Role-playing reality: feedback on speaking with the Macmillan IELTS Skills app


In last week’s post we looked at developing reading skills with the new Macmillan IELTS Skills app. This week we shift the focus to speaking and explore how the app might help students prepare themselves for their often daunting 11-14 minutes of fame in an IELTS examination room.

The speaking section of the app has specific advice and a range of exercises for each part of the IELTS speaking test. Learners can watch videos showing other students doing the exam, take interactive quizzes, and even record themselves answering an examiner’s questions. 

Let’s start again with some feedback from our learners. In this short video, Steven Evans from Venezuela and Shuinong Xu from China (two of our first year undergraduate Diploma students), tell us how they got on with the app’s speaking section:

The thing that jumps out most from Steven and Shuinong’s comments is the value they attach to being able to watch videos of students actually taking the exam; and to having the opportunity to role-play doing this themselves by recording their own responses to an examiner’s prompts. They could better envisage the exam day scenario and learn about practical steps, such as what kinds of notes to write for Part 2 and what to expect from the examiner. Being able both to visualise the speaking exam better and to engage in the self-reflective activity of recording their voices, evaluating their performance and re-recording were perceived as important benefits .

Other significant comments from our students, included the following:

• ‘There are two different students in the videos taking the exam and we can compare them and see which one has a stronger performance’
• ‘I wish there were more topics covered because the examples are really good and definitely useful to show us how we can develop our opinions on different issues’
• ‘This really helps to see what the exam is like if you haven’t done it before’
• ‘I would like more videos like this because they help us prepare in a more direct way. It’s much easier to understand with examples’
• ‘I like that we can learn language like linking phrases, but also some things about pronunciation, like how to use intonation to sound more interesting’

As one of the students said, the video examples can help learners to prepare ‘in a more direct way’ for their big day. As a teacher and former IELTS examiner, I appreciated how these videos could help to humanise the examiner and to demystify the speaking test experience for students. It’s one thing reading about the exam, and another to actually see what it’s like – from where you sit in relation to the examiner to how the examiner will behave during the exam (not taking notes etc.). Video conveys a great deal of extra information which can really make students feel more comfortable and prepared come exam day.

And the great thing about having this kind of content on a smartphone or tablet app of course is that students can access it whenever they like, even if that means on the bus on their way to the actual exam! While only a relatively small range of videos is offered for students to watch, these provide an excellent introduction to the procedural aspects of the speaking exam and are a great way to get students to understand in context how things like ideas development, linking phrases and  intonation can really affect the impression a candidate makes on the examiner.

As teachers, we particularly liked the focus on taking effective notes for Part 2 and the way the app’s interactive quiz questions trained our students to evaluate the sample exam performances using a range of key criteria. Getting them inside the marking criteria like this can really empower them to feel more in control of their preparations. 

On this note, we all really liked the 3 practice speaking exams offered on the app. Students had to watch the examiner’s question prompts on video and then record their own audio responses. They could then bring them in to class, listen to each other’s and offer feedback, or simply use the recorded answers for their own self-evaluations. In either case, we found this feature a really valuable addition to our IELTS speaking repertoire.

We’d certainly like to see much wider use of video like this for speaking exams preparation and it’s great to feel that things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Next week we’ll keep moving too and will be giving you the lowdown on writing with the MacMillan IELTS Skills app.

We hope you can join us here on the blog.





The IELTS skills (complete) app is now available for just £3.99 (was £9.99) and is available for download here.

Let us know your own thoughts on the app in the comments section below.

Read more in this series here:


Reading between the bus lines…

Break it down to build it up…

Don’t just sit back and listen…

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