IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors: How to Improve your IELTS Speaking Score

Letters coming from person's mouth representing IELTS speaking band descriptors

If you’re trying to level up, or raise your IELTS Speaking score, the first thing you should do is to look at the IELTS Speaking rubric to review the IELTS Speaking band descriptors. By looking at the category descriptions—Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation—and truthfully evaluating your current abilities, you’ll set yourself up for success.

We’ll be right there with you: in this post, we’ll highlight the most important elements of the IELTS Speaking band descriptors, describing them in understandable terms. As we move through the post, we’ll compare low-scoring responses (band scores 5-6) and higher-scoring responses (IELTS Speaking score 7 and above), and show you how to improve.

Table of Contents

Review: IELTS Speaking Rubric

If you haven’t seen the IELTS Speaking band descriptors before (or even if you have!), you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the four rubric categories: Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation. This IELTS Speaking rubric describes the official IELTS Speaking score system—it can show you the difference between a band score of 6.5 and 7, or a 7 and 8. Of course, you’ll have to use these IELTS Speaking band descriptors in the right way to guide your studying!

Ready to dive in? Great! Let’s take a look: what should you do to move from a low-scoring response to a high-scoring response in IELTS Speaking?

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IELTS Speaking Rubric Scoring Category 1: Fluency & Coherence

Fluency and Coherence are involve communicating comfortably, confidently and clearly in English. That can sound intimidating, but don’t worry: even a perfect band score of 9 doesn’t mean that the response is without its flaws.

The main thing to keep in mind regarding your fluency score is that it measures how well you can focus on the message you want to convey—rather than the language you need to express it. A speaker who pauses to remember words or consider grammatical structures can still get a perfect IELTS Speaking score, so don’t let this overwhelm you. However, repeated pauses and stumbles will cause your Fluency & Coherence score to fall.

Coherence is related to fluency, but it’s not the same thing. Instead of measuring how easily you speak, it measures how well your ideas create a logical whole. In other words, do they make sense together? Using transition words well can help your coherence score, but only if they’re the logical words used to show logical relationships between ideas. What this means for your score is that jumping around from one point to the next will keep you at a lower band score in IELTS Speaking.

What does this look (or rather sound) like in practice? Take a look! Magoosh’s guide to Fluency and Coherency in IELTS Speaking tells you everything you need to know to assess yourself in this aspect of the Speaking rubric. And right below, I’ve got some additional tips and tricks for you.

Tips for Improvement in Fluency

  • Improve your vocabulary by studying every day. Create flashcards of the words you don’t know and time yourself as you use them to make your recall of vocabulary words faster. Make sure, when you read, that you cover a wide variety of topics so you are prepared for a variety of topics during your exam.
     
  • Speak regularly in front of an audience—even if it’s only to yourself in front of a mirror. In some ways, fluency is like exercise. You can’t prepare for a marathon by thinking about training—you have to run. Daily practice responding to speaking questions, even if only to yourself, can make a big difference in your fluency score. Here is a list of questions to help you practice.
     
  • Record yourself as you practice speaking. Then, take time to listen to and analyze your responses. Stop the recording at places where you had to slow down or repeat yourself. Analyze what happened. What caused the disruption? Did you have trouble remembering a point of grammar, a particular word, or was the issue something else entirely? Try to figure out how you could have responded more fluently in your response and make a list of bullet points to improve your responses. Then, re-record yourself responding to the same prompt as you incorporate the points you noted.
     
  • Add transition words/phrases to your repertoire. By not repeating the same connecting words, you’ll make your response more coherent; the more you practice with different connecting words, the greater you fluency will become. If you’re not sure where to look, this is a helpful resource for transitions.
     
  • Coherent speaking responses use “referents” to connect ideas. A referent is a word that refers back to another. For example, you might say, “I get along well with Jim. I find that he has a lot to say about politics.” Notice that this sounds more fluent than “I get along well with Jim. I find that Jim has a lot to say about politics.” If you find that you’re repeating words a lot in your responses, that’s a sign that you should work on using referents. Mastering pronouns can help you with this; start your study here.

    What does this look like in practice? Here’s another example, incorporating two referents this time.

    • Low-scoring for fluency and coherence: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. Adam often forgets to wash his dishes.
    • High-scoring for fluency and coherence: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. This is common for him.

     

  • Practice organizing lengthy responses. If you struggle when giving lengthy responses, take your time when you practice. Take a few minutes to plan before you speak. This is a great way to practice for Part 2 and Part 3 questions (although over time, you should practice in a more realistic way. Remember, you have 1 minute to plan part 2 monologue responses, and no time to prepare for Part 3 interview responses). Plan your lengthy responses similarly to how you write body paragraphs for an essay.

    What might this look like?

    • Make a point.
    • Provide details (reasons, examples, illustrations, etc.)
    • Make a second point.
    • Provide details that support your second point!

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IELTS Speaking Rubric Scoring Category 2: Lexical Resource

This scoring category measures vocabulary, and your ability to use words with accurate meaning in appropriate context. As we’ve already seen, IELTS Speaking rewards test-takers with large vocabularies indirectly in Fluency & Coherence—but it rewards them directly in Lexical Resource. To learn more, read our tips and tricks immediately below, and check out our complete guide to IELTS Speaking Lexical Resource.

Tips for Improving in Lexical Resource

  • Seek variety in your practice. You may be asked to discuss your opinions about a social topic, education, raising children, the environment, or a wide variety of other issues. You should be studying varied reading and listening materials as you learn vocabulary.
     
  • Respond, out loud, to as many Part 2 and Part 3 practice questions as you can.
     
  • Practice paraphrasing IELTS questions! By paraphrasing, you’ll use related words that aren’t repeated from the prompt. Take extra time to write out paraphrases to sample interview questions (like in the example above) as a grammar and vocabulary development exercise.
     
  • Idioms and collocations are also an important part of Lexical Resource. This is one aspect in which there are few shortcuts. Knowledge of idioms and collocations naturally develops through consistent exposure and frequent communication in a target language. So keep going!
     
  • Spend time studying useful resource lists and attempt to use what you learn as you practice speaking:

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IELTS Speaking Rubric Scoring Category 3: Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Yes, your grammar will also be assessed on the Speaking exam. Keep in mind that your grammatical score range is not simply based on your avoidance of grammatical mistakes. It’s true that limiting errors is important. On the other hand, you can only reach a very high Speaking band score if you can also demonstrate that you have mastered complex sentence structures, verb tenses, and other advanced grammatical features.

In addition to Magoosh’s guide to Grammatical Range and Accuracy for IELTS Speaking, here are some tips for scoring well in this component of the Speaking rubric:

Tips for Improvement in Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Study and review grammar as you prepare for the exam! Here are some resources I recommend.
  • If you have grammar problems, consider signing up for a class or working with a tutor if that is an option, or seek other support. A tutor can be the best way to discover and fix your grammar problems. If that is not an option, you’ll have to find ways to identify your own errors when you speak. Here’s what I suggest:
     

    • Record your responses.
       
    • It is likely, even without the help of a native speaker or teacher, that you will be able to identify grammar mistakes you make. For example, you probably learned very early that in the simple present tense, subject/verb agreement requires you to add an “s” to the end of a verb. However, even though you may know this rule very well, it is still one of the most common mistakes students make (even very advanced English students)!
       
    • The biggest issue, in this case, is not finding the mistakes…it’s about finding them and then correcting them. It’s likely you will be able to catch many other similar mistakes when you listen to recordings of yourself. If you can limit these kinds of errors, especially if they show a pattern of errors, you can boost your grammatical range and accuracy score.
       
    • So you’ve found a mistake you make consistently. What can you do about it?
      • Identify it: What is the mistake and what is the rule that’s giving you trouble?
      • Practice it: Find some exercises in a textbook or online to practice the rule.
      • Performance: Try to incorporate what you learned/practiced in your IELTS Speaking practice responses (that you recorded).
      • Repeat!

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IELTS Speaking Rubric Scoring Category 4: Pronunciation

For most students, this is a very difficult category in which to make improvements, especially if you only have a short time to prepare before the exam. On the other hand, it can be worthwhile to focus on pronunciation if your speech is very difficult for English speakers to understand. For a deeper look at this rubric category, see our post that focuses on Pronunciation from the IELTS Speaking rubric. And read on for tips and tricks that can help you boost your pronunciation score!

Tips for Improvement in Pronunciation

  • The first step to improving your pronunciation is to be aware of pronunciation and listen for the features listed above. Then, for self-study, keep returning to the classic exercise: listen to recordings of native speakers, pausing frequently to repeat exactly what you hear, and attempting an exact copy of the pronunciation you hear.
     
  • Study pronunciation as you study vocabulary. For British English, the Cambridge English Dictionary is useful for this; for American English, turn to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.
     
  • Listen to recordings of native English speakers and attempt to mimic their speech exactly.
     
  • Ask for feedback from an English speaker if possible!
     
  • How else can you improve your pronunciation? Here are some resources to help you along the way:

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A Final Word on IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors

While leveling up even half a band score can seem impossible, it’s not—and it can make all the difference! Going from a 6.5 to IELTS Speaking score 7, for example, puts you in the high-scoring range. So while it takes lots of hard work and study, know that it is possible to level up, and that you can get the IELTS score you need, by focusing on the IELTS Speaking band descriptors, levels, and IELTS speaking score system criteria. Good luck!

P.S. Interested in improving your score for the other parts of the IELTS? See our accompanying posts on the band descriptors for Listening, Reading, and Writing.

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By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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