IELTS Tips: How words are counted

Learn how your words are counted in IELTS. This page explains about counting words, numbers and symbols. You need to know how words are counted for IELTS listening, reading and writing. If you make mistakes with the number of words, you can lose points which can affect your band score.

How words are counted in IELTS

1. Numbers, dates and time are counted as words in writing. For example 30,000 = one word  /  55  = one word  /  9.30am = one word / 12.06.2016 = one word. In listening, 30,000 is counted as one number and 9.30AM is also counted as one number.

2. Dates written as both words and numbers are counted in this way: 12th July = one number and one word.

3. Symbols with numbers are not counted. For example, 55% = one number (the symbol “%” is not counted as a word). However, if you write “55 percent” it is counted as one word and one number.

4. Small words such as “a” or “an” are counted as one word. All prepositions, such as “in” or “at” are also counted. All words are counted.

5. Hyphenated words like “up-to-date” are counted as one word.

6. Compound nouns which are written as one word are also counted as one word. For example, blackboard = one word.

7. Compound nouns which are written as two separate words, are counted as two words. For example, university bookshop = two words.

8. All words are counted, including words in brackets. For example in IELTS writing, “The majority of energy was generated by electricity (55%).”. This sentence is counted as 9 words. The number in brackets is counted.


Advanced IELTS Writing Lessons: Liz’s Advanced Lessons

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IELTS Speaking Changing the Topic: Tips and Advice

Although I’m on holiday, I wanted to share these tips about changing the topic in IELTS speaking.

Many students have asked me if it is possible to change the topic. They also asked me why the examiner continues to ask questions about a topic that you have answered you don’t like. Let me explain…

Changing the topic in IELTS speaking

At no time can you ask the examiner to change the topic. You must prepare enough information and vocabulary on common topics so you can talk about a range of topics.

If the examiner asks you “Do you like art?” and you answer “No, I don’t.”, the examiner will continue to ask you questions about art. Just because you don’t like the topic, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the topic in English. This is an English language test and high level students should be able to talk about a wide range of topics that you like and also don’t like. Below is an example of how you can still talk about a topic you don’t like.

Part 1

The questions are often simple in speaking part 1. Even if you don’t know much about the question, you can still answer it. Here are some examples:

Q: What kind of art do you like?

A: As I don’t like art, there isn’t one type of style or art form that I particularly like. Of all the art forms, I really don’t like modernist paintings.

Examiner Comment: The student gave a clear and concise answer. The answer was an appropriate length for part 1 and it contained a clear explanation. This answer contains complex sentences which helps the grammar score.  The answer also contains a good range of vocabulary such as “art form”, “style” and “modernist paintings”.

Q. What kind of extreme sports are popular in your country?

A: I don’t know anything about extreme sports so I can’t say which ones are popular. Most people just play regular sports like ball sports and water sports.

Examiner Comments: This reply gives a direct answer and also adds more information. It helps with the criterion of fluency. Although this candidate didn’t give examples of extreme sports, they gave examples of other sports which is appropriate to the topic. This is a strong answer.

More Tips

  • Part 2 –  Try to talk about the topic as closely as you can. If you can’t understand it, talk about something similar. Don’t worry if you don’t use all the prompts on the card.
  • Part 3 – If you really don’t have any ideas for the answer, explain that. The most important thing is to use your English to express yourself.  You can still get good marks for using strong English in your answer. Below is an example of a part 3 question when the candidate can’t think of a clear answer or ideas:

Q: How do you think sports equipment will develop in the future?

A: I have no idea really but I guess that as technology develops, equipment will also change. That is clear from the development of equipment over the past 50 years and the introduction of new materials.

Examiner: Although the answer didn’t go into details, the candidate was able to offer an answer which used both future forms and past tenses which would give a strong score in grammar.

  • Don’t expect the examiner to change your topic because you don’t know much about it. This is a language test and the examiner must test how well you cope talking about different topics.
  • Prepare a range of topics for your IELTS test. Prepare ideas and vocabulary. See the links below for topic lists:
  • There are no marks for a right or wrong answer in IELTS speaking. There are only marks fr your English language.

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IELTS Speaking Tips: Asking the Examiner Questions

Can you ask the examiner questions? This page explains clearly about asking the examiner questions in each part of the IELTS speaking test. Learn what questions can you ask and which you can’t ask.

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 1

You can ask the examiner to repeat the question in IELTS speaking part 1 (Could you repeat that, please?) but that’s all. You can’t ask other questions. The examiner is limited to asking questions only in speaking part 1 and can’t help you or explain. The examiner can’t explain questions and can’t explain words.

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 2

You can’t ask any questions in part 2. You can’t ask to change the topic. You must use the topic giving to you and try your best to talk about something related to your cue card.

If you don’t understand a word on your cue card, the examiner can’t help you. You need to follow the topic on your card and follow the prompts you understand. You can add any other information you want to your talk to make it longer which relates to the topic.

The examiner will tell you when to start talking and when to stop. You don’t need to ask.

Asking Questions in Speaking Part 3

You can ask the examiner to explain words and to explain the question in IELTS speaking part 3.  This is useful because the examiner will rephrase the question using different words and make it easier to understand. You can also ask the examiner to repeat the question, the same as part 1. Here is the list of questions you can ask in speaking part 3:

  • Could you explain that, please? (the examiner will rephrase the question)
  • What do you mean exactly? (the examiner will rephrase the question)
  • Could you explain what X means, please? (for a specific word)
  • What does X mean? (for a specific word)

Don’t ask the examiner the following questions

  • Have you been there?
  • What do you think?
  • Where do you come from?
  • Do you agree with me?
  • Can you change the question?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • Can you give me a different topic?
  • What are your opinions?

Thinking Time

Sometimes you need to time to think about the question and think of your answer. One way to do that is to ask the examiner to repeat the question. It is a useful way to gain time to think. Alternatively, you can say “It’s an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about it before. I suppose…” You could use that method for difficult questions in part 3.

Will I lose marks if I ask the examiner to repeat the question?

No, it won’t affect your score. Your score is calculated on fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. There is no score for understanding or comprehension. So, it is fine to ask the examiner to repeat one to two questions in part 1 or to explain a question in part 3.

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IELTS Speaking Part 1: Reported Topic of Snacks

Below are the IELTS speaking part 1 questions with some model answer for the topic of snacks currently being used in the speaking test.

IELTS Speaking Part 1: Snacks Questions

  • Do you like snacks?
  • How often do you eat snacks?
  • How do you choose what snacks to eat?
  • Did you ever eat snacks when you were a child?
  • If you had a child, would you allow your child to eat snacks?
  • What kinds of snacks are popular in your country?
  • Do you think snacks are healthy?
  • Do you think all snacks are junk food?
  • Do you think eating snacks is good for your health?
  • Have the types of snacks people eat changed over the last few decades in your country?

IELTS Speaking Part 1: Snacks Model Answers

There are two optional answers for each question. If you want to post your own answers, put them in the comments box below.

Q) Do you like snacks?

A) No, not really. I generally prefer to eat at meal times rather than graze between meals.

A) Yes, I do. Around mid morning I usually have some fruit and then about 3pm I have some biscuits or something like that.

Q) What kinds of snacks are popular in your country?

A) Well, I guess that most people eat junk food like crisps, chocolate and biscuits for their snacks.

A) I suppose official workers mainly eat junk food like biscuits but other people sometimes eat fruit or something healthier.

Q) Do you think eating snacks is good for your health?

A) I think that if you’re hungry, it’s perfectly fine to have some fruit but if people eat junk food between meals, then it’s really unhealthy.

A) I think all kind of snacking between main meals is bad for your health. If people avoided snacking, they would be much healthier and less over weight.

IELTS Speaking Part 1 Tips

  • You can’t ask the examiner to change the topic.
  • Even if you don’t like snacks, the examiner will continue to ask you questions about the topic.
  • Try to give examples of snacks.
  • Snacks are any type of food that is eaten between meals – they might be healthy or unhealthy depending on what the person chooses to eat.
  • Snack is both a noun and a verb.
  • Part 1 answers can’t be very long but you should at least try to give one long complex sentence in your answer.

IELTS Speaking Recommended Pages:

Speaking Part 1 Topics and Questions

IELTS Speaking Test Practice Video with Model Answers

IELTS Speaking Tips: How long should my answer be?

All IELTS Speaking Lessons, Tips, Model Answers & Free Videos

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Body Language Vocabulary

Here is a list of body language communication and a free video watch with extra vocabulary. There are many examples of how body language is a form of communication. Body language is used in every country and culture throughout the world.

Why is body language important to understand?

  •  Body language is used to assess people’s characters. It is one of the first ways we assess a stranger’s character.
  • Body language is used to communicate directly with someone when language is not possible.
  • Body language is commonly used and assessed at work and interviews.
  • Body language is an essential part of friendships and relationships.
  • Body language can lead to great misunderstanding between different cultures.

The video tutorial below gives some of the most common examples of body language. More examples are listed under the video.

Body Language Vocabulary: Video Tutorial

A great video to learn some vocabulary for body language communication. A fun video to show that learning vocabulary can be fun!!!


List of Body Language

Below is a list of body language that is common in the west with the common meaning.

Facial Expressions

  • Avoiding eye contact = shy, worried, lying
  • Crinkling nose = disgust
  • Deadpan face (without any expression) = emotionless or hiding feelings
  • Direct eye contact = confidence
  • Eyes staring into the distance = dreamy, not concentrating
  • Pressing lips together (tight lipped) = annoyed, angry
  • Raised eye brows = doubtful, disbelieving
  • Smiling = friendly

Physical Actions

  • Arms behind back, shoulders back = confidence
  • Arms crossed = defensive or insecure but sometimes it means being angry
  • Bowing (bending at the waist) = greeting someone new (in some countries)
  • Biting nails = nervous
  • Blushing (going red in the cheeks) or stammering (speaking with hesitations and repeated letters) = embarrassment
  • Eye rubbing = tired or disbelieving
  • Hands covering gaping mouth = scared
  • Putting arms up with palms facing forward = submission
  • Scratching one’s head = confused
  • Shaking the head = negative, no
  • Shrugging shoulders (moving shoulders up and down) = don’t know, doubt, confused
  • Stroking one’s chin = thinking deeply
  • Nodding head =  agreement, yes
  • Firm handshake = strong and decisive / limp handshake = weak

International Problems with Body Language

Nodding head = In some countries, it means “yes” but in other countries it means “no”. Likewise, a shaking head means “no” in some countries but “yes” in others.

Silence = In the West, this can be negative and be a problem between people. However, in other countries, such as China or Japan, it can be a sign of agreement or femininity.

Personal space = In countries, such as England, people should stand a respectful distance from each other but in other countries, such as Spain, people touch each other when talking. In Japan, the person space is often bigger between people than in England. Respectful space between people changes depending on countries.

Eye Contact = In the West, this is a sign of confidence and is important when listening actively to someone. On the other hand, there are countries where this might be a sign of aggression and confrontation.

Practice Using Body Language Vocabulary

Fill the gaps of these sentences with the suitable words:

1. I had no idea what she was talking about. Then suddenly she asked a question that I couldn’t understand so I just ………….. my shoulders and walked away.

2. My boss always tells tall stories. Yesterday he came to work with another unbelievable story but the only response I could give was to ……….. my eyebrows.

3. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being late. Once I was in a really long meeting at work and by the time we finished I was late to meet my friend. During the meeting, I could feel myself getting impatient and my foot started ……………. on the floor.

4. I can’t stand watching films at the cinema because you can’t relax like you can in private, particularly when watching an action movie full of surprises and shocks. When there is a really sudden unexpected scene, my eyes ………. and my mouth ……… open which I find really embarrassing in public.

5. I remember once I was late for an appointment. When I arrived, which was over 1 hour late, I ………….  deep red and stammered an apology.

  1. shrugged (the answer isn’t “shrugged off” because that means to get rid of – usually a feeling – and does relate to shoulders)
  2. raise
  3. tapping (the answer isn’t stamping because stamping is when you are very angry not impatient)
  4. widen    gapes  (don’t forget the “s”)
  5. blushed


Using vocabulary in IELTS

Q) In what way is body language a form of communication?

A) Well, people use body language to send a message or to indicate something so it is definitely a way to communicate. For example, when people raise their eyebrows, it often means they are incredulous or disbelieving and when they tap their foot on the floor, you know they are impatient. So, using facial expressions and physical actions can communicate things to other people.

Q) Do you think it is possible to misunderstand someone’s body language?

A) Yes, definitely. When someone avoids your eye, it is possible to think that they are avoiding your question and don’t want to talk to you. But really, it might be that they are just shy. So, it’s quite easy to grasp the wrong meaning in people’s actions.

Q) Describe a time you were late for an appointment.

A) I remember, about one month ago, organising to meet someone in the town center at 9pm. Unfortunately, I was delayed because of traffic and didn’t arrive until about 9.30pm. My friend was really mad. She had her arms crossed and was tapping her foot impatiently on the ground. I was so embarrassed and blushed a lot. I stammered my apology but felt really uncomfortable because she was staring at me with angry eyes. Anyway, we sorted out our differences and have been really good friends ever since. (this is an example of part of a talk for speaking part 2 – add details and descriptions)

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Linking Words for IELTS Speaking: Word List & Tips

Here is a list of linking words for your IELTS speaking with tips and models. For speaking you need some simple linking words and natural phrases to help the examiner follow your ideas and stories. These linking words  and signposts are simple and informal on the whole. IELTS writing is different and requires the use of a wide range of linkers.


Adding more information

  • and
  • also
  • as well as
  • another reason is

Time Phrases

You should use signposts to help the listening understand when you are talking about the past or the present.

  • now
  • at the moment
  • at present
  • right now
  • these days
  • nowadays
  • in the past
  • before
  • then
  • at that time
  • years ago
  • when I was younger

Expressing ideas

  • I think one important thing is
  • I guess one difference is
  • I suppose the main difference between X and Y is

Causes and Solutions

  • I guess it’s because
  • The main reason is
  • It was caused by
  • Because
  • I suppose the best way to deal with this problem is
  • I reckon the only answer is to
  • The best way to solve this is

Giving Examples

These connective devices are for giving examples in your answers. The most common and natural to use is “like”. Please note that “like” can’t be used as a linking device in IELTS writing.

  • for example
  • for instance
  • such as
  • like

Being Clear

You use these simple, natural expression to explain your point again more clearly or get your answer back on track.

  • What I mean is
  • What I want to say is
  • As I was saying

Contrasting and concessions

Use these connecting words to compare and contrast or give concessions.

  • but
  • on the other hand
  • while
  • although
  • or

Free PDF Download: Linking words for IELTS Speaking

Examples of Linking Words in Speaking

Look at the following questions and answers. See what linking words are contained in the answers.

Q. Do you eat much fruit?

A. Yes, I do. I love tropical fruit like mangoes and pineapples.

Comments: We would not use “for example” in this type of sentence which relates to our everyday life.

Q. Do you think fast food is bad?

A. Yes, I do. If it is eaten too often, it can cause problems such as heart disease or diabetes. Also, it can lead to weight problems which are really common nowadays.

Comments: You could use “such as” or “for example” in this sentence because the content is more serious. Please note that we don’t use “furthermore” or “in addition” for speaking, instead we use “also” or “and”.

Q. Do children play similar games today that they played in the past?

A. No, I don’t think they do. Before, children used to play simple games like hide and seek or they used to play with simple handmade toys. But, these days, kids tend to prefer computer games and their toys are battery operated. 

Comments: This answer contained time phrases for the past and present “before” and “these days”. It also had an example “like”. “Like” is the main example linking word for speaking and can be repeated again and again. This answer also uses a contrasting linking word “but”. “But” is the main contrasting linking word in speaking and can be repeated many times.

Mistakes with Linking Words in Speaking

The example below will help you understand how not to answer a question with linking words.

Q. Do you like going out with friends?

A. Yes, I do. Firstly, it gives me a chance to relax. Secondly, I can catch up on their news. Last but not least, it allows me the opportunity to visit new places.

Comments: The method of linking is too formal. It is inappropriate and is not a good for a high score.

See below what the answer should be:

A. Yes, I do. It’s great being able to chill out and catch up with their news. Also we often go out to new places which I really enjoy.

Comments: This answer was more natural and would be marked higher in IELTS speaking. The linking words are used appropriately (and / also).

Tips for Linking Devices in IELTS Speaking

  • Don’t use formal linking words for simple questions about yourself and your life.
  • Don’t worry about repeating linking words. This is different to IELTS writing.
  • The most common linking words for speaking are: and, but, because, also, like (for giving examples)
  • “Like” is only used as a linking word to give examples in speaking NOT in writing.
  • You do not get a higher score because used a range of linking devices.
  • Linking words in speaking are just to help the listener understand better.
  • Linking words are used naturally not formally in IELTS speaking.
  • Linking words are part of the criterion of “Fluency and Coherence” which is 25% of your marks.

Linking Devices for IELTS Writing

The following link will provide you with a list of Essential Linking Words for Writing Task 2. For IELTS writing, you MUST use a range of formal linking words in your essay to get a high score. This is applicable to both GT and academic students.

IELTS Speaking Questions

IELTS speaking common questions and topics to practice for your test.

IELTS Speaking Part 1 Topics

IELTS Speaking Part 2 Topics

IELTS Speaking Part 3 Topics

IELTS Speaking Model Answers and Tips:

IELTS Speaking Page

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Linking Words


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IELTS Speaking Part 2 Quiz: How much do you know?

How much do you know about IELTS speaking part 2? Make sure you understand everything about speaking part 2 before you do your test.


Are the following tips and advice good or bad?

  1. If you don’t know anything about the topic, ask the examiner to give you another cue card.
  2. You must write answers to each question on the cue card during your 1 minute preparation.
  3. You shouldn’t look at your notes while you are giving your talk.
  4. You will get a low score if your talk is boring.
  5. You should only add information to your talk relating to the prompts on your card.
  6. The examiner will interrupt you if you go off topic.
  7. If you don’t speak for 2 minutes, you won’t get a high score.
  8. The examiner is not interested in your grammar in part 2, only in your fluency.
  9. Use plenty of idioms to get a higher score.
  10. You should expand your talk by adding descriptions, details and stories.

All the advice given above is bad except for one. Read the comments below to learn more.

  1. You can’t change your topic. Even if you don’t know much about it, you should still try to talk by adding your own ideas and information.
  2. There are no questions on the speaking part 2 cards. There are prompts on the cards which are only guidelines. You should decide how to write notes in a way that is useful for your talk. The notes are only to help you remember your ideas so you decide if you want to make notes on each prompt or not.
  3. This is really bad advice. Of course you can look at your notes. Your notes will help you remember your ideas. However, don’t look down at your notes all the time. Eye contact with the examiner while you are speaking is important. Just glance at your notes from time to time to help remember ideas.
  4. There is no score for having an interesting talk or a boring talk. However, an interesting talk usually contains a better range of language and for that reason adding interesting details can help.
  5. This is also poor advice. The prompts should be used as guidelines. If you decide not to follow them, it is up to you. Personally, I recommend following them because they provide a useful structure for your talk but you need to add more information to each prompt. It is your choice what extra information you add.
  6. The examiner will not interrupt your talk at all. Once you start talking, the examiner will remain silent until you have finished. Also there is no scoring for being on or off topic in IELTS speaking. You shouldn’t change the topic but you might want to add some interesting details which are not mentioned on your card.
  7. Part of fluency is your ability to speak at length but that doesn’t mean you must speak for 2 minutes. If you only speak for 1.5 minutes but during that time you speak without hesitation, you can still get a high score.
  8. There are four marking criteria in IELTS speaking (fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation). These criteria are scored from your answers to ALL parts of the test. While part 2 is a good chance to show your fluency skills, your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation will still be assessed.
  9. Using idioms is not a sure way to get a high score. Idioms should be used appropriately and correctly and should definitely not be over used.
  10. This is absolutely correct advice. You need to expand your talk by adding more detail and descriptions. This website (IELTS Advantage) has a great strategy for developing your talk. I’m sure you will all find it useful.


Recommended for Speaking Part 2

Recommended IELTS Website

IELTS Advantage: A great website for IELTS tips and strategies.

Main IELTS Pages

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Maths: Reported Speaking Topic in May 2015

Maths was a reported IELTS speaking topic this month (May). It is quite common to be asked about your school days and also about the subjects you studied. Below are some questions for this topic for you to prepare and also some useful vocabulary to help you talk in more detail. This topic could also be called “calculations” or “mathematics”.

IELTS Speaking Part 1 Questions: Maths

  • Are you good at maths?
  • Did you like mathematics when you were at school?
  • What was your teacher like?
  • What kinds of things did you learn in maths?
  • Did you use a calculator when learned maths?
  • Do you find it difficult to do calculations?
  • How do you calculate difficult sums?
  • Do you think maths is an important subject for children to learn?
  • Why do you think children should learn maths?

Useful language:

  • calculate numbers / data / figures
  • adding up / addition (2 + 4 = 6)
  • subtraction / taking away (6 – 2 = 4)
  • multiplication  / multiplying numbers (multiplying = 2 x 3 = 6)
  • the multiplication table
  • division / dividing (dividing = 6 / 3 = 2)
  • long division (12,000 / 1,500 = 8)
  • estimating powers and roots for positive numbers
  • learning about decimals and fractions (decimal = 0.333 & fraction =  1/3)
  • algebra = learning about using letters and symbols in formulas
  • geometry = calculating angles in triangles or relationships between points on graphs or maps
  • proportions and rates of change
  • maths teaches people how to solve problems
  • maths teaches people how to interpret and understand data
  • maths teaches people how to do simple and complex calculations needed for everyday life

Model Answers

  • Question: Did you like maths when you were at school?
  • Answer: I enjoyed maths at the beginning doing just simple sums but I didn’t like it as much once we progressed on to complex calculations and doing algebra and things like that.
  • Question: Did you use a calculator at school for studying maths?
  • We weren’t allowed a calculator for doing sums or long division and things like that. But we were allowed to use one for geometry and other complex calculations.

Recommended for IELTS 

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