50+ Useful Starter Phrases to help you pass your Aptis Test
It can be easy to go blank in an oral exam – to forget everything you wanted to say! So here are over 50 useful starter phrases, also called sentence stems, to help get you speaking more fluently in the oral test.
In Speaking Practice Test 3 with Starter Phrases we gave you some useful starter phrases for the specific questions in that particular mock exam.
However, this post contains starter phrases that you could use in any oral exam. We’ve organised the phrases by function: what they do. For example, if the question is about your favourite place or person etc, you’ll need to look in the category ‘Talking about likes and dislikes’.
We’ve tried to cover all the typical areas that come up in the Speaking Test:
likes & dislikes
hobbies & ability
the present, routines & habits
the past & your experience
future plans & making predictions
advantages & disadvantages
expressing opinions & giving reasons
expressing preferences & making choices.
The idea is that you complete the starter phrases with your own ideas, but to help you get started, we’ve completed them with our own examples. We’ve also explained which grammar structures to use with them.
You can use these starter phrases to start answering many different test questions. They’ll also help you prepare for many other types of spoken English exams, not just the Aptis Test.
Over 50 useful starter phrases
Talking about likes & dislikes
Try to use a variety of synonyms to express your likes and dislikes:
I like … / I enjoy … / I dislike … / I don’t enjoy …
… going to concerts / romantic songs / classical music
If you want to make this stronger, use:
I love … / I adore … / I hate … / I detest …
… walking on the beach / seaside holidays / hot weather
More synonyms of ‘I like (don’t like)’ are:
I’m (not) keen on cycling.
I’m (not) a real fan of action films.
I’m (not) into spicy food.
In British English all these expressions are followed by verb + ing, plural nouns or uncountable nouns.
In American English it’s also common to use to + infinitive. In British English we mostly use this structure to say something’s a good idea, rather than to express enjoyment. For example: ‘When I have a flight to catch, I like to get to the airport two hours early’. I don’t actually enjoy going to the airport early, but I think it’s a good idea.
But remember that we always use to + infinitive after would like / would love:
I’d like to see you again.
I’d love to live in a hot country.
Students often overuse ‘very much’. Remember it goes at the end of the sentence:
I like driving very much (NOT ‘I like very much driving’).
Try using really instead, as it sounds more natural:
I really like driving.
There are often questions about your favourite things, or what you think is good or bad about something. Remember to use superlatives:
One of my favourite / least favourite songs (+ plural noun) is Heroes.
My favourite / least favourite film of all time is Bladerunner.
The best / worst thing about my job is having (verb + ing) to get up early.
The thing I like most / least about my flat is its size.
Talking about hobbies and ability
Remember to use the –ing form to talk about your hobbies:
My hobbies are listening to music / swimming / making models.
Prepositions are always followed by verb + ing, plural nouns or uncountable nouns:
I’m interested in …
… keeping fit / sports / health and fitness
I’m good at … / I’m not very good at …
… playing the guitar / languages / music
Talking about the present, routines & habits
Adverbs of frequency go before the main verb, except for the verb to be:
I always go to the countryside at weekends (adverb + verb)
I’m hardly ever bored (to be + adverb)
You can revise these in our revision section: Get Ready for B1: Adverbs of Frequency.
Raise the level of your answer by combining these expressions with a conditional sentence:
If I have some free time, I usually watch my favourite series.
I always go to the beach if the weather’s good.
Use expressions of frequency too:
We go abroad every / each year.
We go to the mountains once / twice / three times a year (these expressions usually go at the end of the sentence)
Talking about the past & your experience
Remember that ago goes at the end of the phrase when you’re talking about finished actions or states:
I worked in Germany six years ago.
Try to use a variety of past forms, not only the past simple. Use used to + infinitive to talk about repeated actions or states in the past:
I used to play outside a lot when I was a child.
I used to live in London.
You can also use would + infinitive to talk about repeated past actions, but not about past states:
I would play outside a lot (but NOT ‘I would live in London’).
In the test they often ask you about early memories or special experiences. Here are some good ways to start talking about them:
I remember one particular time when I had a problem at work.
The most memorable occasion was my fifth birthday party.
I can’t remember the last time I read a book.
It was when I was living in the capital city …
I’ve never been (present perfect) abroad.
I’ve travelled (present perfect) abroad many times.
Remember that if you use the present perfect to describe how long something has lasted, use for + period of time or since + a point in time:
I’ve lived here for five days / six months / ten years
I’ve lived here since 2010 / December / I was born
Talking about future plans & making predictions
The future form we use depends on how sure we are about our plans.
present continuous: to be + verb+ing
I’m flying to London (I’ve already got my ticket).
I’m visiting my cousins (they’re expecting me).
to be + going to + infinitive
I’m going to stay in Seville (that’s my intention).
We’re going to relax at home (that’s our intention).
perhaps / maybe + will + infinitive OR might + infinitive
Perhaps I’ll go on holiday, or maybe I’ll stay at home (I haven’t decided yet).
I might go on holiday, or I might stay at home (I haven’t decided yet).
Raise the level of your answer by using a first conditional:
If it rains (present simple), I’ll stay (will + infinitive) at home.
We also use will + infinitive to make general predictions:
There’ll probably be a lot of traffic on the roads.
I don’t think we’ll have any problems.
People will probably live on another planet in the future.
Talking about advantages and disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages to living in a big city. (Here to is a preposition, so it needs verb + ing)
Try use synonyms for variety:
These are some of the pros and cons.
The main advantage is probably the nightlife.
Another point in favour is the variety of entertainment.
The biggest drawback for most people is the cost of accommodation.
Other disadvantages are noise and pollution.
And remember to use connectors:
Firstly, there are more job opportunities.
What’s more, salaries are higher.
On (the) one hand, there are more schools. On the other hand, it’s not very safe for young children.
Expressing opinions & giving reasons
Use modal auxiliary verbs (+ infinitive) and similar verbs such as ought to and need to:
I think people should wear face-masks in the street.
Try to use a variety of synonyms to express your opinions, rather than just repeating ‘I think …’.
In my opinion, we ought to show more respect for each other.
As I see it, the government could do more.
If you ask me, richer countries need to help poorer countries.
To my mind, we must be kinder to each other.
To tell you the truth, I haven’t decided yet.
I have mixed feelings about whether to go to the UK this summer.
In my experience, it’s always better to tell the truth.
And here are some expressions for giving reasons:
There are many reasons, including salary and job satisfaction.
The main reason is job satisfaction.
That’s why I decided to change career.
Expressing preferences and making choices
To express your general preferences, use prefer and the preposition to:
I prefer swimming to playing tennis (+ verb + ing)
I prefer dogs to cats (+ plural noun)
I prefer rock to rap (+ uncountable noun)
To express a particular preference for the future, use would prefer + to + infinitive:
I usually prefer the theatre to the cinema, but tonight I’d prefer to see a film.
Use ‘than’ to express the same idea the other way round:
I’d prefer to see a film tonight than to go to the theatre.
You can also use would rather + infinitive (WITHOUT to):
I’d rather see a film tonight than go to the theatre.
You often have to choose between two options. A useful expression is it depends. This is followed by on:
I’m not sure – it depends on …
… the weather / the price / how old you are
This is a good time to raise the level by using the second conditional:
If I had to (past simple) choose, I’d say (would + infinitive) big cities are best.
If possible, I’d live in a village.
It’s hard to decide, but I think I’d choose a town.
Playing for time!
Sometimes it’s hard to think of an answer straightaway, and you need to play for time. So here are some useful expressions to give you time to think:
That’s a good question …
Let me think …
I’m not quite sure …
Well, it’s hard to say …
I’ve never thought about that before …
I suppose it would depend on several things …
We hope this was useful! Make a note of the phrases that sound most natural to you in each category, and try to learn them. This will help you feel more confident on exam-day. Getting started is half the battle!
The section on ‘Describing a Picture’ now has its own individual post in order to give you more details and examples: Aptis Speaking: Describing a Photo.
Go to the B1, B2 & C1 Grammar Reference for help with grammatical structures.