Updated Oct. 12, 2013
Updated Oct. 12, 2013
IELTS Speaking Test Grading Criteria
Examiners look at five different things in order to determine a candidate's score:
3. Vocabulary4. Fluency and Coherence
Notice that Fluency and Coherence are grouped together although they are different things. Each of these four carries equal value. The examiner gives you a whole-number sub-score for each of these and then calculates the average of the four.
Both whole number and half band scores, such as 6.5 are given for the Speaking test.
No separate score is given for each of the three Parts of the test. When I was an examiner, I wrote the four sub-scores on a piece of paper at some time during Part 1 and these four scores were changed up or down as the test progressed.
If the average score is not a whole number or a 0.5 number, for example, 5.5, the examiner goes down to the next whole number or 0.5 number.
Average = 19/4 = 4.75
= Band 4.5
Average = 22/4 = 5.5
Average = 29/4 = 7.25
= Band 7.0
In China, about 50% of all candidates get a 5.0 or 5.5 for Speaking. In 2007, the average score for the Speaking test in China was 5.26 for Academic candidates and 5.74 for General Training candidates. (See HERE for the report.)
See here for the IELTS Speaking band descriptors (public version). This page gives a description of what the examiner is looking for in order to make a judgment on your Band level. Note that the Pronunciation criteria have been changed but it is not public knowledge what the new criteria are.
See here for my more detailed description of the band descriptors: http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/DETAILED_BAND_SCORE_DESCRIPTORS.htm
See here for other, more general descriptions of the band levels: http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/THE_BAND_LEVELS.htm
SUMMARY OF THE MAIN POINTS ON THIS PAGE
Overall, clear and understandable pronunciation is the main thing.
Secondly, the correct use of the following features will determine the pronunciation grade:
basic word pronunciation;
linked speech sounds;
correct and appropriate sentence stress (i.e., which word or words in a sentence are stressed more than others); and,
appropriate use of intonation (rising and falling) to emphasize meaning.
Slightly inaccurate (= unclear) pronunciation is usually understandable if the correct words and grammar are used but slightly inaccurate pronunciation combined with other errors can result in language that is not understandable at all.
American pronunciation is acceptable. But try not to suddenly change between standard British and standard American pronunciation too much, or to mix the two too much. This is because the examiner will not be expecting such sudden changes.
Basic grammar, especially the verb tenses. Know how to make the tenses and use them correctly.
Complex sentences: Don't just use simple sentences all the time. Instead, often use sentences composed of parts that are joined together with conjunctions and other linking words. (This is a "must" for a Band 6 or above in this sub-score.)
Complex structures: Show that you have (at least some) knowledge of higher level grammar.
Show a wide range of vocabulary.
Use words suitably – don't try to score extra vocabulary points with 'impressive' words you are not sure of.
Make sure you correctly pronounce words – don't just learn the written form of new words.
Speed – push yourself to speak a little faster but only if your pronunciation is good.
Continuity – avoid unnaturally long pauses, especially in Part 2.
Smoothness – use linked pronunciation and use contractions.
Expand your answers with a suitable amount of relevant extra information (detail).
Use connectives to link sentences especially when expressing more complex ideas. (This is a "must" for a Band 6 or above in this sub-score.)
Answer questions directly.
Add extra relevant details in suitable amounts after first answering the key point of the question.
Link your answers to the questions by using the same verb tense.
Try to ensure that your answers to questions are suitable for the real meaning of the questions.
Show knowledge of the 'short form' of answer for 'Yes/No' questions.
more detailed information on the common pronunciation errors that Chinese
students make, see the page, COMMON
On the other hand, a Band 3 candidate makes frequent grammatical errors (in almost every sentence) at the most basic level.
COMPLEX SENTENCES IS AN IMPORTANT COMPONENT OF THE GRAMMAR SUB-SCORE AND YOU SHOULD STUDY THIS TOPIC. You cannot get a 6 for grammar if you don't make it obvious that you can speak using many complex sentences.
The following is an example of a complex sentence using two joining words (关连词), which and because.
“I need to learn English, which is very important because it will help me get a good job.”Below is a diagram showing a complex sentence with two linking words.
A Band 4 candidate
rarely attempts a complex sentence.
A Band 5 candidate tries to make only a few complex sentences, usually just using ‘and’ or ‘but’ as conjunctions. When they try to use more difficult joining words or phrases, they often make mistakes.
A Band 6 can make complex sentences with a (limited) range of joining words and phrases but there still might be several, but not so serious errors.
A Band 7 can make a wide range of complex sentences with only a few errors.
And a Band 8 makes a wide range of complex sentences with almost no errors.
also look at the candidate’s grammatical range, that is, whether the
candidate can accurately use the more difficult grammar, or complex
structures such as 过去完成式
(the past perfect tense), 被动语态
(the passive voice), 情态动词的完成时
(perfect modals), 非真实条件句
sentences or ‘if...would’ sentences), and 间接引语
(reported speech). As with
basic verb tenses, the point here is not just the correct construction of
the grammatical structure but the appropriate usage of it.
A Band 8 candidate can effortlessly use these and similar grammatical structures with very few or no errors.
A Band 7 can use these but might make a few minor errors.
A Band 6 tries to use some of these but makes several errors. However, these are usually errors that do not impede communication. The key point here is to try and to be correct most of the time but not necessarily correct every time. If you never attempt more complex grammatical structures because you are afraid of making any mistake, it will give you fewer points than if you at least showed the examiner that you know about the existence of these structures.
A Band 5 cannot use (or is afraid to attempt to use) many of these higher-level grammatical forms. If a Band 5 candidate does attempt a more complex grammatical structure, he or she makes errors most of the time and sometimes attempts to remake sentences, trying to get the grammar correct.
Most candidates in
China get a 4 or 5 for grammar. It seems that the majority of students in
China don't include much grammar study in their IELTS preparation. This
is a serious mistake –
it is very difficult to get a 6 for Speaking (and Writing) or an overall 6.5
or above in the whole IELTS test if you don't do much extra grammar study
(beyond what you learned in school) or at
the very least, a review of your grammar. You need to not only know how to
make the different verb tenses and the more complex grammar structures, you
also need to understand the correct usage of the different
grammatical structures. And you need to know it well enough to produce
it quite quickly in natural speech.
Most candidates in China get a 5 or a 6 for vocabulary.
Examiners look at several aspects of vocabulary:
range and variety of vocabulary,
i.e., how well the candidate can use words from the simple, everyday level
up to the 'expert' level when talking about different topics; how much the
candidate can display an accurate and appropriate usage of idiomatic
expressions; and how much the candidate speaks a variety of words which
express the same idea, rather than repeating the same word
[If you vary your choice of word in
an attempt to show the extent of your vocabulary, don't make the common
mistake of using different words that have a similar meaning
but not the same meaning. Similar words
sometimes introduce new concepts that are not what you
intend to say. There is nothing wrong with a moderate repetition of
the same word – that's natural in the speech of educated native English
[If you vary your choice of word in an attempt to show the extent of your vocabulary, don't make the common mistake of using different words that have a similar meaning but not the same meaning. Similar words sometimes introduce new concepts that are not what you intend to say. There is nothing wrong with a moderate repetition of the same word – that's natural in the speech of educated native English speakers.]
the suitability, or appropriacy of the words that are used, and the accuracy of meaning that is expressed by the words used. Some candidates try to impress the examiner by using so-called 'big' or 'impressive' words but they use these words inappropriately or incorrectly. You will lose points for this – you would do better if you only spoke simpler words but ones that you know are suitable and correct. The reason is that communication is the number one goal – if you use words inappropriately or incorrectly then the examiner might have no real idea of your meaning. Of course, you will get points if you use 'impressive' vocabulary appropriately and show that you know the exact meaning of these words.
the candidate’s ability to talk about unfamiliar topics;
the candidate’s ability to use idiomatic expressions;
and the candidate’s ability to communicate a meaning when he or she doesn’t know (or forgets) the exact word to use. This is called 'paraphrasing'. This is an important language skill.
For more information on improving your vocabulary, go to IMPROVING YOUR VOCABULARY.
4. Fluency and Coherence
Fluency and Coherence are two different things but are grouped together because neither fluency nor coherence alone is considered as important as pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary. Fluency and coherence are both concerned with "the flow of language" – fluency concerns the physical flow of language while coherence concerns the logical "flow of interconnected ideas".
For fluency, examiners notice three related things; continuity, speed and smoothness.
This refers to your ability to just, ‘keep talking’, without too many unnatural pauses. (Natural pauses are the very short pauses that we make when we speak in order to: show the completion of an idea; think of the best word; consider an answer to a question; or to give dramatic effect.) Long pauses are unnatural and usually result from the speaker searching for vocabulary or making a complete sentence in his head before speaking. Pauses at inappropriate places in your speech are also unnatural.
Many candidates who
have long, unnatural pauses in their speech often do this because they are
checking their grammar before speaking. In other words, they are overly
worried about making grammatical mistakes. Similarly, those candidates who
translate from Chinese to English before speaking also speak with long
pauses. In the test itself, you should
concentrate more on letting your speech 'flow out' rather than worrying too
much about grammar. Yes, keep grammar in mind, but in the test you should rely
more on the habits of correct grammar that you had practiced in your
preparation before the test. You will get a better score this way.
Some candidates break the continuity of their speech by correcting themselves too much. If a candidate corrects himself or herself too frequently, this could result in a loss of continuity. Therefore, you should not self-correct more than 2 or 3 times in the whole test and only do it if you think you made a major mistake that could cause confusion in the listener or if you think the mistake just 'sounds terrible'. Furthermore, you should do it quickly so that the continuity of your speech doesn’t seem too disrupted.
Similarly, avoid unnecessary repetition of what you have just said. (This is usually done by Band 3 and Band 4 speakers who do not have confidence in their English.)
One way to avoid
unnaturally long pauses is to communicate to the examiner, by speaking, what
you are thinking as you prepare to answer a question or, in Part 2, as you
prepare to say the next thing. For example, instead of sitting there
silently while you think of how to answer a question, you could say
something such as: “That's an
interesting question!” or “That's a difficult question!” or
“I've never thought about that before.” or “Let me think
One way to avoid unnaturally long pauses is to communicate to the examiner, by speaking, what you are thinking as you prepare to answer a question or, in Part 2, as you prepare to say the next thing. For example, instead of sitting there silently while you think of how to answer a question, you could say something such as: “That's an interesting question!” or “That's a difficult question!” or “I've never thought about that before.” or “Let me think about that.”
very important point is this:
many candidates lose points for fluency because they stop talking for
unnaturally long periods of time in Part 2 –
you are expected to speak continuously in Part 2. The main reason why some
candidates do this is that they simply can’t think of enough things to
say, or can’t think quickly enough of something to say.
If your speech is unnaturally slow, you will lose point for fluency. In the test, if you know that your pronunciation is fairly clear and accurate, you should push yourself to speak a little faster than you would in a normal, non-test conversation.
But if you know that your pronunciation is not so clear or accurate, DON'T push yourself to speak faster because that could cause the examiner to not understand your pronunciation at all! You will lose big points if the examiner cannot understand you at all.
Smoothness is actually related to speed. If you don't use the two methods mentioned below to "smooth" your speech, it will be harder to speak at a natural speed. Two of the main ways to make your speech smoother are: a) to link your words and, b) to use contractions.
a) Linked Speech
In natural spoken English, most words are not spoken as single words but are linked with the preceding and following words. If you try to say each word individually, it will not sound ‘smooth’ and it will almost certainly be too slow. One of the main examples of linking is the pronunciation of words that begin with a vowel sound. For example, the sentence, “I’m an accountant” has two words that begin with a vowel, "an" and "accountant" and the sentence is spoken as:
What you see in this example is that a syllable in English doesn’t begin with a vowel sound (unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence or after a comma or another natural pause). Instead, the syllable begins with the previous consonant before that vowel. This is why we have the word, ‘an’ – to create a consonant just before a vowel sound.
That sentence has five syllables, with the sentence stress on the syllable, ‘ccoun’. When you say this sentence, it almost sounds like one word:
b) Contracted Speech (缩写式)
In natural spoken English, we use the contracted forms of some verb constructions very often, or even most of the time. Examples of contractions are: “I’m” = “I am”; “He’ll” = “He will”; and, “I’d” = “I would”. We use the full forms to show emphasis or when we want to speak especially clearly for some reason, such as when stating a name.
The contracted forms are a faster way to speak and they are spoken in a smoother way than two separate words. Therefore, using contractions improves your fluency.
In the IELTS Speaking test, you should try to use the contracted forms at least 50% of the time. But don’t worry if you use the full form sometimes (caused by your old habits of speech). Certainly, don't correct yourself if you use the full form. Using the full form is not considered to be 'wrong' – it is simply more natural and therefore more suitable to use the contractions most of the time.
Speaking contracted English is not well taught in English classes in China, probably because there is no speaking test in high school.
(On this website, I often use contracted English in order to give a conversational and less formal tone to my writing. Normally, contracted forms are not used in serious writing but it is suitable to use contracted forms in written English that has a conversational tone, for example, in a letter to a friend.)
See CONTRACTED SPEECH for more on this topic.
Also see IMPROVING YOUR FLUENCY
The verb ‘cohere’ means, ‘to stick together as a mass or a group.’ In other words, the different parts of a whole are connected or linked. When referring to language, ‘coherence’ is mostly about the linkage of ideas.
Coherent language is easy to follow because the ideas are linked using special linking words and phrases (= "connectives"). In other words, the absence of key linking words or phrases can make your language less coherent.
Obviously, before you can show the language of linking ideas, you have to say several things, not just one thing. In other words, the first way to get some points for coherence is to speak extended answers, with extra information, not answers that only address the basic question, without adding anything extra. First answer the question directly, then develop your answer with extra information that is related to the question.
Extended (or 'developed') answers are also more coherent because they help the listener (or reader) better understand your meaning. For instance, adding an example of what you mean helps the listener understand. The more "understandable" or "clear" your answer is, the more it can be called "a coherent" answer.
Another aspect of coherent language is the logical placement of the ideas. That is, the ideas are stated in a logical order. For example, if you are explaining something that has several steps, you normally first talk about the first step and continue on to the last step. In this case, the linking words at the beginning of the sentences should be words such as ‘First’, ‘Second’, ‘Next’, ‘Then’, and ‘Finally’.
Here's an example
of using a short linking phrase to connect the second sentence (the second
idea) to the previous sentence (the first idea).
“If you've got a lot of money and especially if you think you can get a good job when you come back to China, studying for an MBA overseas could be a good idea. On the other hand, it might not be the wisest decision if your family has to make financial sacrifices to allow you to study overseas because many returning MBA's can't find good-paying positions in China.”The words, ‘On the other hand’ is the linking phrase. It tells the listener (or reader) that the second sentence is an alternative idea to the first sentence. (There are different linking phrases, representing different meanings.) This linking phrase does two things: it serves as an introduction to the second sentence and it links to the idea of the first sentence. Overall, the linking phrase makes it easier for the listener to understand your meaning in the remainder of the second sentence.
Good coherence is important in language because if a speaker makes errors in pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary (or all three), or if there is background noise (such as when talking on a telephone), the listener can probably still understand the meaning because he or she was given an introduction to what you are going to say. In addition, when you are speaking about something complex, it is a good communication skill to give the listener special help in following what you are saying so that the listener does not have to strain too hard to follow you. (This also applies to your writing in the Writing test.)
Using good coherence is especially important when a speaker speaks for a long time, as in Part 2 or when a speaker is explaining something rather complex or abstract, as in the answers for many Part 3 questions.
In the Speaking test, many candidates speak in a way that can be generally understood, i.e., they speak in a way that is not particularly unclear, illogical or inconsistent. This is often because they just say simple things. In addition, the IELTS examiner might understand you because he or she knows what to expect when you give an answer, based on the examiner’s experience. However, the examiner’s job is to also consider how well you would be understood by a typical English-speaker overseas. In order to get a good sub-score (6 or above) for coherence, you have to clearly demonstrate that you know how to correctly use several different joining words and phrases. (To get a 6 for Coherence, you will be forgiven for making a few mistakes in the correct usage of joining words and phrases – just show that you have knowledge of this and are trying!)
Using connectives to link sentences is the most important aspect of coherence but there are other examples of the logical linking of language that come under the heading of ‘Coherence’. One example is, when you reply to a question, closely link your answer to the question – link it grammatically (using the same verb form as the question) and link it logically by first answering the question and then giving other details.
Go here to read more about improving your coherence: IMPROVING COHERENCE