Speaking tips for the B1 level exam

The Speaking test at B1 level has four tasks, based on real-life situations. You do the examination in pairs. In the first three tasks you talk only to the examiner, but in the last task you have a discussion with your partner.

Task 1 - Interview

First, the examiner will ask you a very simple question; e.g. Are you a student or do you work? Then you get two questions on a topic: e.g. family, school, holidays. You answer with one or two sentences. You don't get the questions one after another: the examiner will ask you, then your partner, then you again.

Tips and Ideas for Task 1

  • The first question is very easy. Try to give a quick simple answer.
  • The two topic questions are different. The first one is about you and the topic, e.g. ‘Do you like vegetarian food?’ The second one is about your opinion, e.g. ‘Is vegetarian food healthy?’
  • If you get a Yes-or-No question, say more than just a quick ‘Yes.’ or ‘No.' Give a reason or comment: e.g. ‘Is vegetarian food healthy?’ ‘Yes, because it can contain a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.’
  • Before the exam you can collect useful sentences about your life, your opinions, and activities etc.: e.g. ‘I don’t do a lot of sport. I guess I could live a healthier lifestyle.’ or ‘I’m fed up with reality shows, which have nothing to do with real life'.

Material for further practice for Task 1:

Look at: 'Starting a Conversation' page from About.com'. Here, you can find questions that you can use in a ‘getting-to-know-you-conversation’.

Task 2 - Picture Story

You get 6-8 pictures which together tell a story. You have 10 minutes to prepare your story before going into the exam room. There is no "right" or "wrong" story, but to make it good, you should plan it by writing notes. While preparing, you can use a non-electronic dictionary, but only look up words, which you really need. The words you already know are the best ones to use. You have one and a half minutes to tell your story. You can use the picture and your notes to help you, but you mustn't read from your notes.

Tips and Ideas for Task 2

  • In the preparation time the most important thing is the story. Note down the most important words and phrases which you will need. Do not write full sentences in your notes because you will not be able to read them in the exam.
  • Remember that you tell your story in the past tenses (past simple, past continuous - and even past perfect)
  • Tell your story without referring to the pictures. Don't say, ‘In Picture number 3, we can see…’.
  • Try to make your story as exciting as possible. Don't worry too much if you make a mistake.
  • Use linking words and phrases (e.g. 'as soon as', 'while', 'by the time').
  • Before the exam at home, try telling stories in English and record yourself with your mobile phone.

Materials for further practice for Task 2

On this special cartoon/comics webpage, you can find very simple picture stories of 6 pictures each. Watch and tell the story.
On this 'Telling Stories' page of About.com', you can find and learn plenty of useful expressions for storytelling.

Task 3 - Transactional Dialogues

You will have 3 role-plays with the interlocutor. In each one, you will get a card with a situation on it; e.g. You are thirsty and you want a drink. The examiner will tell you who he or she is; e.g. your friend. You say something appropriate; the examiner replies and then you must say one more thing. For example the examiner says, ‘Oh, but I've only got water.’ You could say, ‘That's all right, it's fine.’ The conversation then ends. You and your partner take it in turns to have the conversations.

Tips and Ideas for Task 3

  • You need only say one or possibly two sentences.
  • Read all of the card. What you have to do or say is usually at the end.
  • You can use the same words as on the card.
  • After you speak, put the card down. You won't need it any more.
  • Before the exam, collect some language samples: e.g. ‘Could you please...?’, ‘Excuse me but...

Materials for further practice for Task 3

On the 'How to...' pages of BBC Learning English, you will be able to listen to short everyday conversations in which people are trying to get things done. You can also find on each sub-page plenty of expressions you could or should learn to be effective in these everyday conversations.
Look at: 'Using English to Get Things' page of About.com to learn more useful language.

Task 4 - Discussion

You will have a three-minute discussion with your partner about a topic; e.g. What is the best present for a friend? This is a 3-minute improvised discussion about a given topic. By the end of the discussion, we would like you and your partner to come to an agreement of some kind. First, you will ‘brainstorm’ the main points of the argument about the topic (e.g. A friend has just passed her driving test and you want to buy her a present. With your partner, think of five or six suitable presents and then decide on the best one.), then you are expected to discuss each point in detail. At the end of the discussion, you can try to agree which is the best or most important option. Throughout the whole 3-minute long discussion, try to use the language of debating and arguing.

Tips and Ideas for Task 4

  • The first part of the discussion is a short brainstorming session. Try to support your suggestions with reasons, rather than just listing your ideas one by one.
  • In the second phase, when arguing about each brainstormed issue or point collected, try to focus on and respond to your partner’s arguments, ideas, opinions as much as you do on yours. React to those and ask your partner’s opinion on your ideas, views as well. Don't get stuck and try to avoid delivering short monologues one after the other.
  • During the discussion phase, make suggestions and express your agreement or disagreement, take turns, interrupt politely and summarize what has been said.
  • When preparing, collect some typical expressions which can be used for expressing an opinion, asking for an opinion, agreeing and disagreeing, compromising etc. On a piece of paper draw a small table with 6-8 columns. Start each column with one of the following words ‘I think’, ‘I don’t think’, ‘What do you think’, ’I agree’, ‘I disagree’, ‘As a conclusion’, ‘Can we say that...’. Then try to expand your vocabulary by collecting 4-5 synonyms (words or phrases expressing the same meaning) into each column, e.g. ‘I’m afraid...’, 'How do you see this?'). This will help you to enter the discussion task with a range of expressions and you won’t have to keep repeating the same phrase(s).
  • Be prepared to say something if your partner remains silent, e.g. ‘What do you think?’ or ‘How do you like this idea?’ The same goes for dealing with a partner who is too talkative: e.g. ‘Can I say something here?’.

Materials for further practice for Task 4

Look at: great collection of phrases on EnglishClub.com. What makes this list so practical is the way the phrases are grouped according to their function in a discussion (e.g. expressing agreement, asking for an opinion).

Good luck in your exam