Updated May 17, 2014
How to Speak in Part 3
[This page is just a short summary. A more detailed page will be written later.]
You should have read the page, "A General Description of Part 3" before you read this page.
As well as that, they don't want the discussion to "die" or come to a quick end but, instead, the people talking often allow the discussion to grow, to be extended beyond the initial topic question but to still be about that topic in general. Therefore, avoid very short answers and especially don't say, "I have no idea" as your complete answer to a question. Try to keep talking!
When people discuss something, they share their opinions, share information, suggest possible solutions to problems and make judgments on the merits of ideas. These language functions are shown on this website, with some examples of the language to use.
The general topic under discussion is the high price of new apartments in the bigger cities of China. Then the examiner asks, "What's the government doing to help low-income people buy their own home?" (The question might be expressed as, "Is the government doing anything to help low-income people buy their own home?") If you're lucky, you might know one or two things that the government is doing but many people know nothing about this. A high school student might answer, "I have no idea!" and stop talking. This high school student is only used to teachers asking questions based on knowledge – in high school (in China) you are expected to either know the answer or not and you would not say, "I have no idea but ..." and start discussing the topic. But that's what you should do in the Speaking test!
In the Speaking test, you will not lose points if you start your answer with, "I have no idea" but keep talking about the topic of the question. It's quite logical and suitable to add some information about why you have no idea but that would not be enough as an answer because that information is not really about the topic; it's about you.
Here are some suitable answers:
"I have no idea but, if I were the government, I'd build many small, cheap apartments on the edge of the city where the land is cheap and I'd sell them to the low income people at a low price, possibly even below the cost of construction because, after all, the government doesn't need to worry about making a profit."
The candidate suggested a solution to the problem, even though the question was not (directly) asking for a suggestion. This is how people talk when they discuss a topic.
Another answer: "I have no idea but, you know, I do agree it's a serious problem right now. For example, in Beijing, the average new apartment costs ___ but the average Beijing resident only earns about ___ per month."
The candidate added information to confirm that a problem exists even though that was not the original question. In a discussion situation, this is suitable.
Another answer: "I have no idea but, you know, I do think the government has a responsibility to do something because, after all, China's government is a socialist government and the purpose of a socialist government is to look after the interests of the low income people more than the interests of the high income people."
The candidate gave an opinion about the responsibility of government, even though the original question was (or, seemed to be) asking for information, not an opinion. Again, in a discussion situation, this is a suitable answer.
Even if you did know one or two facts about what the government is doing about this problem, it would still be suitable to add comments such as those above.
If you have trouble thinking about extra comments to add, keep in mind that all the topics and sub-topics (e.g., the topic of the immediate question) in Part 3 are in the test because, a) these topics have some importance and, b) there are usually some (social) problems associated with these topics. So, ask yourself, "What is the importance of this?" and "What problems are associated with this?" If these have not already been discussed in Part 3, then it is very suitable for you to introduce these points as part of an answer. Just try to introduce any new points in a natural way, not too abruptly. Notice in the examples above that using the words, "but, you know ..." are quite a natural way to introduce related points to an answer. You don't even need to use the words, "you know" all the time – the word, "but" is quite suitable alone. But try to show some variety and not just use that way to introduce a new point every time. (See HERE on how to say, "You know, ...")
Another good way to prepare for Part 3 is to memorize several comparative (比较) statements related to some topics and then find ways to introduce these statements in your 'discussion' (i.e., in your answers). You will get some points for grammar by showing this grammatical feature. For example, if you are preparing for the topic, "Magazines", you can memorize the statement, "Fewer people buy magazines than newspapers because magazines are more expensive than newspapers." Then, in the test, you might be asked the question, "What kinds of magazines are available in China?" You first answer the question by saying what kinds of magazines are available and you try to add a few extra pieces of information about some of the examples you give – don't just speak a list. Then, in order to extend the conversation, you can introduce a new idea by using the word, "but" and say, ", but fewer people buy magazines than newspapers because magazines are more expensive than newspapers." Just make sure you don't speak these memorized statements in a way that shows you are obviously speaking a memorized statement.
Comparative statements that compare something in China with something in the West are particularly suitable because you are speaking to a foreigner in the test!
Talking about your ideas about how something will change in the future or why some people do or think in a certain way are other examples of questions where you do not (or might not) know the answer.
When you answer questions where you do not really know, but are just making guesses, you should show the examiner the language of speculating.
What you should do is keep talking about the question, before actually answering the question, in order to allow your thoughts to "come together". For example, you could say how difficult the question is or how interesting the question is and say why. Just make sure you are genuine when you say this kind of thing because examiners can recognize when you don't really mean it.
You can also say such things as, "Umm,... let me think about that." Or you can discuss the question with yourself before you actually arrive at an answer. In other words, you should try to develop the skill of "thinking out loud", (= saying what you are thinking), instead of being silent.
A typical example of this is when you are asked to compare two things but the ideas do not come to mind immediately. See the notes on this on the page, "Comparing Two Things"
Some Part 3 questions are mostly meant to test your vocabulary. These are often the first or second question of one of the sub-topics in Part 3. As much as possible, look for opportunities to first show knowledge of some categorizing or classification vocabulary, followed at times by examples of these categories. For example, "
What products do people buy especially for their home?" Some suitable classification words are - (groceries), food, cleaning products, toiletries & cosmetics, kitchenware, stationery, pet-care products, clothing, footwear, linen, bedding, electrical appliances, home maintenance products, furniture, decorations & artworks, ....