February 10

What to Do When Your Mind Goes Blank In The Speaking Exam?

What to do when you’re mind goes blank in the speaking exam? Let’s find out!




Hello, this is Kristian from Cambridge Advanced Speaking, how are you doing today? I hope all is well and that you’re ready to learn some English with me.

If you didn’t know, I run the website Get Ready For Success, and there you can find the audio files, videoclips and lesson notes for all the podcast episodes.

I create and share these learning materials, because I want to help you speak better English and get a high mark in your C1 Speaking Exam.

Today I’m going to give you 3 tips to give better answers in your speaking exam. But before I do that, I’d like to ask you for a little bit of help.

Here’s the thing:

Currently I’m working on my first Cambridge C1 Speaking Exam Online Course. This digital course will help you to become a better English speaker, give better answers, and get a high mark in the exam.

Now, to achieve all that, I’m going to help you build your vocabulary. And a great way to do that, is to focus on interesting topics as well as subtopics.

Both are important, because your topic will give you some language, but the subtopics will give you a much richer variety of language.

That’s why I’ve created a list of 28 topics with subtopics for my speaking course.

Unfortunately, I cannot cover all these topics in my course. That’s why I need your help.

To help me create the best course possible for you, could you please answer the following question:

If you could only pick 5 topics from my list of 28, which topics would you choose?

You can find the list with topics in the lesson notes of this episode (scroll to the bottom).

Now, listen up. If you help me choose the topics for my course, I’ll give you a reward.

If you email me your 5 favourite topics, I’ll send you a video for one of these topics for free, as soon as I’ve finished it.

So, if you send your Top 5 to kristian@getreadyforsuccess.com, you get one of your requested topics for free (in video format).

Sounds good? Then send me your Top-5 topics. I’m looking forward to seeing your Top-5 in my email box!

All right, let’s get started with this episode.

TIP 1. What to do if you have no clue?

Student: What to do if my mind goes completely blank?

Imagine the following situation:

You’re taking the speaking exam; you are ready to give it your best shot; you get an interesting question; and all of a sudden you have no idea what to talk about. Your mind has gone blank. You are in shock. Now, what should you do?

Now, a quick word before I give you the answer. Tips are useful, but they cannot replace long-term study. They are not a substitute for practice. It takes time and persistence to improve. There’s no quick fix, really. In actual fact, the tips are nothing more than a starting point for you to practice. I hope you get that.

Okay, so your mind has gone blank. You’re frozen like a bunny in the headlights. You have forgotten everything.

What can you do?

1. Ask the examiner to repeat the question.

This will give you some time to think a bit more.

Could you say that again, please / Could you repeat the question, please

Or, even better is:

Can you explain what you mean?

Now you’re saying that the question is not really clear, and hopefully the examiner will paraphrase or maybe even clarify the question.

2. Use pauses and fillers / signposting to gain thinking time

Using pauses is not the same as hesitation. When you’re hesitating, you are not in control. When you use pauses and fillers, you are in control. You do the same thing in your native language, right? I mean to say, sometimes you also need time to think when you answer a question in your native language, right?

It’s completely fine to take time to think of ideas.

To clarify what I mean, let’s look at an example.


How has globalisation affected the fashion industry?


Hmm – let me think… well… I guess it has affected the clothing industry in a number of ways. For starters (first off all, to begin with…), it has created many more jobs in different parts of the world. (And so on…)


Well now, let me see. That’s a good question and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about that before. I suppose it has created an abundance of cheap clothing. (And so on…)

The whole idea is that you try to get control over the situation when you’re frozen. The best way to do that is to win time in a natural way. To do that, you can either ask to repeat the question, or use pauses and fillers.

Alright, let’s continue with the second tip.

TIP 2. How to generate ideas quickly?

Student: I can’t come up with ideas quickly

There are two options here:

  1. You haven’t got any ideas at all
  2. You have ideas, but you can’t get them out of your brain into the world

1. If you haven’t got any ideas at all, then go and use reliable sources to discover them. Of course, you all know the usual recommendations: BBC, TED Talks, YouTube, podcasts, and so on. But what I really want you to understand is this:

Do something you really like doing. Make it fun. 

Or, think of it in this way:

You don’t have to learn English; you get the opportunity to learn English.

You see the difference in mind set? I think you did 🙂

2. Now, if you have ideas but you can’t get them out of your brain, you just need to do one thing:

Practice thinking on your feet.

How do you do that? Find exam questions, record yourself while you’re answering, listen back, and then make your answer better. Use different language to say the same thing. Just like I do in my podcast episodes. Become a flexible English speaker.

That’s it.


TIP 3. What if you lack vocabulary on a topic?

Student: I lack vocabulary to talk about this topic

Sounds familiar? Having knowledge, ideas and vocabulary to explain a topic is a common difficulty. I talked about research earlier, now let’s take a different approach.

Imagine the examiner asks you the following question:

Do you think space travel will be popular in the future?

To be honest, I don’t know much about space travel. I’m not really clued up on that topic. I know that some of the richest people in the world are trying to make it happen, and that they fork out significant amounts of money to make progress, but I have no idea about the details, such as the costs of space travel, or how safe it is. So, between you and me, I’m afraid I can’t give you a more elaborate answer.

Remember, the examiners are not evaluating your knowledge or ideas, they are evaluating your English. Often just talking about what you don’t know is good.

By the way, you can also a conditional here: If this, then that?

For example:

To be honest, I don’t know much about space travel. I suppose that if space travel becomes affordable for the masses, it will probably gain in popularity.

Or… you can make your answer more personal:

To be honest, I don’t know much about space travel. I guess it should be safe and affordable. I mean, most people are not willing to spend a fortune on something that puts your life at risk. I know I wouldn’t do that. That said,  if space travel is free from danger and economical, like flying, I’d be up for it!

If you don’t know much about a topic, then say something, but keep it fairly short. You don’t want to go all around the houses and get confused, but you should say something, okay? Just keep it short and to the point.

Closing notes

That’s it. There you are. Now you know what to do when you’re frozen or not clued up ( = well informed) on a C1 speaking exam topic.

I hope you enjoyed this episode! If you did, please share it with someone who could benefit from it.

If you would like to suggest topics for future episodes, leave me a comment on my blog or on YouTube.

Last but not least: if you can email me your Top 5 topics, I’ll be truly grateful to you.

All right, that’s all from me. Take care of yourself, and each other.

Speak soon, my friends.


P.S. Don’t forget to email your Top-5 topics:


Wild animals, hunting and extinction, zoos, pets, animals in research


Exhibitions, modern art, role of art at school, museums, digital art, art at home, graffiti  


Reading for pleasure, novels, digital books, online book shops, books and learning


Play, games, toys, behaviour, obeying parents, study


Traffic, city planning, city versus countryside, advantages, pollution, noise pollution, green spaces


Fashion, buying online clothes, clothes industry, brand names


Teachers, learning, online learning, preparing for work, skills, universities, sciences versus humanities 


Global warming, pollution, animals becoming extinct, wildlife protection, deforestation, companies responsibility, individual versus government role 


Family structure and size, role of grandparents, care of the elderly, relationships, extended family 

Films (series)

Books vs films, digital downloads, online streaming, films and learning, style and genres,  watching films and series, working in the industry


Restaurants, diets, fast food, healthy eating, obesity, food and children, GM food, supermarkets


Exercise, diet, gyms, routines, obesity, disease, stress

Helping / Charity  

Helping others, charities, fund-raising, skills needed, helping poor countries, international aid


Buying and renting homes, types of accommodation, children leaving home, decorating homes, local community 


Popular jobs, future jobs, atmosphere at work, motivation, training 


Modern versus traditional, national anthems, style and genres, live concerts, listening to music, being a musician


Local versus international, online news, newspapers, reliability, fake news, getting news, family news, journalism


Taking photos, storing photos, photos as an art form, photos at home, professional photos, selfies


Branches of science, science in everyday life, disease, research, food science, nuclear power, space exploration, the planet


Real shops versus online shopping, payments, men and women shopping, habits, fashion, local shops versus shopping malls


Fitness, gyms, benefits, equipment, extreme sports, Olympic Games, international competitions 


Artificial Intelligence, the Internet, safety, computers, mobile phones, stress, robots, social media 


Benefits, challenges, competition, children, teamwork at work, international competition in trade


Public versus private, advantages and disadvantages, transport in the future, electric cars, 


Forms of transport, holidays, tourism, eco-tourism, travel abroad versus domestic, safety


Global warming, seasons, extreme weather, impact on life, weather forecasts


Popular jobs, jobs for the future, robots, salaries, men-women equality, work-life balance

About the Author

As a Dutch proficient speaker of English, Kristian not only holds a grade A Cambridge C2 certificate but is also CELTA qualified. His five years of experience as a teacher and ESL exam coach, specialising in Cambridge English C1, C2, and IELTS, has equipped him with a unique blend of skills to guide and support your English learning journey.

  • These tips are constructive Kristian! Thanks a lot for all content you are creating around C1 Exam. It helps me prepare for the exam I will take next May. Thanks and keep it up!

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