IELTS Speaking, know what the examiner is looking for, a guide to the speaking criteria! Part 1.

One of the most often asked questions I hear is, “How can I get a 7 in speaking?”. The answer that most teachers give is, “Practice more, speak with a partner”, etc. Now while that is good advice in general, it doesn’t really answer the question. So, as I am constantly telling my students, what they need to do (and this applies equally to writing), is to go to the criteria and see what it tells you.  The reason for this is twofold, the first is that the criteria are published specifically for you to reference and to guide you in your study, If you don’t know how the speaking test is graded then you will have a lot of difficulty in getting the band score you desire. The second reason I constantly refer my students to the criteria, is that half the time they don’t believe a word I tell them. Well, possibly a slight exaggeration there, but I cannot count the times when I have been explaining something to them during a lesson, albeit for writing or speaking, and they say to me those fateful words, “But my teacher told me this……..not that”.

Now one way I can prove that what their teacher told them was incorrect, is to point to their previous test scores. If their teacher was the veritable font of wisdom for all things IELTS related, then surely they as students, should have scored higher than 5.5/6.0/6.5 which they usually get. If their previous teacher was so great, then why are they paying me to coach them? So, to convince my recalcitrant students that I am not making up my lessons as I go along, I refer them to the criteria. When they see that it is the British Council, IDP, and the University of Cambridge who say the same things as I did as regards what they need to do, then they believe me.

So, for those of you who don’t know or don’t understand the criteria, this post and the three subsequent posts will address this question. Let’s begin with an overview.

Fluency and Coherence: this means the students ability to express his or her opinions in a clear logical manner, without undue hesitation. The ideas thus expressed should be connected with cohesive devices (discourse markers such as, so, and, however, etc) the the topics discussed should be developed in as natural a way as possible.

Lexical Resource: this measures the range and variety of words and phrases the student uses when discussing the topics and how accurate their vocabulary is. to get a better grade, you would need to make use of idioms, less common words, and show your ability to paraphrase effectively.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy:  as you might expect, this is about the use of both simple and complex structures and the accuracy with which they are used.

Pronunciation: this is an interesting one, it covers the production of sounds and words and stress patterns on syllables, also rhythm, and intonation, the ability to use rising and falling tones. This is important as lots of foreign language speakers (in whatever language, not just English), fail to take intonation into account and as a consequence they speak in a monotone with no variation in tone and/or rhythm, which sounds very boring and unnatural.

So after the test, the examiner assigns a band score for all four criteria, and the overall mark is an average of the four scores, rounded down to the nearest half band. For example, if you get 7,7,7,6 = average 6.75, rounded down, you get 6.5.

For your future reference, you will find the criteria below.

IELTS Speaking Criteria

That’s all for now, but for my next post I will give some examples of a 6.0 score and show how that could be turned into a 7.0 by paying attention to the criteria.

As always, if you have any questions then feel free to contact me at