Many candidates are worried about answering difficult questions in the IELTS Speaking test. In fact, there are generally two possible problems:
1) You don’t know enough words to talk about the topic.
2) You don’t know the topic.
Let’s look at some strategies for dealing with each problem.
1 – You don’t know the words
It is possible that you will get a question about a topic that you cannot talk about because you do not know the words. Obviously the best preparation is to develop a wide vocabulary before the day of your test. This means lots of reading, listening, vocabulary study, etc.
However, if you really are not prepared to talk about the topic, what can you do? Well, it is still possible to show the examiner that you can use good English. For example, you could say:
- I’m not familiar with some of the words connected with this topic. But I’ll try to answer. (If you are aiming for a high band, you could use an idiomatic expression like ‘I’ll give it a go’ instead of ‘I’ll try to answer’.)
If you don’t know a particular word or phrase connected with the topic, you could say:
- I’m not sure how to say it in English. (then try to explain in your own words)
- I’m not sure what you call it in English. (then try to explain in your own words)
On page 11 of my Essential IELTS Speaking Tips eBook, I give some examples of how to explain what you mean when you don’t know the words — and impress the examiner at the same time.
2 – You don’t know the topic
It is possible that in the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner may ask you a question about a topic that you cannot discuss because you don’t know anything about it. Again, it is best to prepare in advance, for example read about a variety of issues (in English or in your own language), watch documentaries and practise giving opinions.
However, if you really do not know what to say, do not keep silent! Explain why you cannot answer and wait for the next question. You can learn some useful sentences like:
- I’m not an expert on this topic but I will try to answer. (give your best answer)
- I’m not very familiar with this topic, so I don’t know how to answer that question — even in my own language.
Using expressions like these is much better than saying nothing. In my eBook, there are more expressions for dealing with difficult questions.