IELTS Speaking: Fluency and Coherence

glue on paper to represent coherence and cohesion in ielts writing

In IELTS Speaking, your score is rated based on the official IELTS Speaking rubric. The categories in the rubric are Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation. In this post, we’ll look specifically at Fluency and Coherence; links to our guides to the other three categories are provided at the end of the article.

What is fluency and coherence for IELTS Speaking?

When it comes to the IELTS Speaking band descriptors, Fluency and Coherence are used to measure a speaker’s ability to communicate logically, clearly, and without difficulty in English. For Fluency, a perfect band score of 9 means the speaker doesn’t have to pause to recall words, or mentally review grammatical structures. The speaker can focus on the message she wishes to convey rather than the language needed to say it.

Coherence is related to fluency, but slightly different. It measures how well a speaker’s ideas make sense together. A high Band score indicates that a person can use a variety of cohesive features, discourse markers, and prompt phrases with ease in order to articulate ideas in a clear and logical way.

The Major Points of IELTS Speaking Fluency and Coherence

For Fluency and Coherence, each band level of the rubric contains a few bullet points that describe ability in this dimension. These bullet points can be summed up into three main points regarding this skill. Read on for a detailed explanation of each of the three points.

Speed and Ease of Speaking

Do you speak at a similar speed as a native speaker? Are you able to speak without frequent self-correction and repetition?

Low-scoring responses in fluency and coherence are characterized by slowness formulating sentences. In a lot of cases, this happens because the student has to put a lot of effort towards making grammar and vocabulary choices.

High-scoring responses in fluency and coherence are characterized by their use of a “normal” speed. You don’t have to speak super quickly, but you should speak at approximately the same speed as the average native speaker. If you’re scoring in these higher bands, you’re using appropriate vocabulary on every topic without noticeable effort, while easily manipulating grammar to express ideas.

Structure and Logical Flow

Are your ideas easy to follow? Do they flow logically from one to the next?

Low-scoring responses in fluency and coherence have gaps in logic. In other words, ideas may not be connected in a way that makes sense (or a way that is clear). This is particularly true for longer responses. IELTS Speaking responses that are low-scoring in coherence also tend to overuse connecting words. They use the same transition words and phrases repeatedly.

High-scoring responses in fluency and coherence use a variety of cohesive features and discourse markers with ease. These are features that help communicate ideas clearly and logically, and without any noticeable gaps.

Effort in Responding

Can you speak at length about complex topics without a lot of obvious effort?

Low scoring responses in fluency and coherence have speakers who are unable to sustain lengthy responses without problems in fluency and/or coherence becoming clear.

High scoring responses in fluency and coherence have speakers who easily respond at length to the prompt.

The Other Categories on the Official Speaking Rubric

Of course, Fluency and Coherence is just one part of the bigger picture. Check out our guides for the other three parts of the rubric:

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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