IELTS Speaking Tips

IELTS Speaking Tips

Let's do a quick recap of what the speaking exam consists of before we get onto intonation.

IELTS speaking exam recap

  • There are three sections to the speaking exam
  • Section 1- A brief introduction and short Q&A
  • Section 2- Individual speaking on a specific topic. You will have 1-2 minutes to prepare. The examiner will not interrupt you.
  • Section 3- Discussion based on section 2. The examiner will ask 5-6 questions from section 2.

What is intonation?

Intonation is the pitch in your voice. It is how we stress the words we use and give rhythm to them.

The intonation we apply, whether that be curiosity, sarcasm, excitement (and many others), falls onto particular words which creates the overall feeling and emotion of the sentence.

Having some understanding of intonation, can help you in your IELTS speaking exam. Picking up on intonation shows that you really know how to apply your English language skills. Even in every day conversation, missed intonation can result in the person responding in a way that takes the conversation off-piste. In other words, it disturbs the accuracy and flow of the conversation.

Knowing some of the basics can really make a difference in your IELTS speaking test. It can open up more opportunities for discussion if your intonation antenna is on and you can really show off your English speaking abilities.

You can easily practice listening out for intonation and picking up on the difference it makes to speech. Listen to the radio, watch famous speeches on YouTube, listen to podcasts (pause and replay, taking note to really notice pitch variation), eavesdrop in conversations in ear-shot of you (how are they speaking to one another? how is their intonation driving the conversation?), listen to music and notice which words are stressed.

What types of intonation are there?

Below is a table featuring the most common forms of intonation. Whilst there are other intonation forms, the below are the most salient. There will be a follow up post with more, but this is a good place to start and will strengthen your speaking skills for your IELTS test.

Type of intonation


Type of sentence

Rise- invitation to continue, request/offer for/of information, excitement

[ ]

Yes/No questions: Are you thirsty? When does the meeting start? Would you like a cup of tea? 

Answer required: We’ve met already, haven’t we? You like seafood, don’t you? The view is beautiful, isn’t it?

Fall- finality, certainty, disinterest, sarcasm, boredom 


(most statements in English) 

Statements or Declarative: I worked on Monday, she is ten years old

Wh questions (Who, What, Where, When) How can I help you? What time does it start?

Commands; Put that down, sit down

Exclamatory sentences; How nice of you

Rise-fall- approval, disapproval, surprise, agitation, sarcasm


Information question: ‘where, when, what, which, how; Where are you going to stay on holiday? When did you arrive last night? How long have you lived in this country?

Question tags (If you think you know something, but want to confirm it); You live in London, don’t you? You aren’t coming to the meeting, are you? [Notice the use of punctuation and how it emphasis the fall)

Fall-rise- questions, limited agreement, hesitation, having reservations, pleading

[ ]

Yes/No question: Have you lived here a long time? Did you visit your friend last month? 

Clarification questions (let the voice rise to indicate you expect more information); We aren’t expected to finish the report by Wednesday, are we? 

High energy emotions; Did you hear what happened? (Shock) Oh my gosh! That’s great! (Excitement) Stop it (Anger)

Activity: Practice using intonation

When doing this exercise, say them out loud. Think about where the stress lies. A question does not always guarantee a rise, for example.

Match the examples with the appropriate users and mark if the intonation is rising or falling. The table with answers is at the bottom of the article.

Intonation is an important part of speech because it demonstrates an understanding of natural speech patterns

Intonation is a crucial aspect in excelling at the IELTS speaking test. It brings vitality to spoken language, capturing emotions and intentions effectively. By varying pitch patterns, candidates emphasise key points and maintain the examiner's interest.

Moreover, intonation aids comprehension by distinguishing between statements, questions, and exclamations. It also enhances coherence and cohesion, which is part of how you are scored.

In the IELTS speaking test, intonation plays a pivotal role in conveying meaning, showcasing language skills, and achieving a dynamic and authentic communication style.

Watch this short video to see intonation in practice

Answers to task