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IELTS speaking – band scores explained

How is your IELTS speaking band score calculated? This is an important question for any IELTS candidate because many mistakes can be avoided by knowing what the examiner is looking for and how your speaking is graded. This post gives you a brief outline of the grading criteria, how band scores are calculated and how examiners typically grade the speaking.

The 4 grading criteria

There are 4 criteria:

Fluency and coherence How fluently you speak and how well you link your ideas  together
Pronunciation How accurate your pronunciation is
Lexical resource How accurate and varied your vocabulary is
Grammatical range and accuracy How accurate and varied your grammar is

What do these criteria mean?

This is IELTS and IELTS examiners are trained to interpret these criteria in a particular way. In theory it should not matter where you take your test as all examiners grade consistently. I suggest you should spend time understanding the detail here as that way you can avoid many common mistakes.

One main point is that in all the criteria a key idea is being clear. The main idea is whether you can express yourself clearly so that someone else can understand you.

Fluency and coherence

Fluency is a combination:

  1. speed of speech
  2. length of answer
  3. pausing correctly

Coherence is the ability to:

  1. expand your answers
  2. answer the questions directly
  3. add relevant detail to explain or illustrate your answers
  4. connect your sentences by using tenses and connectors

Common mistakes

You should note that very fast or very long answers are not necessarily good, as you may be penalised for poor pronunciation or lack of coherence. In the speaking the main point is that you are able to express yourself clearly.

Another common mistake is to not answer the question. This is where you will be penalised.


The main point here is that your pronunciation is easy to understand and whether your are able to make your meaning clear. Features of good pronunciation include:

  1. basic word pronunciation
  2. linked speech sounds
  3. correct sentence stress
  4. correct use of intonation (rising and falling)

You should note that there is no need to have a “British” or “American” accent.


Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)

Once again the key concept  here is clarity: do you have enough words to express yourself clearly? This is judged by your ability to:

  1. have enough vocabulary to discuss a range of topics
  2. to use vocabulary accurately
  3. be able to explain yourself when you do not have the right word

Common Mistake

A common mistake here is to use long words without really knowing what they mean.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

There are two key key points to understand here:

  1. you need to avoid grammar mistakes especially with your tenses
  2. you need to use a range of grammatical structures and you should not just use simple sentences all the time

When are they graded?

All 4 criteria are judged throughout all 3 parts of the speaking test – so it is important to concentrate from beginning to end. Although your test will be recorded, you will almost certainly be graded in real time in the test by the examiner sitting in front of you.

How are band scores calculated?

All the criteria count equally

One mistake candidates make is to focus on one or other of the criteria or forget about one altogether (normally cohesion and coherence). Why is this wrong? They all count equally.

What happens is that you get a score out of 9 for each of the criteria, they are added together and then that score is divided by 4.

An example: So let’s take an example. Here is someone who has forgotten to think about coherence and hasn’t fully answered the question. S/he has good general English so does well in grammar and vocabulary, but sadly that is not enough.

  • grammar 7
  • vocabulary 7
  • pronunciation 6
  • coherence 4

7+7+6+4 = 24 and 24 divided by 4 equals 6. The message is grammar and vocabulary are not enough – you need to focus on all the criteria throughout the exam.

It is good advice to look at the public version of the grading criteria for yourself.

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29 Responses to IELTS speaking – band scores explained

  1. Name November 6, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    Dominic, hasn’t there been a change in the way Speaking is marked recently? Have you got the new grading criteria? I’d be really grateful if you could point me in the right direction. Thanks a bunch!!!

  2. Ekaterina August 29, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    they now give half-bands (eg, 6.5)

  3. Dominick Antonucci October 8, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    It may be true that section scores may be half-bands, I don’t know that half-bands can be awarded for the four components of speaking and writing sections.

  4. Brian Cleveland October 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    I’m also an IELTS teacher and have just found your site. I’d just like to say that at first glance it seems to be an excellent resource and I shall certainly show it to my students so they can get some additional practice (just hope I don’t make myself redundant in the process!)

    Keep up the good work.

    Brian Cleveland

  5. Paresh April 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    This tips will be useful for me

    • Vikram September 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

      Dear paresh , it should be “These tips will be useful to me ” or “This tip will be useful to me”..

      • roxy September 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

        Awwwwww <3

  6. maria dean December 30, 2012 at 4:46 am #

    We do not give half bands in our grading of the 4 sections. Each section gets a full number. However, when divided by 4, it could work out that when rounded down, you get an extra half mark which you did not get before. eg 6 7 6 7 divided by 4 = 6.5 overall or 6 7 7 7 = 6.5 overall.

    Before the introduction of half scores it would have dropped to a 6. NOTE: the rounding is always DOWN to the neaarest half or full mark. eg 6 7 6 6 = 6 0verall.

    Note that we still mark the same, only the calculation has changed.

    Hope that helps explain the marking.

  7. fysisoft December 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    WOW Great Tips…Thanks for these

  8. Mohit dabas April 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    I just want to know
    Today it was my speaking test 4 ielts

    It ws pretty good in the starting
    I answrd all the questions tat examiner asked me
    In the second part also it was like a ok ok ans tat i gave

    I repeated few of my lines in my answers
    I didnt use wide variety of words and vocab

    I jst gave all the answers in a simple language

    So wat u think
    What score m i going to get?????

    • Dominic Cole April 5, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      Sorry. Without being there I can’t really help. I can say that that “simple” language is not a bad thing especially when you speak – we (native speakers) often don’t use complex language we speak. I can also say that speaking is not a vocabulary test and it is perfectly natural to repeat yourself a little when you speak – it can even be good for coherence. It’s not so much the words you use as the way you use them.

  9. mohamed June 10, 2013 at 12:04 am #

    I got -1 as overall speaking band what is wrong ??? possible answers plz

  10. Geri July 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    I every time used to study paragraph in news papers but now as I am a user of net therefore from now I am using net for articles or reviews,
    thanks to web.

  11. Maddy October 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Hi simon,

    Is there any way to change the speaking band score? My score was L:8 R:8 W:7 S:6 0:7. this was my 1st time taking IELTS. My hands are quite tied as there is a deadline for the board exam i need to take this 2013, if I miss this opportunity I will have to wait another year, which is both very difficult,time and money consuming. I dont understand how they got this score I thought I was okay. I passed with the required overall band score, however I need a minimum of 7 for speaking, Can i ask for any suggestions that may help?

  12. KT December 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Thank you for so many great tips. It does help me with my IELTS preparation.

    Today was my exam day and everything went very well…except for speaking. I believe I misheard “walking” and “working”. I still do not know which one it was because all the questions asked were very short and can work one way or another. But come to think of it, questions make more sense with “working” than “walking”.

    Anyway, my question is how many points would it be deducted from score if I didn’t really answer the questions in phase 2. The Band descriptor says pronunciation and fluency but nothing about understanding… I wasn’t bad for speaking wise but you know, not answering the question seems like the end of the world. Well, I must move on and start working again for next exam but just for future reference. I understand you can’t answer my particular case but I’d appreciate if you can give me a general idea.


  13. Diva December 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    I had my speaking exam today and I performed fairly well.Good use of idioms and pronunciation my only problem was i was not answering the question long enough.The examiner kept saying say more say more but i was not able to. will it cost me too much?

    • zeeshan November 21, 2014 at 8:22 am #

      hi i want a speaking partener on skype can you join me plzzz???

  14. Jason January 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Is it possible to predict my IELTS speaking score?

    I spoke fluently. My friends (American and Australians) told me that I do not have an accent when speaking english. I don’t think I made any grammatical errors. I paused twice in the exam for about 2 seconds to remember the word I need. My 2 minutes answer went very well, I made a joke and she laughed so I think it’s fine. In the end, unlike the other times I took the IELTS speaking, the examiner actually joined into the discussion with me for a little. After the exam, she said the conversation was very interesting. Again, unlike the other times I took the exam which the examiners just told me it’s done.

  15. Anonymous January 8, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    i misunderstood question part 2 because i speak about good (equipment) instead of good behavior but I speak fluency about irrelative subject .How marke i miied?

  16. Karam February 18, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    I want to join Dominic Ielts but get no response trying from last week. I need speaking lessons.

    • Dominic Cole February 20, 2014 at 6:51 am #

      I suggest you contact on elf the teachers on the teachers’ page. For the time being, I am unavailable for private teaching.

  17. mojtaba April 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    tnx for the tips…

  18. Vinay Sharma October 22, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    The examiner wrote 14 marks in his sheet, I don’t knw what exactly he meant by the score… This one is for speaking.. please I am worried.. need help !!!

  19. chaitali shah November 19, 2014 at 4:49 am #

    dear Simon,

    Yesterday, I finished my IELTS Speaking exam. I was confident. I finished my first part very good but second part I felt that I did some grammatical mistakes and missed one point. Thirtpart was good. When I was leaving from Examination room that time I saw that she wrote 8.5=135 something. Kindly advice what that mean is? Is It score or other thing.

    • Dominic Cole November 19, 2014 at 11:21 am #

      Wrong site!!!! This is Dominic.

      It could be anything – her timetable even. Relax and wait for the result. Don’t worry too much about grammatical mistakes – the examiner will also see the good things you did too.

      • Anonymous November 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

        thanks for your reply… may i know that how they calculate the score. like i saw that first part,she wrote 5.0

  20. chaitali shah November 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    hello, sir Thanks for the reply. I was quite worried about it. but may i know their code langague. how they are writing? one of my friend, he saw 1.4 in his speaking exam. he got 6 bands in it.pls kindly advice.

    • chaitali shah November 24, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      Dear Dominic Cole, Waiting for your reply.. please…


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