Cambridge Speaking Interview Success: IELTS Band 9 | C2

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Recently I had a student who was taking the Cambridge C1 Advanced exam. He took the exam once before our course and got a B2 result in the speaking (so he failed). After just 10 lessons with me he managed to get a C2 pass, which is amazing.

 He literally did a dance of joy.

He was obviously at the right level, but he didn’t have the right strategy. The good news is that with the correct approach (and practice!) you can do it too. Let’s find out how …


Where do we start?

Part 1 of the Speaking test is an interview, and it’s the same in the IELTS, Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency exams. So, the language we’re going to cover in this blog can help you in all three 🙂


First you get a couple questions about yourself like:

  • Where are you from?

  • Are you working or studying?

  • How long have you been learning English?


Then the examiner asks you more general questions on a range of common topics like:

  • Hometown/city
  • Work/study
  • Family/friends
  • Travel/holidays
  • Free time/hobbies
  • Future plans


In IELTS they announce the topic:

Let’s talk about music. What types of music do you like to listen to? [Why?]


In Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency they don’t:

What type of music did you like when you were a teenager? [Why?]



Can we look at some examples?

Sure! Let’s take a look at a sample of three typical Part 1 responses to the initial questions:


E:   Where are you from?

C:   I’m from Zurich, but I was born in Davos.

E:   Are you working or studying?

C:   I’m working in a clothes shop. Next year I want to go to university, maybe to study business.

E:   How long have you been learning English?

C:   Um, for about five years.


This candidate would get a ‘modest’ score –

The reason that the mark would be quite low is because the information that the candidate gives is quite basic. Their answers are accurate, but they don’t elaborate. They don’t give reasons or examples to support their opinions. So, in short, they don’t do enough to achieve a higher result.


Now let’s take a look at the same questions, but with answers from a candidate who would receive an ‘exceptional’ score –

E:   Where are you from?

C:   I’m from Zurich. Originally, I come from Davos, which is a mountain resort town in the Swiss Alps.

E:   Are you working or studying?

C:   I have a part time-job at a clothes shop, and I also help out in my parents’ company to gain some work experience. I intend to start uni next year, possibly to get a business degree.

E:   How long have you been studying English?

C:   I started learning the language when I was ten, so it’s been a while! To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on it back then. My parents made me take classes – and now I’m glad they did!


So, in these examples the candidate uses a nice range of vocabulary, expressions and grammar structures. This is a given for Advanced/Proficient speaking. However, there’s more to their success than this. You see, the candidate has upgraded their answer in two simple steps.


Step 1 – they answer the question, and then Step 2 – they add more detailed information, examples and reasons to support what they said in Step 1.


By making sure you answer every question in two steps you show that you 1) have a real understanding of the question, and that 2) you can express you can express yourself spontaneously and fluently in developing your answer. So, basically, that you are a proficient user of English.

Students always ask me how much they should  say for each answer? You obviously can’t speak for half an hour about your home town – there’s just no time. The interview stage is only a few minutes long so you have a short timeframe to really impress the examiner. Every SECOND matters. The answers should be roughly three sentences long. You don’t need to say much more than that.


OK, got it. Now what?


They say practice makes perfect, so let’s do exactly that. Answer the questions below using the 2-step strategy:

Step 1- Answer the question in general (S1). 

Step 2- Add more detailed information, examples and reasons (S2).


  • What do you like do at the weekends?

  • Do you enjoy your job?

  • Would you prefer to live in a big city or a small town?

  • How do you hope to use English in the future?


How do my answers compare?

Let’s take a look at some sample answers.

E:   What do you like do at the weekends?

C:   These days I’m really into golf and often play on Sundays (S1). I’m actually a member of my local golf club so I try to take part in the social activities connected to the club too (S2).


E:   Do you enjoy your job?

C:   For the most part, yes (S1). I get on well with my colleagues who are friendly and supportive, but from time to time I have to deal with demanding clients, which can make life difficult (S2).


E:   Would you prefer to live in a big city or a small town?

C:  I’ve always lived in the countryside, and I really like it there (S1). I often go for walks in the woods and enjoy the fresh air. I value peace and quiet so I can’t imagine living in a bustling urban centre (S2).

E:   How do you hope to use English in the future?

C:   I hope to find work in the UK (S1). Without a doubt, it will help me to get around there, to communicate with my colleagues and do my job well. Hopefully, it will allow me to befriend new people too. You know, to feel comfortable with social English at the pub (S2).


These aren’t the only possible answers, of course!, but a solid guide to what a Band 9 | C2 answer should look like.


And now, it’s over to you!


Imagine you’re in the Speaking test and you get these questions:

1. Do you enjoy watching sports? [Why/Why not?]

2. What is the best time of day for you to study? [Why?]

3. Is there anything you dislike about travelling? [Why?]

4. What would your ideal job be? [Why?]

5. Where is a good place to visit in your country in winter? [Why?]

6. Do you think it would be a good idea to live in a foreign country for a short time? [Why/Why not?]


Think about how you could answer to best showcase your skills and impress the examiner. Write your responses in the comment section. We’d love to hear from you 🙂


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