probably shouldn’t worry too much about content words such as “television” – native speakers will repeat those a lot when speaking. Rather you should look at more functional words/phrases such as “I think”. It’s very easy to repeat these a lot and it is also quite simple to train yourself to use more variety.

This is an exercise I use a lot in my own classroom and I find that most everyone has a telephone that records and the quality on that is just fine.

2. Do it first in your own language

This is perhaps an unusual piece of advice. In the speaking, you should aim to be thinking and speaking in English as much as possible and not translating from your language to English. It can, however,  sometimes help to practise the long turn part 2 in your own language first:

some people struggle to speak in their own language for 2 minutes: they prefer short/concise answers and not longer more discussion type answers. So before you try it in English, make sure you can do it in your first language.
it helps you understand how long 2 minutes is and how much you need to say to fill that time
if you record and listen to yourself in your first language, you will probably find yourself using quite a lot of “structure” language such as “As I mentioned before”. This is a lot of the language you need for part 2.

3. Don’t practise the whole part 2, do it bit by bit

Some people find part 2 frightening because they are worried they can’t speak for 2 minutes. Relax. You don’t have to. It’s much easier than that, you need to speak for

20 seconds
20 seconds
20 seconds
1 minute

This is because there are always 4 points for you to talk about on the cue card. You want to try practising talking about the first 3 points on the cue card for about 20 seconds each (the who, where, what type questions). Make sure you don’t say “last year”, but you extend that a little (see describing a wedding for an example). Then all you need to do is talk for 1 minute on the longer question at the end that is almost always about explaining something.

4. Practise by describing photographs

In the exam of course you don’t get any photograph to help you. It would probably be easier if you did because when you have a photograph, you can see what you need to talk about. The idea is here that if you learn to see pictures as you are speaking, you find more things to say. I suggest:

find a picture about an IELTS topic e.g. a picture of a wedding – describe what you see
then try talking about the same topic without the picture
in the exam itself, all you need to do is imagine a picture in your head
What I strongly suggest is that you look at your own photographs, as what you will need to speak about are your own memories.

5. Read then speak

It helps to practise reading and speaking together because reading gives you words and sometimes ideas. This idea is a very simple one. When you read a passage in English, you should then try and summarise what it says speaking. The ways this works is:

to summarise a reading text, you are going to need to use some of the words used in it

if you say the word aloud, you have learnt that word better and are more likely to us fit for yourself in the future

if the text is longer, you should find yourself having to list the different points it contains. This should help the coherence of your speaking as you will need to use language like “Firstly…then… next …”etc

Two extremely good sources for this type of reading is 6 minute English and my favourite Words in the News. It sometimes helps to choose 5 words from the text you are reading that you want to use when you speak.

6. Improve your memory – write your life history

Parts 1 and 2 of the speaking test are personal questions about who you are (part 1) and what you have done (part 2). One reason why some candidates have problems is not the language, but that they can’t think of things to say. The solution is simple – refresh your memory about important events in your life before the test.

The idea is not so much to practise exam questions (it’s hard to predict those), but to practise speaking about your memories of people, events, places and things. Do that and the exam should be simpler as you have memories you can use. Write down some personal memories and then try speaking about them. Some ideas here are:

think of important/interesting people in your life: Ask yourself: When did you meet them? How long have you known them? Why are they important/interesting? Can you remember something you did together? What about a conversation you had with them?

think of important events in your life: Ask yourself: What it was? Where did it happen? Who were you with at the time? What else was happening in your life then? What one thing stands out in your memory about it? How well do you remember it?

think of places you have been to:  Ask yourself: Where it was? How did you get there? In what detail can you describe the place? Can you describe the general area it is in? Would you want to go back there?

think of your possessions: Ask yourself: How long have you owned it? Where did you get it? Is it special or something normal?
How often do you use it? Do you associate with someone else?

7. Practise saying “I don’t know”

Another reason why some candidates go wrong in the exam is that they feel they have to give a complete answer to very question and they think of IELTS as some academic test. It isn’t. It’s simply a test of your language. In parts 1 and 3, you may well be asked questions that you have very little to say about. That’s not a problem, there’s always another question coming.

The big mistake is to try and give a full answer when you have nothing to say. What happens is that your language becomes confused and so do you, with the result that things get and worse and worse.

All you need to do is say you don’t know and explain why and then wait for the next question. This may take a little practice. You want to build a set of phrases such as:

Q. What colour is your favourite room and why did you choose that colour?

A. I’m not sure what to say about that. It’s not a question I’ve ever thought about before. I suppose yellow is just my favourite colour and so I painted my room yellow?

You can find some useful language for this on vocabulary for harder questions and if you are looking for some harder questions, take a look at this list of difficult job interview questions.

8. Talk to a mirror

This is another strange sounding piece of advice, but it can be very practical – especially if you don’t have a speaking partner. The idea is that when you practise speaking, you should sit in front of a mirror and speak to yourself. It can work because:

eye contact is extremely important in all parts of the test. As a former speaking examiner for other exams, I can promise you that examiners are influenced by candidates who make eye contact  - even though they may not be aware of this. Typically, the candidate who makes good eye contact gets a more generous mark because they seem to be communicating better as body language is around 70% of all communication.

the other point is that, for most people, sitting and looking at themselves in a mirror is an uncomfortable experience. After that, the exam will seem easy!

9. Write your own questions

This is another activity that I suggest everyone should try at least once. You should of course practise with “real” exam questions too, but there is a lot to be learnt from writing the questions first and then trying to answer them. The way it works is that if you write the question yourself,:

you are more likely to try and answer it properly and give a full answer because you understand what the question is asking – good practice

you learn to add details to your answers by thinking of more question words. So when you answer the question “Are you a student or do you have a job?”, you are more likely to say “I’m a student at Wuhan University and I have been studying there for the last 3 years” – adding information by thinking of the question “How long” even though you weren’t asked it.
All you need to do this is look at general IELTS topics from my speaking page and making up your own questions.

10. Improve your coherence and fluency – easy as 1-2-3 0r 3-2-1

This is another of my favourite classroom speaking activities. Ideally, you need one or two more people to practise this with, but you can do it by yourself. The idea is that you don’t just practise speaking for 2 minutes. Rather, you start off by speaking for 3 minutes about that topic, then you do the same thing for 2 minutes, then for 1 minute. In the perfect world, you would also speak to a different person each time.

How does it work? The first time your answer is probably slightly incoherent and lacks fluency. The next time you speak though, you know what you want to say and, if you have listened to someone else speak, you now have more ideas. The result is that when you speak, you answer becomes more fluent and coherent. Then when you do it for 1 minute, your answer needs to become even more coherent because you now have lots of things to say but not very much time to say it.

I should add that this activity works best if you have different people to speak to. It works because each time you speak to someone different, it becomes a different conversation – even if you are talking about the same thing.

(Source: Improve your IELTS speaking skills – 10 tips | Dominic Cole's IELTS and Beyond http://www.dcielts.com_