When you don’t understand a question in the IELTS Speaking test

In the IELTS speaking exam there are some useful phrases that can help you through the exam if there’s a question you don’t understand or you need time to think of an answer.

Sometimes you may not understand a question the examiner asks you and this can actually be good for you if you can deal with the communication problem well. In Part 1 and Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking exam the examiner cannot rephrase questions, they can only repeat them. Therefore, you need phrases like this.

Asking the examiner to repeat a question in Part 1 or Part 2

  • I’m sorry, I don’t understand
  • I’m’ sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.
  • Excuse me, I’m not sure what you mean.
  • Could you repeat that please?
  • Sorry, what was that?
  • I beg your pardon.

In Part 3 the examiner can rephrase questions if you don’t understand something so you can use phrases like this.

Asking for clarification in Part 3

  • Sorry, do you mean {explain what you think the question was}?
  • What do you mean by {repeat the words you don’t understand}?
  • I’m not sure what you mean. Could you rephrase the question please?

As well as phrases that can help you if you don’t understand a question you should also be familiar with phrases that you can use to give yourself time to think. If you take a moment to organise your answer it can be a lot more effective

Playing for thinking time

  • That’s a very interesting question.
  • I’ve not thought about that before. Let me think.
  • Well, I’m not entirely sure but …
  • It’s difficult to say but …
  • I’m very pleased you asked me that.

Remember, it’s better to say something rather than nothing so these kinds of phrases can really help you deal with difficult situations.

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