Archives for February 2021

IELTS Speaking: I don’t understand the question. Advice & Tips

In the IELTS Speaking test, can you say “I don’t understand, can you repeat that please?” to the examiner. Will you get a lower score if you say that?

It is not uncommon that you might not understand a question that the examiner asks. Or you might not have heard the question properly so you want the question repeated. What is the best way to tackle this situation?

Can I ask the examiner to repeat the question?

Yes, it’s 100% ok to ask for the question to be repeated. See this page: Asking the Examiner Questions for more information about asking the examiner questions during the test.

Will I get a low score if I say “I don’t understand” in IELTS Speaking?

In IELTS Speaking, you are not marked on your ability to understand a question. You are only marked on:

  • Fluency & Coherence 
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation

Each of those marking criterion are worth 25% of your speaking marks. As you can see, understanding or being on topic are not marked. This means if you don’t understand a question or you misunderstand a question, you won’t get marked down.  So, feel free to ask for the question to be repeated.

However, do I recommend that you say “I don’t understand“?  No, I don’t recommend you say it. It is never a good idea to show that you struggled to understand something in English during an English language test.

What can I do if I don’t understand a question in IELTS Speaking?

The best way to deal with a question you don’t understand is to simply ask for the examiner to repeat it without saying that you don’t understand. For example:

Could you repeat that, please?

Saying this simple line is clear and direct. It doesn’t show your lack of understanding. It is polite and appropriate for the IELTS Speaking test.

Other similar options are:

  • Sorry, could you say that again, please?
  • Sorry, I missed that. Could you repeat the question, please?

You can also say:

Sorry, I didn’t quite hear you. Could you say that again more clearly?

Sorry, I didn’t quite hear the question. Could you say that again more slowly?

Sorry, what did you say? Could you say that again more loudly?

Alternatively, you could say:

Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat that, please?

I didn’t quite catch what you said. Could you repeat that, please?

This is a great way to ask for the question to be repeated because it uses idiomatic language which will boost your score. “to catch something that was said” is idiomatic language.  However, don’t say this repeatedly. Try to be flexible with the language you use when you ask for the question to be repeated. Each word you say while the recording is on will be marked.

Be Prepared

It is important that you rehearse these responses so that when you don’t understand something, you are ready with a variety of possible responses to deal with the situation. This will give you confidence in the test and show the examiner a range of language for dealing with misunderstandings. These are things which will help your score.

Can you ask for the question to be explained?

The answer to this question is Yes and No. Let me explain…

In part 1, the examiner is not allowed to explain the question to you. So, in part 1, you can only ask for the question to be repeated. 

In part 2, the examiner cannot explain the cue card to you. You must do your best to understand the main topic and follow the prompts as best you can.

In part 3, the discussion, it is fine to ask the question to explain what they mean. The examiner will say the question again using different words so that you can understand more easily. You could say “Sorry, could you explain what you mean?” This won’t affect your score, but try not to say too often.

I hope you have found this page useful. I always thinking that the more you are prepared for IELTS and the more you understand about the test, the better your chances of success. For more tips and free lessons relating to IELTS speaking, click here: Free IELTS Speaking Tips

All the best

Liz 🙂


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