IELTS Speaking exam: Holidays

Anna Large, the owner of Expert Teacher

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I am sure you remember that the most basic words you learnt when you learnt to talk about travel were words like: ‘a flight’, ‘a nice view’, ‘a trip’, ‘a beach’, etc. These are basic words and will not score you ‘brownie points’, i.e. they will not give you the highest marks in the exam. You need to show that you talk like a native speaker and sound very natural in a conversation.

I’m going to give you some tips on how to do it. First, we are going to put everything in context to make it easier for you to learn to use the right phrases to show you are at an advanced level. Second, we will extract the vocabulary that most native and expert speakers use when they talk about holidays. At this stage we will examine both individual words and expressions. Expressions are in fact very useful because they will reduce your thinking time in English and allow you to sound more natural and fluent. Finally, we will work on increasing your fluency by looking at sentence stress, intonation, chunking, speed, the pitch of your voice and elision. Here are some examples of when some sounds disappear when two words are joined together: does she, does he, did he, would he, he’s staring. This is something we can work on in our Skype lessons for which you can sign up by emailing me on [email protected].

Below are some of the most common questions you may be asked during the exam.

Examples of the Part 1 questions


  • Do you like travelling?
  • Do you like to travel alone or with friends?
  • Have you travelled to other places? Where?
  • What is the first thing you do when you first arrive in a new place?
  • What are the benefits of travelling?
  • Why do so many people like traveling nowadays?
  • Do you think it’s true that travel broadens the mind?
  • Do young people and older people benefit differently from travelling?
  • How can you  get the most from your travels?
  • What kind of holiday do you like?
  • What do you like to do when you’re on holiday?
  • Do you have many tourists in your country?

Example of the Part 2 task

Describe a beautiful place you once visited. You should say:

  • when you went to this place
  • where it was
  • who you went with and say why you liked it so much.

Example of the Part 3 task

This is more of a discussion on the same topic with the examiner where you talk for up to 5 minutes. You will speak for the most part and need to have opinions on many topics as well as good vocabulary to answer the question very well. The examiner will look at your ability to explain your viewpoint. I would advise memorising chunks of language that you would be able to use at the right time. Remember, you need to be fluent and convincing here.

  • Do you think the growth of international tourism is a good thing?
  • How do people tend to choose a destination for their holiday?
  • People sometimes say flying is a luxury? Do you agree?

How to prepare for this topic

Now what we shall do is create the context to make your learning easier. So when we decide to go on holiday, we don’t always have a clear idea of what exactly we want to do there unless it’s not the first time we are visiting that place. I’d like you to have 1 minute to decide on the types of holidays that are offered by this website: see below or click on this link:


Now you probably have a general idea of what types of holidays there are. You can browse the site in more detail if you wish to get an idea of what you can do during some of the holidays you select on the site.

A word of warning: if you click on WILDLIFE and get the following text (see below), you don’t need to spend ages studying the vocabulary from this extract because IT IS NOT SPOKEN ENGLISH so do not memorise sentences from the extract below. You need to concentrate on SPOKEN ENGLISH. See the example of slightly informal written English:

Kuoni text about wildlife

Examples of language you should use

Let’s read some of the situations below. I want you to pay attention to the words in bold because they will get you higher marks in the exam. They are often used by native or expert speakers of the English language.

Part 1 question examples

1. Examiner: What kind of holiday do you like?

Vladimir: I love safari holidays but not necessarily all-inclusive holidays. Safari holidays are my favourite really because I like it off the beaten track. I like to get away from it all and avoid crowded places because I don’t find them restful or exciting. I live in a big city so don’t fancy going on a holiday to another big city. Two months ago I had a holiday of a lifetime: I went to Kenya’s wildlife safari park. It’s definitely something I would love to do again!

2. Examiner: What do you like to do when you’re on holiday?

Matt: I get the kick out of going to the local places of interest. I believe it’s best to investigate what the place has to offer. I like to go sightseeing and tend to sign up for guided tours and meet new people. I take a lot of pictures and selfies and tend to post them on my Facebook to share with my friends.

3. Examiner: Do you have many tourists in your country?

Ahmed: Yes … we have a lot of holiday resorts that are of high standard and we tend to get a lot of Germans, Russians and English people. Where I live is really popular with tourists who generally come on package holiday and stay in either hotels or self-catering apartments.

Part 2 task

This task will look like this:

Describe a beautiful place you once visited. You should say:

  • when you went to this place
  • where it was
  • who you went with
  • and say why you liked it so much.

In the first example, Janet is talking about a holiday to the Lake District. Have you been there? If not, you can look at some pictures here:

lake district

Janet: Last time I went on holiday to the Lake District. It was already autumn in the UK but I was desperate to get some peace and quiet. I got so exhausted commuting to work 5 times a week that I needed a break. I have been there before and I must say I really love breathing in the fresh air there. Anyway, I spent a long weekend by the Windermere lake and drove to see other lakes. I must say, even though it was a bit frosty at the time, there were quite a few foreign tourists happily taking picture of themselves and the nature. So it is a well-known holiday destination. Several years ago, I used to stay in youth hostels because it worked out cheaper and I could meet new people but last time I just went there to enjoy the breathtaking views and lovely picturesque villages. Luckily, in the autumn, it’s not as busy as in the summer and you can avoid hordes of tourists. I would have preferred it warmer but generally but it didn’t really bother me. I didn’t do much shopping there because there are loads of shops in London. I did buy an odd thing or two but I feel on a short break like this one, one would like to enjoy the stunning views and landscape.

Part 3 questions

In this part of the Speaking test, you will be discussing more abstract ideas on the same topic with the examiner. You will speak for around 4-5 minutes and will be expected to say what you think and give some examples.

Let’s look at three extracts here. Again, the key vocabulary on the topic is highlighted in bold.

Question 1

Examiner: Do you think the growth of international tourism is a good thing?

Ameera: I would say it’s inevitable for it to grow. English has become the lingua franca so people everywhere in the world want to learn about other cultures and want to travel more. The knowledge of English has given them more confidence to venture out to other countries. In this sense, the growth of international tourism is a good things because it allows people to learn about the world around them. Also, budget airlines have made it more possible for anyone to nip off to Venice for a day for something like 20 pounds one way. Another interesting thing about international tourism is that people have started taking up hobbies that they had never thought of doing. Let’s say, paragliding, surfing, scuba diving or kayaking encourage people to travel to far-off destinations like Mauritius, the Reunion island or Mexico where they can share their adventures with other people like them. This I believe is a good thing about the growth of international tourism. On the other hand, the influx of tourists to small islands might not have been such a great thing because despite economic benefits, there have been also instances of lack of understanding of the local culture that has led to indecent behaviour on behalf of western tourists which subsequently led to their imprisonments and huge publicity. I also think overcrowding is potentially disruptive for the natural habitat and ruins the serenity of a place: it’s much harder to find anywhere isolated which is what many come to see. Another disappointing thing is that places that were relatively poor and underdeveloped but had their unique atmosphere, might have already lost it with the construction of hotels and fast food chains that are becoming popular with the locals. What if the local cuisine will disappear as a result? Overall, I believe if there is global economic prosperity, it will create more need for travel. It’s what the local governments do to deal with such growth is interesting.

Question 2

Examiner: How do people tend to choose a destination for their holiday?

Elana: Twenty years ago, it may have been a Lonely Planet guide whereas now the Internet is the way to go. Practically everyone goes online to search for information on their holiday destination and I am afraid high street travel agents find it hard to compete. But I guess some still like travel agents because they have everything arranged by someone else. We still love flicking through the pages of a holiday brochure. Somehow, it’s something still in us to feel safer with more tangible products and the desire to delegate the hassle of arranging a holiday to travel experts.

Question 3

Examiner: People sometimes say flying is a luxury? Do you agree?

Anita: I wouldn’t say so. I think it can be quite problematic. If you live in the middle of the country, you first need to get to the airport that can take you hours. By the time you get there, you’ve lost the will to live. Then, what about check-ins, problems with excess luggage, passport controls, long flight delays, looking for the right gate and the wait? So I wouldn’t bet on it. Also, with budget airlines like Easyjet, lack of legroom on the plane and the need to pay for the food don’t make you feel like you travelling in style. So, I sway more to the opinion it’s a necessity rather than luxury.

What’s next?

Try to memorise the conversations above so you have ready prepared language to use during the exam. This will reduce your thinking time. Also, don’t forget that doing sufficient research on this topic, such as reading about various holidays, cultures, tourism in general, will give you more ideas that you can use in the exam.

You can also leave your questions and comments below. Alternatively, you can video yourself speaking on the topic and send it to us for feedback. Also, you can book some Skype lessons to boost your level of English for the Speaking exam.

9 thoughts on “IELTS Speaking exam: Holidays”

  1. Great Information Anna!! A platform to tech live online…WizIQ Virtual Classroom…will help you to get connected with people online to deliver classes.

  2. I’m afraid my English is not too good and I don’t have confidence. I always feel I can not make it. Please what do I do?

  3. Dear Usman,
    I would advise you to learn collocations and set phrases but to do that you need to find the right context for you. What do I mean by context? First, identify the areas where you struggle most, for instance, you can’t talk about opera, so you go find some websites where people talk about opera, find Youtube videos to listen to and read about the opera. So in order to gain confidence, you would need to be confident with vocabulary first. Then go practise it with other speakers of English. Good luck ;)

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