Saying Umm Ahh in IELTS Speaking

IELTS Speaking advice for using fillers and saying Umm and Ahh.. Learn how it will affect your score if you say umm and ahh. Learn what “fillers” are and how to use them to boost your IELTS speaking score.

Do you think you will get a lower score if you use “umm” or “aahh” in your IELTS Speaking Test? Are fillers ok to use?

Find your answers below:

About UMMs and AHHs in IELTS Speaking

For a quick answer – fillers are useful to use in IELTS speaking, but “umm” and “ahh” are not fillers. Umm and ahh will lower your score. Learn more about this below:


Fluency is 25% of your marks for IELTS Speaking. There are a number of aspects relating to this marking criterion and one of them is the ability to speak without hesitation. It is about a natural flow of language. Umm and Ahh disrupt the flow of speaking and lower your score for Fluency.

What are Fillers in IELTS Speaking?

Fillers are words that we can use to fill gaps while we think. It means that we can continue speaking by filling in gaps. Here is an examples of a filler:

Q. Do you think men and women like the same kinds of holidays.

A. Well, to be honest, it isn’t something I’ve thought about before. Let me see… I guess men and women do like different kinds of holidays. I suppose that on the whole men prefer more active holidays etc etc…..

I have underlined the fillers. When you use fillers, it means you are still using words to fill in the space while you think of an answer. Your language does not stop, it doesn’t breakdown and your fluency continues strong. This is good for IELTS speaking.

Umm Ahhh & Correct Use of Fillers

These are not words. Umm and Ahh are sounds. They represent a breakdown in language. It shows the examiner that you are not able to continue speaking. Now let’s look at two possible answers to a question, which answer do you think shows the best English?

Q. How would you improve your home if you had the chance?

A. Ummmm, ahhhh, ummmm,  I supposed that ummm ahhh I think ummm ahhh well, I guess I would add a garden outside or a balcony for outside space.

A. Well, let me see…I haven’t actually considered improving my home before. I’m not exactly sure what I would do to be honest. But I guess, if I had to choose, I would add a garden or a balcony so that I had some outdoor space.

As you can see, the second answer contains lots of language. The examiner isn’t actually interested in your plans for your home. Your ideas are not marked in IELTS speaking. All the examiner wants is to hear your English language. You can also see that the second answer contains a bigger range of tenses, grammar features and vocabulary.

Native Speaker Um’s

It is true that it is natural to produce the “ummm” sound while we are thinking, and even native speakers will do so. However, this should be avoided as much as possible in the test because you want to show that you can maintain an almost constant flow of speech. The examiner will allow for a couple of ummms, but only in relation to ideas, and even then, you can still fill gaps with language – it is a language test after all, not an ideas test. If you are using “ummm” because you are stuck for a word and need to think more about language, it will definitely lower your score. Any pauses which are language related will lower your score. So, learn to use fillers or ask the examiner to repeat the question so you have thinking time.

Asking to repeat the question

If you need thinking time in part 1, ask the examiner to repeat the question. You can do this a couple of times and it won’t affect your score.

In part 3, you can ask the examiner to repeat or explain the question (one is probably enough) and it won’t affect your score.

Prepare Ideas for Topics to Avoid Umm & Ahh

To help avoid ummms and aahhs, prepare ideas for more topics. The more prepared you are, the more you have to say. The more you have to say and the more you practise the questions, the fewer ummms and aahhhs you will produce. For topics and also tips about IELTS Speaking click here: IELTS Speaking Tips, Lessons etc.

I hope this was useful for you 😊

All the best


Subscribe for Free to get New Posts by Email


  1. Thanks Liz for your help. I want to know if I can use “you know” as fillers?

    • It isn’t a filler. Fillers are words that you use while you are thinking to give you time such as “Well, let me see, it’s something I haven’t thought about before to be honest, but I suppose that ….” All those words fill time and are fine to use, if used correctly, in the speaking test. The words “you know” are just an expression which is common in spoken English. It is fine to use those words and don’t worry about repeating them – also fine.

  2. Thank you for your tips especially this tips (Well, to be honest it isn’t something I’ve thought before. Let me see …) that mean I can stop after let me see for a minute?

    • “Well, to be honest, it isn’t something I’ve thought of before. Let me see …. I suppose that…” – all this is said without pause. The first 14 words are said automatically to give you thinking time. You can’t stop speaking if you want a high score. Even in your own language, you don’t have a total break down of language because you don’t have ideas. You can still keep talking. So, do the same in English.

  3. Thanks a lot. Its a good instrcution.

  4. It makes sense to use appropriate fillers as mentioned by you here. However, I was wondering, the test is about your natural English speaking level. And in a regular conversation, we do use umm and ahh naturally while thinking. But since it’s an exam, it makes sense to be aware of some of these aspects and use these other fillers. But my doubt is, if in spite of all this, even after using appropriate fillers in most cases, if I end up using umm or ahh once or twice (as natural instinct) in my speaking test, will I be penalized for that?

    • As I mentioned, this is about using more the norm. Also, as you know you must show fluency in your test, it is something that you can take steps to avoid which we don’t in normal every day life. The examiner knows the difference between people using “umm” and “ahh” because they lack language and because they are searching for an idea. The former is the problem, the latter is more tolerated and allowed for. If you look at the speaking band score descriptors, it is mentioned.

  5. SUPERB!!it helps me a lot.thank you

  6. I’ve got tons of insights into teaching students IELTS preparation from watching your instruction videos. Thanks a lot!

  7. Miss.Sangary Uthayasekaram says

    Thank you so much liz. I have learnt a lot.

  8. Yes it is obvious that because of nervousness some students use this um. And ah and I think it is better to say umm and ahh instead of repeating lines or words

  9. Rachael Magutsa says

    Thank you Liz .l have learnt a lot

  10. Stephanie Sioa says

    This cleared my doubts. Thanks so much, Liz!

  11. Sajjad Ashraf says

    Hi Liz, it has always been wonderful to follow your blog and youtube channel, I am a teacher and have been helping students to prepare for IELTS for almost 14 years, and to be honest your blog and channel have been of great help to me, just want to thank you and wish you luck. Keep it up

  12. Nzeruo immaculata ogechi says

    Thank you Liz. This is really helpful.

  13. Christiana Okoye says

    Thanks a lot Liz

  14. a really nyc idea…thnks liz

  15. Thanks a lot, I really appreciate.

  16. Nicolette Ladoulis says

    Very true! We use intonation (falling or rising and falling) with utterances and they can mean different things that are difficult to translate. It may not be universal so it does belong to cultural and linguistic competence or knowledge.
    I’m not contradicting what Liz is advising for exams. I just wanted to reply here that I agree with your comment and one from another teacher above.
    The other day, a non-native speaker asked me what I meant by “ah”. I meant it like “aha!” and “so THAT’S why!” as I suddenly understood something while I was thinking. I had trouble explaining! Was it “aha” or “ah” that I meant? I wasn’t sure. An utterance can carry meaning all by itself–with the right intonation of course. And recently in a movie, I also pondered about a single-line subtitle of “mmm.” Do all non-native speakers understand that this long “mmm” means a person is signaling that they are thinking? I’m not sure. Thanks to you Liz for a very appropriate lesson!

  17. Gurpreet Singh says

    Hi Liz, my name is Gurpreet and I live in India. My brother in law suggested me to follow your blog and youtube channel for my IELTS preparations, and it turned out to be a great suggestion as I followed only you and Got an overall 7.5 (L8.5, R7.5, W7, S6.5) band score in just a week’s preparation. I just wanted to thank you as I learned a lot from your blog and videos and tried to follow the tips and methods given in them. To be honest, I didn’t expect such a result while I was registering myself for the test, as I was not prepared at all and didn’t even know about the pattern of the test. But thanks to you, I managed to get a decent score and now I can realise my dream of pursuing higher education in Canada. Thanks Liz.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!