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Understanding the IELTS Speaking band descriptors

Published on December 24, 2018

There is a good chance that if you are reading this blog post you probably understand the importance of preparing for your IELTS test. One thing I tell anyone who asks is to take advantage of the vast amount of information available to help you get ready for your IELTS test.

One of the most important pieces of information available is the IELTS band descriptors for the Speaking and Writing sections of the test. You can find the IELTS assessment criteria and band descriptors here. I recommend becoming familiar with these as they will help you get ready for your test. This blog post gives an overview of the Speaking band descriptors.

What are the Speaking band descriptors?

The band descriptors for the Speaking test are broken into four categories for both versions of the IELTS test (Academic and General Training):

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy
  • Pronunciation

How are the Speaking band descriptors used?

Your IELTS Speaking examiner will use these descriptors to evaluate your speaking. Your examiner will carefully consider the descriptors, then assign a band score for each one. The band scores range from 0 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest).

What do the band descriptors mean?

Let’s take a closer look at what each of the band descriptors means and how your IELTS examiner will use them to evaluate your speaking.

1. Fluency and coherence

A few things to consider about this descriptor:

Fluenc y - Your examiner will look at how fluent you are – how much you speak, how your words, ideas and thoughts flow together, as well as how much you hesitate, self-correct and repeat yourself.

Speaking naturally - Another important part of this descriptor is how natural you sound when speaking. There are many ways to sound natural, including your vocabulary and how your words are connected. I suggest taking some time to consider how to use connecting words – those wonderful words that connect and organize your ideas, help you move to another point, etc.

Some examples of connecting words include:

First, Second…
Another thing…
Well, I believe…

This is a very small sample, and I strongly suggest taking time to research and review how using these words can help you sound more fluent.

2. Lexical resource

With this descriptor, your examiner will be listening for the following:

Your words – Your examiner will consider the kinds of words you use, whether they help make your ideas clear, and whether the words are understandable, appropriate and relevant to the topic.

Paraphrasing, idiomatic language and less common language – The use of paraphrasing, idiomatic and less common words are all important at higher levels (Band 7 and up). A word of caution: being able to paraphrase, use idiomatic and less common language is not something that happens overnight. It takes study and practice, so before using this kind of language give yourself plenty of time and practice to understand the proper use and form.

3. Grammatical range and accuracy

Keep in mind the following for this Speaking descriptor:

Sentence structure and variation – When speaking, think about the proper use of sentences - their structure, as well as using a mix of simple and complex structures.

Number of errors It is also important to try to limit the number of grammatical errors in your speaking. For higher band scores, there must be a good number of error-free sentences in your speaking.

4. Pronunciation

Some things to consider related to pronunciation include:

How well you are understood - Your examiner will be listening for how easy it is to understand you, and how clearly (and correctly) you pronounce words. Please keep in mind that you are not expected to change your accent to sound more like a native English speaker; however, you must pronounce words clearly and correctly.

Final words of advice

When preparing for your IELTS test keep in mind that, as outlined above, there are many things your IELTS examiner will be listening for. While I suggest not getting bogged down with the details, it is important to take some time before your test to become familiar with the descriptors, so you have a good idea what your IELTS examiner will be listening for.