How to Plan + Structure Your Answer in IELTS Speaking Part 2

In the first blog post in this series, I highlighted two major mistakes that students make in IELTS Speaking Part 2. These errors are very common, even for higher-level students, and can be the reason why students who are good enough to get a band 7 end up with a band 6.

What are these mistakes and how can you avoid them in the exam? Well, in IELTS Speaking Part 2, students have one minute to prepare their answers. However, planning and structuring the answer within 1 minute is an exam skill that a huge number of students, amazingly, NEVER really practice. The second major flaw in their approach is that they don’t use any kind of structure in their answer and rely only on the prompts to organize their answers.  The result is that these students fail to use a range of different structures and often cannot speak for 2 minutes because they run out of things to say. Does that sound like you? Then, read on!

IELTS Speaking Part 2  – Plan and Structure

In the 60 seconds before you answer the question, you have to

  1. Choose an appropriate topic
  2. Choose your structure
  3. Write structure and keywords on the page provided
  1. Choose a topic that you actually talk about in detail

This seems self-explanatory but I have done countless mock IELTS exams with students who choose a topic and realize half-way through the answer that they don’t have the vocabulary to talk about it in detail.

Remember that your answer does not need to be interesting or cool or intelligent. All that matters is your English. It is essential that you choose a topic that you can talk about at length, even if you think it might be quite common or boring.  In this situation, KEEP IT SIMPLE!

Also, please remember that you do not have to tell the whole truth; IELTS is not a lie detector test. I always advise students to speak from real experience because it is easier than making things up on the fly but you can bend and shape the truth to suit yourself. You can mix different experiences together or use information you heard about or read about and just make it your own. Remember, if the truth is complicated, tell an easy lie!

2. Choose an appropriate structure

With regards to structuring your answer in Speaking Part 2, there are numerous options. Some teachers advise that you just follow the prompts provided but I don’t like this approach as students often run out of things to say and on occasion, some of the prompts can be quite tricky to talk about. Other teachers advise that you follow a fixed structure such as Past – Present – Future, but I’m not a fan of this approach either as it is not suitable for all questions. Your structure should be FLEXIBLE; it should HELP you and not RESTRICT you.

Introduction (mandatory)                 Tell the examiner what you are going to talk about

Past Background (optional)               Use Past Tense Structures to give a background to your topic

Describe (mandatory)                         Use specific topic related vocabulary

Opposing View (optional)                  Offer a contradictory view to the one you just presented

Comparative (Optional)                       Demonstrate your use of comparative language by comparing your chosen topic with something else

Hypothetical (Optional)                       Use hypothetical language to describe an unreal situation or event connected to the topic

Future (Optional)                                  Use a range of future tense structures to talk about the future

With this structure, the only thing that you absolutely must do is INTRODUCE the topic so that the examiner knows what you are going to talk about and of course, you must use your vocabulary to DESCRIBE the topic in detail. All the other parts of the structure are optional, you can use as few or as many as you like, along with the prompts, to extend your answer naturally.

3. Write structure and keywords on the page provided

Once you have decided on a topic and structure, you have 1 minute to get as much key vocabulary on the page as possible. Some teachers suggest that you try to think of key vocabulary but you don’t really have enough time. In any case, for most people, the vocabulary comes naturally as you are telling the story.

Instead of key vocabulary, I would suggest that you write down a structure and some ideas that will allow you to speak for 2 minutes.  Once you have a structure on the paper, you will have something to talk about, even if your mind hits a blank. Let’s look at the following question and apply the structure chosen below.

Talk about a sport you like doing or watching. You should say:

How you first became interested in it

Why you are interested in it

What equipment and skills are needed for it

And say if you think it is an easy sport to do or not, and why

This is how your completed plan might look.

Introduction – Football

Past – how , when + why / underage teams

Describe – rules, global sport

Oppose – fan violence, hooliganism

Future – find more time to play

With all that information on the page, it doesn’t seem so difficult to speak for 2 minutes now, right? Your structures allow you to demonstrate a range of different grammatical structures and cohesive devices, and ensures that you don’t run out of things to say.

In the coming weeks, I will be writing blog posts that take a detailed look at all the different options in this structure. I will show you how to use a range of different grammar for each part and will also demonstrate how to use signposting language to introduce each section.  Make sure to join the PJC English Newsletter so that you don’t miss out on this really useful material!


Below, I have included 3 IELTS Speaking Part 2 questions. Use a stopwatch and practice planning them as if you are in the exam. Which structure would you use? How much information can you get on the page in a minute?

Leave your plans in the comments below!

Question 1 

Describe an organization or a company that you know. You should say

  • How big is it?

  • Do you find this company to be successful? Why?

  • What can you say about the working environment there?

Question 2 

Describe an environmental problem or event.

You should say:

  • What it is

  • Where is it happening

  • What problems it causes
    and explain how we can fix it

Question 3 

Describe a useful electronic device you would like to own. You should say:

  • what it is

  • how it would help your life

  • if it would be expensive to buy

and explain why you would like it.

Need help preparing for IELTS? Do you lack confidence using English at work? 

My Skype lessons will help you to improve your English!

Book a free trial lesson today!