Updated May 7, 2011


    Notes for the Detailed Band Score Descriptors

       Notes for Coherence

To repeat: If a candidate is a 7 for fluency but only a 5 for coherence (as shown by a limited usage of connectives), then that candidate gets a score of 5 for this sub-score, not the average of 7 and 5, which is 6. The sub-score here is the highest score that 'satisfies' both fluency and coherence – a score of 6 would satisfy the description of this candidate's fluency but would not satisfy a description of this candidate's coherence.

(Remember, “fluency” just refers to the flow of words from the mouth, i.e., the continuity and speed of this flow. But coherence is largely based on the choice of language spoken – mostly the words and phrases that are used to connect ideas so that ‘the ideas flow’.)

       Notes for Vocabulary

       Notes for Pronunciation

This creates a problem for the IELTS test. For example, if you study English in New Zealand for a year or two, you will start to speak English like a New Zealander. If you then come back to do the IELTS test in Beijing, it is possible that your examiner in Beijing is not used to the New Zealand accent and will have problems understanding you. But if you did the IELTS test in New Zealand, your New Zealand examiner would probably think you were speaking very naturally.

Although it is probably preferable to speak English using purely one accent, I think it is also acceptable if you speak English in a blend of two accents, as long as you sound like you have been mainly influenced by one accent and as long as this blend is a gradual blend, not a strongly contrasting mixture of different accents. For example, there are many native English speakers who speak mostly British English but who have been influenced by American English because they have lived in the U.S. for many years, and vice-versa. A mixture of accents like that is called, "international English".


        From Matt Clark

With effect from August 1st 2008, the marking scale for pronunciation will change in all IELTS speaking tests worldwide. Examiners will now be able to award band scores 1-9 instead of the older system of 2-4-6-8. 

Candidate’s pronunciation will be marked using the same criteria as in the previous system, but for the higher scores (7-8-9) there are one or two areas that have become more emphasized. 

The lower scores (2-4)

The lower scores will continue to focus on “persistent” or “fossilized” pronunciation problems. These include consistent mispronunciation of certain sounds, such as “r” “l” and “th”. If a candidate is continually mispronouncing the same sounds throughout the test the examiner will not be able to award a score of 6. 

Another key feature of the lower scores is a lack of overall intelligibility of “utterances” or sentence parts. If the examiner has difficulty in understanding the general message of a sentence or sentence-part within many answers then a lower score will be awarded. An effective way for candidates to “self-diagnose” their intelligibility is to record themselves delivering answers (not reading) and then to playback their answers and ask a friend or classmate if they can understand everything that was said.  

The mid-range scores (5-6)

The band scores 5 and 6 in the new system will be awarded when a candidate can successfully replicate the sounds of English on “word-level” and attempt to produce sentence stress and intonation. The good news for candidates is that the intonation and sentence stress do not to be correct in every “utterance”.

The key to scoring 6 in pronunciation is to speak English clearly enough to be understood throughout. There is no need to reproduce a native-speaker accent (British, American, and Australian) in this band score. Candidates with a Chinese accent can easily score 6 in this section. 

The higher scores (7+)

The introduction of the band score 7 for pronunciation is probably the most important development in recent years in the IELTS test. Previously many candidates could get close to an overall 7.0 in speaking but their pronunciation score (usually 6) would reduce the overall score to either 6.0 or 6.5. The pronunciation score of 7 has made it easier to achieve an overall7 in Speaking. 

What is needed for a pronunciation 7?

Candidates will be awarded a 7 if they fulfill the following criteria.

The examiner can fully understand candidate’s language. (even with occasional problems)

Examples of correct word /sentence stress to emphasize or focus meaning.

Use of intonation to emphasize important meaning.

Able to vary speed of delivery to affect meaning.

Able to divide utterances in “chunks” (see below) 

There may be some mispronounced words.

A first language accent may still be present. 

The features listed in the band descriptor for 7 are quite self-explanatory with the exception of  “chunking” therefore some more detail is provided below.

What is Chunking?

Chunking is actually quite a new “label” or “buzzword” in the EFL world and for many experienced EFL teachers and even for IELTS examiners it is something which is difficult to accurately define. 

When speech is produced by native speakers the words are not pronounced individually; groups of words (within an utterance) are pushed together into “multi-word chunks”. An ability to demonstrate this skill is required for a band 7. 

These “word groups” are not random; there are rules as to which words should be “chunked” together. Unfortunately, as with many features of English pronunciation, these rules are somewhat “fuzzy”. 

As a general guideline most “sentence fillers” or “connecting phrases” should be chunked into a “multi-word group”. Look at the following examples. 

“and all of those kinds of things”

“and stuff like that”

“I’m not really sure but..”

“a lot of people think that…”

“maybe it’s something to do with…”

“I guess that it could be because…” 

These phrases should be pronounced as one flowing sound with little or no audible gap between words. This skill becomes more obvious to the listener (or examiner) when the “word chunks” are surrounded by examples of speed or volume variation in important parts of the message. 

Well I guess that in many ways, nowadays learning a language is quite important, and the main reason would probably be that it can help you get a job, it can make your more aware of other cultures and stuff like that”. 

The underlined phrases in the example above should be “chunked” together in a “word-group”. Also it becomes easier to see that the “message” parts of the example should contain variations in speed and volume to emphasize important meaning. 

A candidate who can demonstrate some ability to chunk will be awarded a 7. When the chunking becomes more natural and consistently correct an 8 may be awarded (if the other criteria are met).