ielts-yasi.englishlab.net       

Updated Jun. 19, 2016 

 

Description of the Speaking Test Band Levels

More than once a high school kid in my class has said that he (usually it's a boy) hopes to get a Band 7 for Speaking. In reality, he is usually at the Band 5.0 or 5.5 level and would need more than one year of full-time, serious study and practice to move up to Band 7.0. The average Chinese English teacher speaks at the Band 7.0 level. Obviously, a lot of people don't know what the Band levels are really like. This page will give you a better understanding of the Band levels.

The page is divided into 6 main areas. By progressing from Number 1 to Number 5, you will be able to get quite an accurate idea of what the Band scores for the Speaking test really mean.

At Number 5, A More Detailed Description of the Speaking Band Descriptors, I more completely describe, with some examples, what each Band level represents.

  1. The Average Scores of IELTS Candidates in China in 2007 (From IELTS.org)
  2. The General Description of the Band levels (Written by the IELTS people)
  3. My Description of the Band levels of People in China
  4. The Speaking Band Descriptors  (Written by the IELTS people)
  5. A More Practical Description Of the Speaking Band Descriptors (Written by me)
  6. Some Example Video and Audio Recordings of the Speaking Test

***********************************************************************************

  1. The Average Scores of IELTS Candidates in China in 2007

The table below shows some statistics from 2007. (This information was found in this document, which was found on this page.)

The average Speaking test score in China in 2007 was 5.26 (Academic) and 5.74 (General Training).

 

Overall IELTS Scores (not just speaking) for Candidates in China, 2007 

Band Score Below Band 4 Band 4 Band 4.5 Band 5 Band 5.5 Band 6 Band 6.5 Band 7 Band 7.5 Band 8 Band 8.5 Band 9
Academic 3%   5%   11%   21%   23%   20%  11%   4%   1%   <1%   <1%   <1%  

G.T.

2%   3%   7%   14%   20%   23%   17%   9%   3%   1%   <1%   <1%  

***********************************************************************************

  1. The General Description of the Band levels (Written by the IELTS people)

The following table is found on the internet at http://www.britishcouncil.org/zh/china-exams-ielts-bandscale-eng.pdf

This description is too general to be very useful. But as the first step to understanding the differences between the Band levels, it's worth reading.

IELTS Band Scale

Band 9 Expert User

Has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.

Band 8 Very Good User

Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.

Band 7 Good User

Has operational command of the language though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.

Band 6 Competent User

Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

Band 5 Modest User

Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.

Band 4 Limited User

Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Have frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

Band 3 Extremely Limited User

Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.

Band 2 Intermittent User

No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty in understanding spoken and written English.

Band 1 Non user

Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.

 

***********************************************************************************

  1. My Description of the Speaking Band levels of People in China

After reading descriptions (below) of typical examples of different Speaking band levels in China, you might have a better understanding of what the Bands represent than by reading the description at 2, above.

Note that this table is referring to speaking levels, not overall English levels, which includes reading, listening and writing ability.

You should understand that this table contains just my personal judgment other IELTS examiners or former examiners like me might have slightly different opinions about some of these examples.

Note that these are just typical examples.

I use "Chinese English teachers" as a guide here because this group is the group of people who students are most familiar with. Other, well-educated Chinese English speakers could just as easily be used as examples here.

In general, I would say the average high school education in China gives most people the knowledge and skills to get 5.0 or 5.5 for the Speaking test. If you want to get 6.0 or especially 6.5 or above, you definitely need to do more serious, intensive study and practice. For most people, it takes between 6 months and 1 year to improve from 5.0 or 5.5 to 6.0 or 6.5.

Band

(for the speaking test)

 Description - Typical Examples of People in China

9.0 A (well-educated) Chinese person who speaks more or less the same as an average or quite well-educated native English speaker. Typically, this person has spent 5 years or more of his or her childhood (before the age of 12) in an English-speaking country. This person possibly feels more comfortable speaking English than Chinese.

Although these people are not rare in Chinese society (for example, Chinese-Americans who have returned to China to work here), it is rare for this kind of person to need to do the IELTS test. Consequently, the score of 9 is rarely awarded.

8.5 The very best 2% to 3% of Chinese English teachers and other professional Chinese people. Most of these people would have studied and lived overseas for several years and possibly attended not just university in an English-speaking country but also some part of high school in such a country.

Most of the time they speak almost like a native English speaker but a few small things show that they are not fully equivalent to native speakers.

8.0 About 5% of the Chinese English teachers with excellent oral English ability. Most, but not all of these people would have studied and lived overseas for several years.
7.5 Chinese English teachers with high-quality oral English. (Maybe 20% of Chinese English teachers.)
7.0
  1. Typical Chinese oral English teachers in universities, high schools and training centres in Beijing and other big cities. (Probably about 30% of Chinese oral English teachers.)
  1. The best, say 5% of university students/graduates who have spent extra time and effort improving their English, (in addition to their university English classes), for example, by spending many months attending part-time classes at a good-quality English training centre that emphasized conversation and that used native English speaking teachers.
  1. A small number of  high school students and high school graduates who have spent more than one year as high school students in an English speaking country or who attended an international high school in China for several years where many of the students were native English speakers and the classes were conducted in English. Or, a small number of high school students and high school graduates who have attended children's English classes at an English training centre for several years.
6.5
  1. The lowest level of Chinese English teachers, for example, some teachers in high schools or training centres outside the big cities of China. (This group is about the lowest 33% of Chinese English teachers. They probably teach reading, listening, writing or introductory English classes rather than oral English for IELTS students.)
  1. University students/graduates and other people who have spent extra time and effort improving their English, (in addition to their university English classes), for example, by spending at least a few months attending part-time classes at a good-quality English training centre that emphasized conversation and that used native English speaking teachers. In university, they were among the top 10% of students in English class.
  1. The best say, 5% of high school students or high school graduates who have probably spent some time in their childhood studying extra English (in addition to their school classes) in a children's English training center or who had some other extra English experience. Possibly they have lived overseas for a short period in childhood or in their high school years or attended an international school in China where they had several native English speaking classmates.
6.0
  1. University students and university graduates who took English classes in university and who got "quite good" results in their English exams but were not in the top 10%.
  1. High school students and high school graduates who were (or are) in the top 10% in English class. These students sometimes, but not always, have had some extra English experience or study outside of school.
  1. High school students and high school graduates who were just average students (in English class) but in an international school in China where classes were taught in English and several of their classmates were native English speakers. This situation gave them extra English experience outside the classroom.
  1. Typical professional working people in China who frequently use some English in their workplaces, for example, in a multi-national or joint-venture company. (Very often, if native English speakers also work in these places, these native English speakers do not correct the English mistakes of the Chinese employees, with the result that the listening level of these Chinese people is better than their speaking level.)
5.5
  1. University students and university graduates who took English classes in university and who got average or just passing grades in their English exams. Or university students and university graduates who took low-quality English classes in university and who got "quite good" results in their English exams.
  1. High school students or high school graduates who were in the top 1/3 of their class but were probably not among the best 10% in their class.

         This is a big group among IELTS candidates in China.

 

5.0
  1. University students and university graduates who took English classes in university and who got just passing grades or low grades in their English exams. Quite possibly they attended universities that had low-quality English classes.
  1. Average high school students or high school graduates (the middle 1/3 group in their high school English classes).

          This is probably the biggest group of IELTS candidates in China.

 

4.5
  1. University students and university graduates who took only a little English in university and who got rather low grades in their University English exams, or who took almost no English classes in university, or who attended a university where the English classes were very low-quality.
  1. High school students and high school graduates who were in the lowest 1/3 of their English class in an average high school, but who were not quite the very lowest in their English classes.

          This is quite a big group among IELTS candidates in China

 

4.0 High school students and high school graduates who were at or near the bottom of their English class in an average high school.
3.0 High school students and high school graduates who went to schools where there were very low-quality English classes or almost no English classes at all, for example, in a relatively poor part of China.
2.0 High school students and high school graduates who have had no experience of English classes or almost no experience beyond the first year of introductory English. These people have "picked up" a little English here and there but can still only say a few basic, memorized phrases such as, "My name is ....", "Hello, how are you?" and, "I'm fine, thank you."
1.0 People who have studied no English in their lives but can possibly say, "Ok" and "Hello".

Note that, even if you are a Band 5.0 person now, it is very possible for you to move up to Band 6.0 or 6.5 by using the best methods, the best materials and by giving yourself enough time to improve!

As a rough guess, I would say that in China, a non-English speaking environment, you need between 150 and 250 hours of study and practice to improve your IELTS Speaking test score by one Band point. And that is assuming that you study and practice in the most efficient way possible and use the best possible materials!

***********************************************************************************

  1. The Speaking Band Descriptors (Written by the IELTS people)

On this page, http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/IELTS_Speaking_band_descriptors.pdf, you can see the "Speaking Band Descriptors" (public version) that was written by the IELTS people (IELTS.org).

[Old Version: On this page, http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/Band_Scores.htm, you can see the "Speaking Band Descriptors" (public version) that was written by the IELTS people (IELTS.org). This is very similar to the information sheet that the examiners use. ]

Unfortunately, for most of you reading this, the "Speaking Band Descriptors" still only gives you a general idea about the different Band levels you don't really understand what a lot of the information on that page means. Even native English speakers who are not trained as IELTS examiners would have trouble actually knowing the exact meaning of the information on that page. When the examiners do their training, they "fine tune" (微调) their understanding of the different Band levels by watching several example videos and listening to several example tape recordings of people doing the Speaking test.

***********************************************************************************

  1. A More Practical Description Of the Speaking Band Descriptors

On a separate page, I have attempted to interpret, in more understandable terms, some of the information in the 'Speaking Band Descriptors', in 4 above. In other words, I have written some specific examples of what is meant in the table at 4, above. This page is very detailed!

See here.

***********************************************************************************

  1. Some Example Video and Audio Recordings of the Speaking Test

If you go to this page on this website, you'll see links that will eventually take you to a video on the internet at ipass.uk.net. This video is of a Portuguese girl named Zara. (Previously, you could see her complete test but now you can only see her Part 1, unless you pay to be a member of that website. But I have put an audio file of her complete test here.) I assess her at 6.5 for Speaking. I explain how (or why) I gave her that score on the following page:

 http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/PORTUGUESE_GIRL_SCORE.htm

You can also see some other videos or listen to some audio recordings here. Some of these include my assessment of the candidate's band score and my comments.

***********************************************************************************