Updated Nov.3, 2010
Wang's Mock Speaking Test
The MP3 is here.
Subject: A letter from your student
Date: Monday, September 7, 2009, 5:50 PM
Dear Mr. Green,
I am your student Wang and I have read your website carefully. Actually, I am not satisfied with my performance in the test. Even though I got a band 7 overall (8 in Listening, 7 in reading, 6.5 in writing), I only gained a score of 5.5 in the speaking. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out why my score was so low. In order to improve my oral English, I recorded my model test and I send the recording to you, wishing you can give me some suggestions about how to boost my speaking.
Your reply will be highly appreciated!
Unfortunately, I think you are about 5.5 at the moment. Actually, you’re probably about 5.75 but since there is no such score, you would have to be given 5.5.
This is how I scored you:
Fluency and Coherence: 5
Now I'll explain those scores.
Almost all the time your pronunciation is clear and I understood you the first time I heard what you said. That's the most important aspect of pronunciation, of course. Actually, I think you’re not too far from a 6 for pronunciation because most of your words were clearly spoken. But there were a couple of times when you did have mispronunciations, which might have caused me not to understand. For example, "strategy" in Part 2 has 3 syllables, and when you said, "the game started", it sounded like you said, "the game studied".
"Freshman" (and here) is not pronounced with the "man" sounding like it usually sounds. Besides, as I wrote on my website, avoid using those American terms in the Speaking test (although it was appropriate when speaking to that American woman).
For sentence stress, you showed that you are a bit confused or lack knowledge concerning which word to stress in a noun + noun compound word. This is one of the key aspects concerning which word to stress in a sentence. In Part 1, when you were talking about art galleries, you said, “university students” when the word, “university” should have been stressed more than the word, “students”. In Part 2, you said, “a basketball game”, with the word “game” stressed when the word “basketball” should have been stressed more. But in the next sentence, you said, “a basketball match”, which is correct. (Listen to some recordings here.)
For intonation, you also showed that you are confused about how to speak about a contrast. For example, in Part 2, you said, “At the end, the students’ team scored five points more than the teachers’ team.” You should have said, “teachers’ team”, to show that you are contrasting the two words, “students’” and, “teachers’”.
The main weakness of your pronunciation is that it has a strong Chinese sound to it, i.e., your native accent is strongly evident.
Overall, I think if you had spoken with your strong Chinese accent but had not made the other mistakes I listed above, you possibly would have gotten a 6 for pronunciation. Or, if you had spoken with much less of a Chinese accent but had made a small number of those mistakes, you might still have qualified for a 6. But the combined impression of your accent and the other weaknesses causes me to feel that a 6 for pronunciation is too high for you.
My advice is to spend a lot of time mimicking recordings of native English speakers speaking naturally in dialogue or conversation, at natural speed. For you to make changes to your pronunciation, you'll need to do this for many weeks so I advice you not to re-sit the test for at least 3 months.
Your vocabulary is quite good. I think you could improve it to a Band 7 level with not too much effort, especially if you spend time studying phrasal verbs. A score of 7 for vocabulary might be important to help balance your pronunciation if you only get a 5 for pronunciation next time.
But I did notice a tendency for you to use words that sometimes seemed a little unnaturally formal. It seems quite obvious that you have done much more reading of English than speaking or listening to natural speech and this has led to a rather unbalanced profile in your overall English.
Some examples of this slightly inappropriate word choice were: "acquire knowledge", "numerous art galleries", "in addition to that" and, "However".
"In addition to that" and, "However" are not wrong and they are not highly formal but they sound a little too formal in Part 1 or Part 2. In Part 3, where you might be speaking more seriously, using them a little is ok but you repeated both of them more than once. Those words or expressions are more suited to written English.
"Numerous art galleries" is not wrong either but a native English speaker, even a well-educated one, would not use "numerous" in normal everyday speech but would instead just say "many" or "lots of". You can impress the examiner with your vocabulary in other ways besides using rather formal words as substitutes for the more normal words that are used in everyday conversation.
"Youngsters" is a word only used by old people to describe young people. And your sentence, " ... popular in the youngsters" should have been, "popular among young people" or "popular with young people".
Saying "nine o'clock in the afternoon", is called "a slip of the tongue", although it does reveal that you are not used to speaking English very much.
In Part 3, when you were asked, “What role does food play in festivals?”, you answered, “Absolutely. Food plays an important role in festivals”. That’s an incorrect usage of the word, “absolutely”. Think of “absolutely” as meaning a very big, “Yes” when it is used as the first word in a sentence, following a ‘Yes/No’ question. The word you should have used here is “certainly” or “definitely” but the sentence should have been constructed this way: “Food certainly plays an important role in festivals”.
Your Grammar was not too bad. For most candidates in China, this is their weakest point but I only noticed a few minor grammatical errors in your speaking.
At the beginning of the test you said, “… and I’d study as a post-graduate in London University if I got a decent score in the IELTS test.” That should be, “… and I’ll study as a post-graduate in London University if I get a decent score in the IELTS test.” The fact that you tried to make that sentence at all and the fact that the structure was grammatically correct is good, but your choice of that structure was not correct for what you meant to say. This is typical of a Band 6 for grammar.
You also showed that you can correctly use the word, “which” in the sentence, “which is a renowned university in China” and that, along with other complex sentences that you made, is another sign of a Band 6 for grammar.
In Part 2, which was a past tense topic, you mostly used the past tense although you said, “most of the students are free”. In Part 1, you also used “are” twice when you should have said, “were”: “When I was a little boy I seldom went shopping because there are very few shops in my hometown” and, “For example, about five years ago, there are a lot of small shops around my house.” You also repeatedly used “can” when you should have used “could” when you were talking about your past experience of using the university library. But overall, you showed the ability to use the past tense for most of the times when you should have used it.
See my website (here) where I wrote about the word "convenient". We don't say in English, "go shopping more conveniently".
With not too much effort, you might be able to increase your grammar score to 7, especially if you can impress the examiner with some high-level grammar sentences such as correctly using subjunctive structures (虚拟语气).
Fluency and Coherence
If you read my website on this, you'll see that your sub-score for this is the lower of the two if your fluency and coherence are not equal in their sub-scores. I would give you a good 6 even a 7 for coherence, but only 5 for fluency. You were quite good at clearly explaining, in Part 2, how the students won the basketball game, which showed good coherence skills.
For fluency, you simply haven't spoken enough English in natural communication to become more fluent than a 5. You are a little slow, that's your main problem with fluency. Mimicking recordings of native speakers will help you here but I do strongly suggest you also try to find a language partner to have natural discussions with in English (not just practicing "IELTS Speaking test performances"). After several hours of actually using English to communicate naturally, you'll start to notice that you are speaking faster and more smoothly.
As I wrote, your coherence was quite good, but it still could be better, of course. For the question about how often you go shopping, you started your answer by saying that you didn't go shopping often when you were a kid. It's much, much better to answer the question directly, that is, how often you go shopping now, and then add extra information about your shopping habits when you were a little boy, if you like. But the information that you didn't go shopping very much when you were a kid is not "real" information because no kids go shopping very much - they don't have much money.
Overall, you're quite good (i.e., close to a 6.0 level) but it's your pronunciation and fluency that are letting you down. Even if I had given you a 6 for pronunciation, your score would still be 5.75, which goes down to 5.5. It is possible that a lenient examiner would give you a 6.0 for this performance but I think most examiners would give you 5.5.
Get more listening input of natural native English speaker language for more natural vocabulary and expressions; mimic recordings and practice actually using English in natural spoken communication. Do that for at least three months and you will have a good chance of getting 6.0 or even possibly 6.5 for speaking.