Updated: Mar 6, 2020
IELTS, TOEFL, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC, ITEP, TIEC – all of these are English proficiency tests and they can all be intimidating. One thing that can put undue pressure on the speaking and writing parts of these tests is a belief that you, the test taker, must have a strong opinion or the correct answer to give the examiner. Well, you don’t always need that - because that’s not really the point of the examination. Understanding this can help to de-stress the big test.
If you find yourself tongue-tied because you simply don’t know the answer to a question, or they asked for your opinion on a topic – and you have none, all is not lost. You can still show the examiner your impressive English skills.
Remember, you are not taking a science test, psychology test, sociology test or a political science test. It’s only about how well you speak English. So don’t get too bogged down with trying to give a correct answer. Put all your effort into answering in correct English. Sometimes you can move the topic a little bit in the direction of something you do know about.
1. What if you’re asked for your opinion and you don’t have one? Do you just freeze? No! You just speak English. You can even invent an opinion that you don’t hold to if it’s one you can talk about. Or you can say something like:
I really have no idea but I have considered that I need to read more to be informed about this. There seems to be a strong positive correlation between avid reading and the ability to maintain stimulating conversation… or
I have a friend who talks about this incessantly. She is always saying…
2. What if you’re uncertain of the correct answer to a question? Maybe you really don’t know the facts. Not a problem. This is the one situation where you really don’t have to know what you’re talking about. You may get a question like:
How healthy is your country’s food?
Hmmm – this would be a hard one for me. Thanks to a company called Monsanto, I really don’t have a clue if my country’s food is safe to eat anymore. Maybe you’re not sure just how healthy your country’s food is compared to the rest of the world. That’s okay. Just don’t become mute. The examiner is not interested in checking out your facts. You can still come up with something.
Oh, my country’s food is very healthy. We have low diabetes levels and better nutritional diversity than most of our European rivals. We have comparatively few diet related diseases. Food of high quality is readily available to people…
And is this all accurate? It really doesn’t matter. You sound great. Or maybe you get a question like this one:
What are the problems and benefits associated with capitalism?
Well, personally, I really couldn’t begin to answer this question about capitalism and yes, I live in the United States. But, rather than becoming speechless, an uniformed person might answer this way:
Actually, I only vaguely remember studying the pros and cons of capitalism in a social studies class in secondary school. But, to be honest, the only thing I remember well about that class was that it afforded an avenue for the advancement of my relationship with a certain boy with azure eyes and a darling smile who sat in the seat adjacent to mine…
Well, the point being that if you get stuck completely, don’t just clam up. Put some sound waves out there in the air and blather on about something. Try to remember, it’s not what you say so much as how you say it.