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Paraphrasing in the IELTS Speaking Exam

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

What is paraphrasing?

Essentially, paraphrasing means putting someone else's ideas into your own words. You keep the meaning the same, but you use different words to do so. Having a broad enough vocabulary range to paraphrase well takes time to build and can usually only be found in higher-level users of English. Even here, however, people often miss out on chances to paraphrase well and therefore risk lowering their score in the Lexical Resource criterion. First, let's look at how the information about paraphrasing is included in the public band descriptors (Lexical Resource):

Band 4: rarely attempts paraphrase

Band 5: attempts to use paraphrase but with mixed success

Band 6: generally paraphrases successfully

Band 7: uses paraphrase effectively

We can see that the ability to paraphrase makes up a key part of the Lexical Resource criterion. Let's explore how you can improve your ability to paraphrase.

How to paraphrase

1. learn and use synonyms The key to being able to paraphrase successfully is having a broad vocabulary range. This means that you know and are able to use a wide range of synonyms. This should happen anyway as your language improves and it's something you should be working on for all parts of the IELTS exam as there are a lot of synonyms in the reading and listening papers.

However, it is one thing to know a synonym and another to be able to produce it in real time. Get together with a study buddy and practice rephrasing each other's ideas as you work through a list of Part 1 or Part 3 questions. Or, role-play asking and answering questions and make sure that your answers include paraphrases of the questions: A: What do you do in your free time? (Part One question) B: Well, in my spare time I like to play football and watch movies.

C: Well, in my down time I enjoy playing football and watching films. Although these are simple synonyms, it's still worth making sure that you are using them and not simply repeating what the examiner says! Learn more about expanding your depth of vocabulary.

2. Play with clause order A more sophisticated way of creating a paraphrase is to change the grammar structure. This perhaps is better suited in the writing papers, but it can work well in the speaking exam.... if your speaking skill is strong enough. You wouldn't want to lower your score by over thinking this one. You can change the tense or the order of information A: Do you think that we have more free time now than we used to in the past? (Part 3 question) B: Well, in the past people worked hard, perhaps doing a lot of physically demanding work so I guess they had less spare time to relax when compared to modern life but I'd also say that in today's world, we are always switched on, you know, with the phone or the computer or social media, so perhaps we have less time on our hands compared to our ancestors.

As well as the vocabulary synonyms, there is a change in tense (used to - past simple) and a change in the comparison structure (than - compared to)

3. Learn synonyms through word webs If you want to build up your range of synonyms, a great way to do this is through word webs. These are like mind maps and can be used to show connections between groups of words and phrases:

You can add to your word webs as you learn more vocabulary about a topic and they are a great way to develop your vocabulary. Using paraphrasing in the IELTS speaking exam

There are two main ways you can paraphrase in the speaking exam:

1. to clarify what the examiner said

Paraphrasing is a great strategy for when you are not sure what the examiner said. It's far better to paraphrase than it is to say can you repeat that? In fact, I would say that if you can paraphrase well, using this skill to clarify what you heard is a bonus as it proves to the examiner that you have developed this important speaking skill.

Examiner: Do you think that people are entitled to more holiday?

Candidate: Are you asking if I believe people should get more time off work? Read this post for more information about how to use paraphrasing to clarify what you heard.

2. to summarise what you have said

You can also use paraphrasing to round of your own speaking, perhaps at the end of Part 2 or to summarise an answer in Part 3. You'll need to practise doing this with a teacher or speaking partner, but it can be a good way to add a few extra seconds if you realise you haven't said enough as well as showing the examiner that you do have the ability to paraphrase.

If you'd like to work on your speaking skills before your IELTS exam, why not join Think Positive Speaking? This online speaking club meets three times a week with the meetings closely following the structure of the IELTS speaking exam: Session One: informal questions (IELTS Part One) Session Two: solo speaking (IELTS Part Two) Session Three: discussion questions (IELTS Part Three) Join us and get a free week in the club!

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