IELTS speaking, Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

Now for the final part of my guide to the IELTS speaking criteria, today we will be looking at Grammatical Range and Accuracy and I want to begin by offering a definition of what this means exactly.

To see what we mean by “range” let’s have an example.

Question: “Tell me about your hometown”

Answer: “Well, my hometown is Komae, and I still live there. It’s a small area to the west of Tokyo, about 25 mins from the centre by train. It’s a pretty quiet place, in fact it’s quite dull, but there is a river, which is great if you want to escape from the city sometimes, so all in all, I like living there.

Analysis: If we consider the criteria we have looked at so far in my previous posts then, for Fluency and Coherence it would score well as it has a well organised structure and well developed details. For Lexical Resource, it would score equally highly with good collocations (“pretty quiet”, “quite dull”) and some uncommon lexical items (“dull”, “escape from the city”). However, even so it would lose marks for grammar, not because it is incorrect in any way but because it is too simplistic, all the verbs are in the present simple tense. So this is what we mean by “range”, to score high you need to show a much wider range of tenses (amongst other things, of course) such as past and future constructions.

How might the example be improved?

Answer: “Well, my hometown is Komae, a small area to the west of Tokyo, about 25 mins from the centre by train. My parents moved there to get a bigger place when I was three, so I’ve been living there for about twenty years now. To be honest, it’s a little dull, so I’m planning to move. Next year I’m going to look for a new apartment in Yokohama.

As you see, this is pretty good in terms of showing the examiner a range of tenses, it covers past, present, and future and so will get a much better score. You might not be able to do this for every question but it is a good example of what you should be trying to do. To turn to our next point now, that of accuracy

To see what we mean by “accuracy” would seem to be quite straightforward, make the least number of mistakes and you should get a good score. This is obviously so, but this does not mean that you need to be perfect as it is possible to get a good score even if you make some minor errors. If we consider the criteria below:

Band 5.0:

  • produces basic sentence forms with reasonable accuracy
  • uses a limited range of more complex structures, but these usually cause errors and may cause some comprehension problems

Band 6.0:

  • may make frequent mistakes with complex structures, though these rarely cause comprehension problems

Band 7.0:

  • frequently produces error free sentences, though some grammatical mistakes persist

Band 8.0:

  • produces a majority of error free sentences with only very occasional inappropriacies or basic/non-systemic errors

Let’s look at some more examples and see what the difference might be between the bands.

Example 1 = band score 6.0

Question: “Do you enjoy your weekends now more than you did as a child?”

Answer: “Yes, I think so, because when I was a child I think we are less stressful than now. Now usually in the work we are very, very stressful…er, we are very stressed, and at the weekend we can relax, so it’s more enjoying.”

Why 6.0? As we see, despite some grammatical mistakes, the message is clear and the student uses some fairly complex structures.

Example 2 = band score 7.0

Question: “Do you enjoy your weekends now more than you did as a child?”

Answer: “No, I prefer to be a child again because, er, when you are a child, we just play and you haven’t got any responsibility or job to do, but now it’s so different and difficult.”

Why 7.0? Although some mistakes (“I prefer” instead of “I’d prefer”, “responsibility” instead of “responsibilities”) the accuracy is better than the first example.

How can you speak like this? 

One technique I recommend is memorising fixed phrases and substituting words within a pattern, which means basically learning grammatically correct phrases or “chunks” of language which you can use to construct a framework and thereby eliminate most of your mistakes. I have written about this elsewhere so you can read it again here.

I am not talking about memorising complete answers, not at all, simply regurgitating a memorised answer to the examiner will only serve to get you zero for that question. This you should not do, and I have written about this several times. What I am saying instead, is to make a framework of grammatically correct “connectors” and mix those with the “topic words” for that particular question. this is sometimes called the “Lexical Approach” by us teachers and it can work well for standardised tests, such as the IELTS, where the type of questions (not the questions themselves) are relatively predictable. That is to say, we know what form the questions will take, and the question words they will use.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s look at a couple of examples.

Question: “Would you say that your home town is a good place to live?”

Answer: “Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of parks and green spaces, so it’s very pleasant. On top of that, it’s got plenty of shops an restaurants. I can definitely say that I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Question: “Do you think that your country is a good place for tourists to visit?”

Answer: “No, definitely not. There aren’t many attractions, so it’s a bit boring. Also, it hasn’t got much good public transport. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”

As we see, the structure of both questions is very similar and is common for part 1 questions, (“Would you say?”, “Do you think?”). Although the questions and responses are not the same, the language they use is, more or less.

Opinion Phrase

Yes, absolutely

No, definitely not

“There are” Phrase

There are a lot of parks and green spaces

There aren’t many attractions

“So” + modifier + adjective

so it’s very pleasant

so it’s a bit boring

Addition Phrase

On top of that


“Have got” Phrase

It’s got plenty of shops and restaurants

It hasn’t got much good public transport

Discourse Marker

I can definitely say that

To be honest

Recommend Phrase

I’d recommend it to anyone

I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone

How might you use this?

As I wrote above, what you could do is, as all the sentences are grammatically sound, you can memorise the phrases and substitute the topic words to produce new sentences. Of course, some of the phrases are fixed while others change so as we can see from the examples below, you get this:

“There are a lot of parks and green spaces”

“There are a lot of shops and restaurants”

“There are a lot of cars and buses”

“so it’s very pleasant”

“so it’s extremely busy”

“so it’s not very clean”

All you need to do then, as you see, is to memorise some fixed phrases from the list above (just as an example, there are many more of course) and substitute the topic words within a semi fixed pattern.

For example:

Question “Would you say that your home town is a good environment for children?”

Answer: “Yes, for sure. There are a lot of playgrounds and green areas, so it’s pretty safe. As well as that, it’s got some good schools. I’d recommend it to anyone with a young family”

So there you have it, that covers the speaking criteria, I hope you find this post useful and as always, if you have any comments or questions or suggestions for future posts then drop me a line at