How are IELTS speaking band scores 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:
- speed of speech
- length of answer
- pausing correctly
Coherence is the ability to:
- expand your answers
- answer the questions directly
- add relevant detail to explain or illustrate your answers
- connect your sentences by using tenses and connectors
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:
- basic word pronunciation
- linked speech sounds
- correct sentence stress
- 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:
- have enough vocabulary to discuss a range of topics
- to use vocabulary accurately
- be able to explain yourself when you do not have the right word
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:
- you need to avoid grammar mistakes especially with your tenses
- 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. You’ll find them here:Get more speaking advice