How to buy yourself time in the IELTS speaking test with 8 simple phrases

Written by Mr Richard Forrest 

Let me guess, you're worried about being in the IELTS speaking exam and being asked a difficult question?

Do you...

A) Say nothing

B) Start talking fast and hope something good comes out

C) Remain cool, calm and collected and control the situation

D) Say uhhhhhhhhhh mmmmmmmm uhhhhh errr

The correct answer is... C!

In the exam, there will likely be moments where every student's mind goes blank, they mishear a question or they simply need time to think. However,  if this happens don't worry because this is totally normal and we have a perfect IELTS strategy to deal with these situations! 

In the event you are asked a question that you cannot respond to straight away during your IELTS speaking exam, you should avoid awkward silences and instead use a phrase designed to fill the void. It is essential to continue speaking even if you still need to think of what you want to say.

In the real world, native English speakers use a multitude of phrases to help them cope with these exact situations. Please note, these phrases will not harm your score in any way. They actually show the examiner you are comfortable controlling the situation and not panicking. 

Below are some example phrases for you to use during your IELTS speaking exam if you need a moment to collect your thoughts before speaking. Finally, I just want to mention that although these phrases will not harm your score, you should try not to use them for every question as the examiners may think that you are simply just not understanding the questions they are asking you. Just use them when you need them! 

1. "I'm so sorry but today I am a bag of nerves. To be honest, my mind just went completely blank". - This expression lets the examiner know that you are feeling under pressure but that you are trying. "A bag of nerves" is also an idiom so you will score points for idiomatic use of language. 

 2."Wow, what a fantastic question. I have genuinely never thought about that before. Let me just take a moment to consider your question". - Being excited and showing enthusiasm is a great way to improve your intonation score. Also, examiners are subject to flattery like anyone else so, don't be afraid to compliment their questions! 

3. "To be perfectly honest, this is not a topic I normally talk about. But, if you have to ask me I guess I would say that...". - Once again, honesty is the best policy and by using this line you will give yourself precious time to think of a better response.  

4. "Unfortunately, this subject is not really my cup of tea. I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. If I had to choose, I would have to say...". - Perfect for those tricky IELTS questions about Art like "what is your favourite painting?" and all you can think of is the Mona Lisa. Don't be afraid to buy some time and score points with these idioms.

5. "You know, it's been such a long time since I've thought about this matter. Please, let me take a few seconds to collect my thoughts". -Sometimes, we all need a few seconds to think in life. Don't be afraid to take those seconds you need, as long as you don't leave your examiner in silence for the next five minutes you should be fine.  

6. "So, let me see". - Nice, simple and sweet. Sometimes, we just need a moment to think. Use this nice phrase instead of making a dreaded mmmm uhhhh mmmm sound. 

7. "I'm so sorry, I'm not sure what you meant by that. Can you repeat your question please?". - On occasion, you can always get the examiner to repeat the question. This gives you a few valuable moments to think of a response. Try to only use this one if you have to though as the examiner may think you are not comprehending the questions if overused. 

8. Paraphrase the examiner. Okay, so this one technically isn't a phrase...but you can use this to good effect and score highly. Let me give you an example:

Examiner: How has global warming affected your country?

Student: Wow, that is an interesting question actually. Let me take a few seconds to rack my brains and consider the recent ramifications of climate change in my nation. 

So, what we have done here is bought ourselves time, used idioms and successfully paraphrased the examiner. All these things will help to improve your score and the quality of your answer.

Don't feel pressured by the IELTS exam or examiner. This is your test, your future and with these phrases, you are in control! 



Meet the teacher

Mr Richard Forrest 

"I believe, that a positive and welcoming atmosphere in class is the key to making students feel confident when using English in the real world. My goal is to help you to Love to Learn English". 

Use the link below to schedule a free 30-minute class