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While English language tests with AI marking are often promoted as being unbiased, researchers from MIT have recently found that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can still be biased. So, what does it mean when an AI machine is testing your English language abilities? 

When an AI machine is being trained through deep learning, bias can occur. The machine learns from the data it is fed. If this data mostly contains spoken samples from European candidates, then the AI machine will find it harder to recognise spoken English from Indian, Chinese or even native English speakers. 

The MIT research also found that bias can be introduced in the data preparation stage – when algorithms are identified within a language sequence or the areas the AI machine will need to focus on to mark your English-speaking abilities. This may affect your score if you use local lingo, jokes or slang, or if you pause for a period within the Speaking test. 

Human examiners, on the other hand, can understand different accents and tell the difference between a pause for thought and a pause of confusion. A human examiner has been specially trained to consider the social context. They know and understand the appropriate use of words, sentence structures and the like. And human examiners can easily prompt you if you get stuck at any point within your Speaking test. 

The IELTS Speaking test is done face-to-face with a real, human examiner. This way you can rest assured that there won’t be any AI machine bias when sitting your Speaking test. The Speaking part takes between 11 and 14 minutes to complete with an IELTS examiner.

IELTS Speaking test format

Let's take a closer look at the IELTS Speaking test format and what you can expect to be asked within your speaking test.  

The IELTS Speaking test, for both General Training and Academic tests, is split into 3 parts. 

Part 1: Introduction and questions on familiar topics 

The examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part usually lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.  

Part 2: Individual long turn 

You will be given a card which asks you to talk about a topic. You will have 1 minute to prepare before speaking for up to 2 minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic to finish this part of the test. 

Part 3: Two-way discussion 

You will be asked further questions connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between 4 and 5 minutes. 

Life Skills test format

Life Skills A1 and B1 

The IELTS Life Skills A1 and B1 tests are taken with an examiner and one other candidate. This test usually lasts between 16 and 22 minutes. 

The test is designed to reflect communication in everyday life within an English-speaking country. The short discussion might touch on: 

  • Personal details/experiences 

  • Family and friends 

  • Buying goods 

  • Work 

  • Health 

  • Leisure 

  • Education or training 

  • Transport 

  • Housing 

  • Weather. 

You will be expected to: 

  • Listen and respond to spoken language, including simple narratives, statements, questions and single-step instructions 

  • Communicate basic information, feelings and opinions on familiar topics 

  • Talk with another person in a familiar situation about familiar topics. 

We know, as a test taker, you might feel uneasy about sitting your IELTS Speaking test. That is why we have human examiners and conduct the test in a quiet room. Unlike an algorithm, an examiner can make you feel relaxed and help support you to achieve the best score. 

If you want to learn more about how IELTS is marked, what you might expect in the test and tips from IELTS Experts, sign up for an IELTS Masterclass