Understanding the Criteria on the IELTS Speaking Test


Hey everyone.

In this post I want to talk about the four criteria that examiners use to determine your band score in Speaking.

I want to give you a little more detail about what examiners are really thinking about when they’re listening to you speak, and also how you can improve in each of the four areas!

Let’s go.


The Four Criteria:

Just like with the writing test, the speaking test uses 4 specific categories, and they are each worth 25% of your band score.

The categories are:

  • Fluency and Coherence (how well you link together and develop your ideas)
  • Lexical Resource (range and appropriateness of vocabulary)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (range and accuracy of grammatical structures)
  • Pronunciation (pronunciation accuracy)

In each of these four categories, the focus is on trying to communicate your ideas as clearly as possible.

Now let’s look at each of the four in greater detail, along with some ideas on how to improve in each area.


Fluency and Coherence

What the Examiner is looking for:

  • Speaking at a good speed
  • Giving occasional longer answers, without stopping too much to think of the right word or phrase
  • Developing and explaining your answers by adding details, examples, or more information to expand your points
  • Staying on topic
  • Connecting ideas together with linking words and tenses

Short-term improvement:

>Start your test off with some longer answers right away. Just jump right in and embrace any nervousness, and it will go away! [link post about embracing nerves]

>Talk to the examiner like a friend.

>Making mistakes is OKAY!

>Hesitating to think about your answers is OKAY!

>Asking for clarity or to repeat something is OKAY!

>Remember to stay on topic, and don’t give super long answers for no reason; going on and on about something will not get you a high mark. Just explain whatever you need to explain, support it if you can and move on to the next question.

Long-term improvement:

>Surround yourself with as much English as possible.

>Watch (and try to mimic) television shows and movies.

>Spend time with native speakers if possible.

>Some specific posts to check out on this site:

  • [Study guide]
  • [Linking words post]
  • [Listening signpost post]


Lexical Resource

What the Examiner is looking for:

  • Using a wide range of vocabulary
  • Using idioms and less common expressions
  • Most importantly, using all of these correctly, and in an appropriate way!
  • The ability to paraphrase/restate things in other words to clarify meaning

Short-term improvement:

>Avoid using words that you don’t understand well. This can lose you marks.

It’s not a good idea to try to memorize or use big complicated words just to get a higher score for vocabulary. Using words incorrectly causes you to lose a lot of band score! The best way is to just speak naturally and just stick to using words you understand well.

Long-term improvement:

>Keep a vocabulary journal [see the study guide for more here]

>Read a lot, and write new words in your journal.

>Take an English course if you can

>Some specific posts to check out on this site:

  • [Study guide]
  • Vocabulary guessing
  • Affixes


Grammatical Range and Accuracy

What the Examiner is looking for:

  • Using a wide range of grammar structures accurately
  • This is especially true for tenses!

Short-term improvement:

>Don’t try to be complicated! Like with vocabulary, you should avoid trying to use difficult structures that are not natural for you. Don’t try to memorize phrases, and don’t try to use complicated grammar just for a higher score.

Learning grammar is a long-term process; there is just no way to increase it quickly, unfortunately. So you should just be natural – again, talk to the examiner like a friend – and stick to what you know.

Long-term improvement:

>Read a lot.

>Watch and mimic television [link to study guide]

>Take an English course if you can (this really is the best way!)

>Check out the [study guide] for advice on improving general English.



What the Examiner is looking for:

  • Accurate word pronunciation
  • Accurate word and sentence stress
  • Accurate intonations (rising and falling)

Short-term improvement:

>Try to keep yourself focused and mindful during your speaking test. Don’t allow yourself to start speaking super fast, because then you will make pronunciation mistakes. Slow down and speak naturally. Try to relax :)

Long-term improvement:

>Pronunciation is something you can improve yourself. The most important thing is to dedicate a certain amount of time every day to practice. 

>Read the post on this website for improving pronunciation.

>There are many pronunciation resources online! I like Dave Sconda videos on youtube, but use whatever you enjoy!


Final thoughts:

As you can see above, the most important thing for speaking success is long-term English practice! Again, you should check out my IELTS Study Guide for ideas here.

When it comes time to actually take your test, the best thing you can do is forget everything and not worry about it! Just trust yourself to answer the questions naturally. Don’t try to be fancy or memorize anything… just talk to the examiner like a friend and try to relax and you will do fine.

One thing that can help you relax on the IELTS Speaking Test is simply to understand the test better, so I recommend reading through the following posts to get an idea of what will happen on your test:


Good luck!