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IELTS Speaking: The psychological aspects

Have you ever thought that the IELTS Speaking test is about more than just speaking? In this post we will look at the psychological aspects of the test, and think about how you can exploit them to improve your score.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems of the human mind. System 1 is our unconscious thought; a constant monitoring of our environment, including the people around us. System 2 is the ‘conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do’. We tend to identify ourselves with System 2, but System 1 has a much greater influence on us than we think. It accounts for up to 90% of our ‘thinking’.

So, what has this got to do with the IELTS Speaking test?

The examiner is not supposed to take your personality into account when grading you. Whether they like you or not is irrelevant to your level of English. But examiners are not machines; they are human, and their System 1 will be making all sorts of unconscious judgments about you. If you’re friendly and polite and you smile and make eye contact, those judgments will be positive; if you look at the recorder while you’re talking and walk out without saying goodbye, they’ll be negative.

If you are on the borderline between one band score and another, a good impression could unconsciously nudge the examiner to give you the higher mark. And that could make all the difference to your overall score.

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