IELTS Speaking, know what the examiner wants, part 2…

As I wrote last time, one reason that students don’t do well in the speaking test is their failure to understand what the examiner wants, misunderstanding the assessment criteria in other words.

As I promised, here is an example of what I was writing about. Now of course, this is only a transcript and an audio example would be more helpful to you, in fact, I will be making some podcasts soon which will contain examples of what I mean, but for the moment, this transcript will have to do. The response below would only score a 6.0 and I have written some comments why it would only score 6.0 and some suggestions how it could be improved to score a 7.0.

Question: “Tell me about your hometown. What do you like most about your hometown?”

Answer: “So, I live in Caiscais. It’s er, a little town near Lisbon, around about, er, 25 kilometres. And it’s er, on the coast, so I have a lot of, we have a lot of, we have there a lot of beaches, and the weather is pretty warm in the, um, in the summer and it’s not that cold in the winter, so we have a pretty good weather.”

So, let’s analyse this according to the criteria, one by one, except for pronunciation for obvious reasons..

Fluency and Coherence

Although her answer is natural and confident, there is a certain amount of hesitation and self correction (er + um, so I have a lot of + we have there)  as you can see above. She does use linking devices and they are adequate but basic (and + so).

This could be improved by extending her answer a little more and developing it, and also by trying to reduce the number of hesitations.

Lexical Resource

This response is adequate for the topic with some colloquialisms (pretty warm).

This answer could be better if she included some less common words, for example she shows a limited range by repeating certain words, weather and pretty. She could have instead said,  climate and really, for example, as a touch of variation.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Although good enough to convey her ideas, the grammar she uses is fairly limited.

To improve on this, she could have used a wider range of more complex grammatical structures, maybe included a conditional sentence for example, “If I had to choose one thing I really like about my hometown, I would have to say the weather.” As well as this, there are several grammar mistakes, “pretty good weather”, “We have there a lot of beaches”, which would prevent this from scoring a 7.0.

So how could this be improved to make it a 7.0?

“So, I live in Caiscais, which is a really small town around about 25 kilometres from Lisbon, so it’s not too far away from the capital. The town is slap bang on the coast, which means of course, that we’ve got loads of gorgeous beaches. But I guess the thing I love most of all about my hometown is the weather. It’s pretty warm in the summer and it’s also not too cold in the winter, so I would say we’re extremely lucky to have such a fantastic climate. I’ve been living there since I was a child, and I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

So, let’s analyse this now and see exactly why it would score 7.0.

Fluency and Coherence

As you probably notice, this answer is considerably more developed than the previous response with a good, logical and coherent structure and no hesitations.

Lexical Resource

This is better because it is more descriptive and less general (really small, right on the coast) which is important if you want to get a higher score for this section. Remember, if it is too vague or general, then it is not sufficient.  Another good thing here is that there are several less common lexical items (loads of, gorgeous, extremely) and good use of synonyms to avoid repetition (climate, instead of using weather again).

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This is much better than before, mainly because of the use of complex sentences (using subordinate clauses with connectors, such as “which means”) and different tenses (I’ve been living) instead of only present tenses as used in the first example. Also, there are no mistakes.

So there you are, I hope this gives you some ideas as to what the criteria mean and how to get a better score by taking these factors into account. For my next few posts, I will go into the criteria in more detail one at a time.

As always, any questions, feel free to drop me a line at