297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

On the podcast today I’m talking to Jessica Beck who has been working in English language teaching for over 10 years. She is an instructor, a teacher trainer and an author of 14 textbooks for learning English. You may also know Jessica from her work on the IELTS Energy Podcast (www.ielts.allearsenglish.com), which is part of the All Ears English. I talked to Gabby and Lindsay from AEE on LEP last year about culture shock, remember that? Well, Jessica is part of the All Ears English team, and is known there as the “Examiner of Excellence”. So, she knows a lot about the IELTS test, and he’s got some good advice for any of my listeners who plan to take the test, including how you can improve your speaking score if you have a good sense of humour. If you’re not planning to take the test, these skills can also be applied to your use of English in general life too.

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Jessica has kindly written a blog post which includes the tips and useful language she mentions in this episode. You can read that blog post below.

I expect that most of you know what the IELTS test is, In fact, I have done an episode about IELTS before on LEP in which I went through every part of the test in one episode, dispensing various bits of Jedi wisdom to help you get a better score. That episode is called “Tips and Tricks for the IELTS Test”, and is episode number 254 of Luke’s English Podcast.
Check it out here www.teacherluke.co.uk/2015/01/22/254-ielts-tips-tricks/

For those that don’t know, IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, and it’s now the world’s #1 test of English language level. The test measures your English in 4 areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The maximum score in each area is 9 (expert user) and the lowest is 1 (total beginner). Lots of universities, employers and other institutions around the world require an IELTS score as requirement for entry, and 7 is usually the target score, sometimes it’s higher, sometimes lower depending on the institution. Cambridge University in the UK for example requires a minimum of 7.5 overall, with no less than 7 in any of the categories. So, if you want that place at a great British or American university, the first challenge is often to get a really good IELTS score, and what you need is good advice and strategies to help you do your best.

So, in this episode we’re going to meet Jessica, and talk specifically about the IELTS speaking test, in which you have a 15 minute interview with an IELTS examiner and your spoken English is tested in a few ways. Jessica has loads of tips for the speaking exam, and I’m hoping that she can give us some advice on how having a sense of humour can get you a better score in the test. So listen for some more top tips for IELTS in this one.

Also, what do you think would happen if I took the IELTS speaking test? Well, listen to the whole episode and you’ll find out…

Now, let’s meet Jessica the “Examiner of Excellence”.

Read Jessica’s Blog Post:

Humor Increases IELTS Speaking Scores

 Say what??!!

 I’m serious. It does.

 By Jessica Beck from All Ears English IELTS 

Many students, and teachers, for that matter, view all exams as formal and academic. Because of this, they believe that on these exams, test-takers must behave, speak, and write in an academic, formal style all the time.

While this may be true for some tests, there are many reasons why an IELTS candidate should not behave this way on the Speaking exam.

As we discussed on the podcast, a common mistake students make is not learning about what the IELTS examiner is looking for.

Students often look at example questions, memorize high-level words and phrases, and believe this is enough.

It’s not!

You must know what you are graded on, and where to use these words and phrases.

Your score, which can be from 0 to 9, is broken down into 4 aspects- Fluency and Coherence, Vocabulary, Grammar and Pronunciation.

You can read definitions of the band scores in each aspect at www.ielts.org/pdf/SpeakingBanddescriptors.pdf.

What you must notice about the band score descriptors is that the examiner wants to hear a range from you- a range in vocabulary, in your ability to communicate about a variety of topics, and in your pronunciation.

The fact is that in Parts 1 and 2 on the IELTS Speaking exam, almost all of the questions are about you. They are personal and informal. Therefore, if you answer these questions in a formal way, you are showing that you do not have a range of communication ability and that you are unable to talk about personal, informal topics.

So, where does humor come in? How does it help you raise your score? Read on!

  • Humor helps you improve your pronunciation score. It helps you relax, allowing you to show your personality and use emotion in your voice. Showing relaxed and expressive pronunciation can push this score up to a 7 or higher!
  • It improves your fluency and coherence score. If you are able to answer some informal questions with a few informal anecdotes, or very short stories, about yourself, this will show that you can communicate appropriately and effectively in informal speaking situations.
  • It improves your vocabulary score, because you show you can use appropriate vocabulary to the question, and you have some knowledge of more interesting words and phrases. Showing the examiner a range of informal vocabulary in Parts 1 and 2, and formal vocabulary in Part 3, pushes your score up to a 7 or higher.
  • NOTE: Even though I’m encouraging you to communicate in a relaxed way, this doesn’t mean that you slump your shoulders and provide one word answers. You must always sit and behave respectfully, and ALWAYS answer in complete sentences.

We gave some examples of how to answer in a humorous manner on the podcast, and the phrase “self-deprecating” came up a few times.

Self-deprecation is the ability to make fun of yourself, or to share information about yourself that shows you make mistakes.

This is a humble way of communicating, and it can endear you to your listeners.

This is true on the exam and in real life!

For example, if the examiner asks, “Do you enjoy taking photographs?” A self-deprecating answer would be, “I’ll admit, I actually love taking selfies. I know this is a silly habit, and that is honestly a bit embarrassing, but I take selfies absolutely everywhere- at home, on the bus, walking up the stairs, waiting for my dry cleaning. However, I post almost none of them, so I guess it’s not that horrible of a habit!”

Other phrases you can use to introduce answers like this are: You won’t believe this, but…, This is crazy, but… and I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, but….

An excellent way to prepare to communicate in this way, on the exam and in real life, is to watch stand-up comedy, or see/listen to interviews with stand-up comedians.

Some podcasts that I recommend are Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, a news quiz with three stand-ups, How Did This Get Made, a show with 3-4 stand-ups who talk about really bad (but sometimes popular!) movies, and Comedy Bang Bang, an interview show with hilarious skits.

If you challenge yourself to experience this type of Western, English humor, not only will this help you communicate impressively with the IELTS examiner, but it will also help you talk naturally with native speakers, and understand more jokes in movies and TV shows.

Have fun and get your target score!

Click here to get the 7 Easy Steps to a 7 or Higher on IELTS 

Jessica Beck is the IELTS professional at All Ears English IELTS. She has helped hundreds of students reach their target score through her simple, step-by-step systems and strategies. Learn more with Jessica on the IELTS Energy Podcast in iTunes.

  • LOL Jessica is so hilarious.i remember the last time they interviewed you in all ears english and another episode where they were telling that if you wanted to achieve something in life, what can you do in the next 24 hours to be closer to that goal, i really enjoyed that episode anyway cheers to Jessica if she reads this.

    I din´t quite listen where you said you live Luke but it sounded familiar to me, I think that is where my sister used to live in Paris near the Eiffel tower in a famous quartier of Paris. I wished you were living there by the time I went there lol.


  • Anonymous

    Dear Mr. Thompson, l
    Let me express my sincere appreciation for giving me the opportunity not to listen to the miserable moan of Paul Taylor aka Apple Store Ex-employee aka Comic Who Was Not Met Well In UK. Dear Lord, why do I know so much about this guy?? I wish the podcast allowed me to learn various ways to improve my English, how about that?
    Episode 297(BTW – what a nice number 2+7=9, huh?) was very, very close to the perfect english learning podcast, no kidding! NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” is AMAZING! Finally listening to real american accent of a smart women was enjoyable!
    Keep up the good work, Luke! I wish you more Audible.com downloads ;)
    Yours sincerely,
    L.E. Pepper
    The Republic of Freedonia

    • I am with my both arms for Paul Taylor, I feel like he’s become an important part of this podcast.

  • I think, Jessica such a hilarious person not because she’s an American, but because she has this kind of character, that’s it. And it’s super easy to have conversations with people who always cheerful and it helps you when you’re in a bad mood.

    So, thank you Luke for this bright and delightful podcast.
    By the way, I wonder if it helps you on IELTS to choose the accent of an examinator…

  • Anonymous

    Incredible, great, lovely, awesome and bla bla bla !!!!. This episode is not bad but it´s not one of the touching one among Teacher Luke´s. The girl (Jessica) is too much American to my taste, too much big loughters, too much explosive way of speaking. Sorry Jessica, you must be a lovely girl but I like British sounds, British humour, British style. I like Luke´s English Podcast. It´s goes deeper to my senses, perhaps because is more european and less extravagant than other American English podcast that I´ve tried. I like Teacher Luke´s vision of life and the way he tells us it. Teacher Luke doesn´t try to sell us anything and this is the key of his authenticity and why many people think that Mr. L. Thompson is a good guy and he really feels what he says. (I know, Luke, you need too a little money to survive and I hope the “donative thing” as you say does work, but you will pass to prosperity not because you were a millonaire but because you have opened a new way in the world of communication and has gone deep in the heart of many foxes around the galaxy. Yes, Luke, there are already some LeperAliens cathing every week you signal.
    Thanks Luke. Your friends Amber and Paul are too fantastic. Please invite them again to you show.
    Spanish chap.

    • Nothing wrong with Jessica’s natural personality and American accent !
      Please be open- minded ! THANK YOU !

      • Anonymous

        Dear mollietai10@yahoo.com

        Thank you very much for having taken your time to answer my review about the episode 297. I would like to say to you that it was a “review” about one episode of a public podcast. In a review you give your opinions about a product or a production so I only did that and with all respect for all the people involved but with a critic point of view. I’ve been taught that all opinions which have been given with respect are valid and many times the unfavourable ones are more constructive for the person who receives them. I’ve also been taught that people could have different point of views and that is very enrichment for our minds.

        I always try to give only opinions and for that reason I don’t usually use the imperative form of a verb because I think that I don’t have to say what people have to do or not to do or how people have to be or not to be. That is I usually don’t use expressions such as: “Please be open-minded! “. I’m also accustomed not to shout people when speaking or when writing. That is when writing if I want to thank some body I write “thank you” and not “THANK YOU” because it is known that in texting if you write in capital letters that is meaning that you are shouting to this person.

        I would to finish asking for forgiveness because of my basic English but I hope that I’ve made myself understood.

        Kind Regards

        Spanish Chap

      • agreed, if you lile Luke, why do you criticize his choice of the guests? Thus he’s able to keep his podcast divers and ever interesting! Both, American and British English are equally charming and valid.

    • emmajunli

      give some patience. give her a chance. she’ll grow on you. i remember the 1st time i listened to her podcast, i had similar reaction, you know, a bit too loud, a bit too over-the-top, a bit too american for my liking… but then gradually things started to change… before long i found myself not minding their upbeat tone and other things any more… soon i began to enjoy her podcasts… and now i’m quite fond of them and think their cheerfulness infectious sometimes…

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Emmajunli for your advice. Perhaps I´m wrong and it´s like a good wine you start apreciating it little by little, trying it and with time. I will do it.
        Spanish chap.

  • This is the most incredible interview ever ! Teacher Jessica Beck is definitely one in a million . She is out of this world . I couldn’t be happier with all her audio and video lessons . AEE IELTS ENERGY is a mind-blowing podcast . I am a SUPER FAN ! LEP and AEE can stand the test of the time ! Many many thanks to you all ! CHEERS !

    • :)

    • Catherine Bear

      Dear Mollie Tai,

      Did you take the IELTS test? How was it like? Did Jessica help you to get a higher score? I did a TOEFL test two years ago, just for fun. Like Jessica said, it was a weird feeling, being forced to speak into a mic in a room packed with almost 100 persons. I would have preferred the speaking part with a real examiner, face to face, maybe with someone like Jessica Beck.

      I wonder how Jessica manages to stay neutral in an exam situation, being in fact a lively and emotional person. Just imagine, a student comes in, takes his topic card and starts telling some weird fairy tale in a robotic, Mancuvian kind of accent. How can Jessica the examiner stay calm in that situation, I wonder… :))


  • Jorge

    Awesome, my two favourity podcasters face to face, what else can I ask for? Who will the winner be? Luke tell Jessica that Jessica and her friend, Lindsay, have to make their podcasts a bit longer. Bye and see you in your next podcasts.

  • ptholome/Antonio

    Lovely, dynamic and funny girl. Both of you have performed an interesting and funny podcast..

    Like usual Luke.

    Thanks :)

    • Thanks Antonio :)
      Sorry no Periscope this time, but maybe soon!

  • ptholome/Antonio

    Hi, Luke And Jessica, I am glad to hear this podcast. Of course, I know her and I listen to her podcasts several times every week.