Unexpected questions in the speaking test

Unexpected questions in the speaking test

The interviewer has just asked you about a subject you have never thought about and you have no real ideas. What can you say?

If this situation occurs during your speaking test, the most important first step is not to panic. Avoid responding with ‘I don’t know’ by using an alternative expression. There are a number of phrases you can learn that will give you some time to think of an idea.
Unexpected questions in the speaking test1 Well, it’s difficult to say, but …
2 I don’t have any personal opinions, but I suppose …
3 That’s an interesting point and I think I would have to say that …
4 Mmm … I’m not really sure, but …
5 Actually, that’s not something I’ve really thought about, but …
6 I don’t really know much about that, but …

For example, imagine the interviewer asks the following question (don’t panic – it’s an unlikely question!):

What impact do you think power steering has had in reducing traffic accidents?

Now read the candidates response below:

Well, it’s difficult to say but … umm … in my opinion the most effective factor in the reduction of traffic accidents is a result of stiffer punishments for poor driving. Although speeding is still a serious issue, other traffic offences such as drink driving have fallen because of the risk of heavy fines and even imprisonment. This has been reinforced by hard-hitting television advertisements highlighting driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Useful tip:

If you still cannot think of anything to say after a few seconds, you should focus on an aspect of the question you do know and move your answer onto related but more familiar topics. This is not ideal, but better than saying nothing at all!


Here are some other topics to practice with – they are NOT questions you would be asked in the IELTS test, but they will hep you practice the skills from this lesson!

See what you could say about….

  • the British Royal Family
  • Postage stamps
  • Woodland insects
  • Donating blood
  • Learning via video conferences
  • Aeroplane safety checks
  • Video piracy in the 1990s
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