Getting to Know the IELTS Speaking Descriptors

December 17, 2018 by Lyla Hage

If you've done any research and prep for your IELTS exam, including reading blogs on this site, you no doubt know the importance of having a solid understanding of how you will be assessed on the IELTS exam. This blog provides some details about a very important aspect of the speaking exam: the IELTS band descriptors. As mentioned in a previous blog post, a simple online search will get you to a public version of both the speaking and writing band score descriptors. I highly recommend taking some time to become familiar with these useful documents as they are invaluable in helping you prepare for your IELTS exam.

As you may be aware, the band descriptors are used by IELTS examiners to evaluate your speaking skills, and, ultimately, to assign you a band score. Your IELTS examiner will look carefully at the descriptors and assign a band score for each one.

The four band descriptors on the speaking test are:

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

These descriptors are used for all parts of the speaking exam for both versions of the exam (Academic and General Training). The descriptors each have band scores ranging from 0 (the lowest band score) – 9 (the highest band score).

two women talking at a desk

Let’s take a look at these descriptors in more detail:

Fluency and coherence – this descriptor considers how much you speak, the flow of your words and thoughts, whether you repeat yourself, hesitate, and/or self-correct. This descriptor also looks at how natural your speaking sounds. At the higher levels (Band 7 and higher) it will be important to speak at length, with limited effort and hesitation, as well as with limited repetition and self-correction. One way to sound natural when speaking is to use connectives and discourse markers. These elements of language help connect your ideas, move on to another point, and organize your thoughts. Some examples of these wonderfully useful and important words and phrases include:

    • Good question…
    • Well, I suppose…
    • Like I said…
    • First, Second, etc….
    • Next…
    • Also…
    • Another thing….
    • First of all…
    • At the same time…
    • Finally,…

It’s a good idea to take some time to understand how to use these words and phrases and to practice using them so that you sound natural when speaking.

Lexical resource – this descriptor considers the variety and use of vocabulary during the speaking exam. Your IELTS examiner will consider whether the words you use help to make your ideas clear and whether the vocabulary is understandable, appropriate and relevant to the topic.

At higher levels (Band 7 and higher), your IELTS examiner will consider whether you use paraphrasing effectively when speaking, as well as whether you use less common or idiomatic words and phrases. Keep in mind that accuracy is important. Also important is how natural these words and phrases sound. Again, this is something you will want to study, review and practice before your IELTS exam.

two women talking to each other
Grammatical range and accuracy – for this descriptor, your IELTS examiner will look at the range of structures you use when speaking, such as the use and frequency of simple and complex structures, and the accuracy of the sentences. Your examiner will also consider the frequency of grammatical errors. For Band 7 and higher, your IELTS examiner will be looking for a high number of error-free sentences throughout your speaking.

Pronunciation – for this descriptor, your examiner will carefully listen to determine how easy it is to understand you, and whether your pronunciation is clear. While you don’t have to worry about altering your accent for the IELTS exam, it's important to ensure you pronounce the words clearly and correctly, as your examiner will consider the frequency of mispronounced and hard-to-understand words.

As you can see, your IELTS examiner will consider many things when assigning band scores for your speaking exam. I strongly suggest that you take some time before your IELTS exam to become familiar with the online public version of the band descriptors, as well as practicing the various aspects of grammar, use of language, and pronunciation mentioned above.

Good luck on your IELTS exam!

Lyla is an English language instructor working with international students and immigrants in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lyla loves everything about her work, especially helping people reach their language and learning goals.

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