How long should a G.B.C. answer be?

One of the most frequent questions I get is, "How long should my G.B.C. answer be?"

My immediate thought is always, "How long is a piece of string?"* But this is not a helpful answer! What follows is the actual answer I give to students who ask me this.

It depends on two things:

  1. What's the question? Some questions require more in-depth answers than others.
  2. How much do you have to say? This means both in terms of your answer content and how much you can show off your English skills.

To answer well, you need  to make sure you say enough to show your English skills and give a good answer, but not too much that your answer is weak and has no impact.

Bad advice

I have heard that some people give short answers. Their strategy is something like this: "If I say less, I will make fewer mistakes!" This is not a good idea, simply because if you don't say much, there is nothing for the tester to judge your English on. You will not score highly.

Likewise, when I say that a student should elaborate and say more on a topic, they end up speaking without a plan, and the answer is weak, disorganised and has a poor conclusion.

Signs of a bad answer

If you answer a question, and then get to the end and say, "Finish", or "That's all", or some other weak ending, you said too much. If you answer the question, and your answer is simple and only one or two sentences, then you have not said enough.

Good answers

Good answers have these qualities:

  • They are well-organised. There is a clear structure, with an introduction, reasoning, evidence and a powerful conclusion.
  • They answer the question clearly and in an interesting way.
  • They are as long as they need to be to answer the question, without rambling on.

If you want to learn how to make good, well-organised answers to G.B.C. questions, then try our Speaking Test Strategies course. It will help you organise your thoughts and demonstrate your English skills, so you can get the best possible G.B.C. score.

* When you ask a question that does not have a clear answer, native speakers might answer with this question. For example:

A: How much does it cost to rent an apartment in Tokyo?
B: How long is a piece of string?

A piece of string can be any length, so this answer means, "It depends. You'll have to be more specific. Are you looking for a large apartment or a small one? What's your budget? Do you want to live in a fancy neighbourhood or a working class district?"  An apartment in Tokyo can be any price—it depends on size, location and so on.