Type 5: Wh- / How often Questions [IELTS speaking test – Part 1]

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Question Type 5: “Wh- / How Often” Questions

This question type is very common in IELTS speaking test Part One. Look at the following examples:

  • How often do you go to the cinema?
  • At what time of day do you usually read?
  • Where do you usually buy your clothes?
  • Who do you spend your weekends with?
  • When do you listen to music?

The problem with these questions is that many candidates give very direct “information-focused” responses. It is quite common for candidates to respond to these questions in the following way:

  • Maybe once a week.
  • In the evenings before I sleep.
  • In New World Department store.
  • My parents or my friends.
  • At weekends and in the evenings.

As we have discovered, it is almost impossible to achieve a high score with this style of answer. The key to these questions is to answer the question with two or three different responses. Example:

“How often do you go to the cinema?”

“Well to be honest, I think I would have to say that it really depends. Like for instance, if I have the money, then it‘s quite possible that I will watch a movie in the cinema, two or three times a month. You know cinema tickets are pretty pricey in China. Whereas in contrast, if I’m broke, it‘s more likely that I watch movies at home on DVD: you probably know that DVDs are quite cheap here, especially compared to the price of a cinema ticket.”

The key to the answer is the structure “it depends”. If you use this, you can produce a “situational contrast” which allows you to use contrast language (linking words).

The first step is too select an opening phrase:

  • Well to be honest…
  • Well in truth…
  • Actually to be fair…
  • Well in all fairness…
  • In actual fact…
  • In fact, in all honesty…

Now select a “depends” phrase:

  • …I think I would have to say that it really depends.
  • …I suppose I would have to maintain that it kind of depends really.
  • …I imagine that it would depend on the situation.
  • …I guess my answer would be determined by different conditions.

Now select a linking phrase:

  • Like for instance…
  • More precisely like…
  • Like more specifically…
  • Like, to be more direct…
  • You know like, to be exact…

Notice that all of these linking phrases include the word “like”. In these structures “like” is a conjunction used as a meaningless filler word. This is very typical of informal native-speaker English.

It is important to get the next step exactly right. The success of this structure relies on the following conditional grammar structure:

Select one of the following:

  • If (situation A)… then I will most likely…
  • If (situation A)… then it’s quite possible than I will…
  • If (situation A)… then as a consequence I will probably…
  • If (situation A)… then I guess it’s quite likely that I will

Your answer is going to compare two different situations or conditions. These can be quite flexible. Here are some possible ideas to use:

 

Situation ASituation B
WeekdaysWeekends
SummerWinter
Good weatherBad weather
Term timeSchool holidays
If I’m alone…If I’m with friends
If I’ve got a lot of time…If I’m fairly busy…

So the opening sentence might be:

“Well in all fairness, I imagine that it would depend on the situation. Like for instance, if (situation A)… then I will most likely… so / because / in fact…”

Answer the following question, introducing one situation. (Develop the situation using a complex structure.)

“How much time do you spend listening to music?”

(If possible try to avoid repeating the question vocabulary “listening to music”.) Now you can compare situation A with situation B. Add a compare linking phrase:

  • Whereas in contrast…
  • Though, at the same time…
  • Whereas on the other hand…
  • While, oppositely…

Select one of the following:

  • If (situation B)… then it’s more likely that I’ll…
  • If (situation B)… then it‘s almost certain that I will…
  • If (situation B)… then I will almost always…
  • If (situation B)… then I will most certainly…

Remember to develop situation B with a complex structure.

Now answer the following questions using the fully developed structure for two situations. (If you want to give a
longer response you could even introduce a third situation.)

  • How often do you go to the cinema?
  • Where do you usually go shopping?
  • When do you usually read?
  • At what time of day do you usually listen to music?
  • Who do you spend your evenings with?
  • When you go out in the evenings, what do you usually do?
  • How often do you play sports?
  • How often do you eat out in restaurants?

Summary of “Wh- / How often” Questions

If you follow the example structure, make sure that you choose two situations that are very different. It is easier to contrast two clearly different situations.

Make sure that you use “if” and “will” for both situations. This is a fairly complex grammar structure but it is easy to construct accurately. This type of answer directly influences the “Grammar” score and the “Fluency” score in your speaking lest.