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There is a good chance that if you are reading this blog post you probably understand the importance of preparing for your IELTS test. You can take advantage of the vast amount of information available to help you get ready for your IELTS test.  

One of the most important resources available is the IELTS public band descriptors for the Speaking and Writing tests. We recommend becoming familiar with these as they will help you get ready for your test. This blog post gives an overview of the Speaking band descriptors.

What are the Speaking band descriptors?

The Speaking band descriptors are a set of assessment criteria that the examiner uses to assess your speaking performance. The band descriptors are the same for both IELTS Speaking tests (Academic and General Training). The assessment criteria are broken into four categories across 9 bands: 

  • Fluency and coherence 

  • Lexical resource 

  • Grammatical range and accuracy 

  • Pronunciation

How are the Speaking band descriptors used?

Your IELTS Speaking examiner will use these descriptors to evaluate your speaking skills. Your examiner will carefully consider the descriptors and will then match them to your overall performance across the four categories by assigning a band score for each one. The band scores range from 0 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest).

What do the band descriptors mean?

Let’s take a closer look at what each category means and how your IELTS examiner will use the descriptors to evaluate your speaking skills.

1. Fluency and coherence

A few things to consider about this descriptor: 

Fluency - Your examiner will look at how fluent you are – your ability to keep speaking and if you need to hesitate, self-correct and repeat yourself to keep going.  

Coherence – Your examiner will look at how coherent you sound - how your words, ideas and thoughts flow together, using a range of words and phrases to connect and organise your ideas, help you move on to another point, etc. 

Some examples of connecting words include: 

  • First, Second…  

  • Next…  

  • Then…  

  • Another thing…  

  • Well, I believe… 

This is a very small sample, and we suggest taking time to research and review how using these words can help you sound more fluent.

2. Lexical resource

With this descriptor, your examiner will be listening for your ability to choose the right words and phrases to express yourself clearly: 

Your words – Your examiner will consider the kinds of words you use, whether they help make your ideas clear, and whether the words are understandable, appropriate and relevant to the topic. They will also see if you can choose the right word forms (e.g. bored/boring) and if you can use the right words together – collocation (e.g. environmental pollution).  

Paraphrasing, idiomatic language and less common language – The use of idiomatic language and less common words are important at higher levels (band 7 and up). This doesn’t mean that you need to use very uncommon words, or phrases and clichés that you have memorised. It takes time and practice to use idiomatic language naturally when discussing a variety of topics. The examiner also assesses your ability to paraphrase, saying what you mean using different words when you can’t think of the right word or phrase.

3. Grammatical range and accuracy

This descriptor focuses on your ability to produce speech that is grammatically correct using both simple and complex structures:  

Sentence structure and variation – When speaking, think about the proper use of sentences - using a mix of simple and complex structures. You need to show your examiner that you can use a range of complex structures accurately, if you want to score a higher band score.  

Number of errors – It is also important to try and limit the number of grammatical errors you make. Become aware of the errors you usually make (e.g. articles, prepositions, subject/verb agreement) so you can make sure that your sentences are accurate.

4. Pronunciation

This descriptor assesses how easy it is to understand what you say, and you are assessed on the range of pronunciation features you can use, including stress, intonation and rhythm. 

How well you are understood - Your examiner will be listening for how easy it is to understand you, and how clearly (and correctly) you pronounce words. They will also listen to how you use stress and intonation to emphasise important words and ideas and the use of stress to contrast ideas. They will also listen out for pronunciation errors made when you say your words. 

When preparing for your IELTS test keep in mind that, as outlined above, there are many things your IELTS examiner will be listening for. So, it is important to understand what the examiner is looking out for, to be better prepared for test day.