The IELTS speaking test consists of 3 parts and lasts for around 11 – 13 minutes. The format if the test is the same in Singapore as it is for the rest of the world. During this time you will have a face to face interview with the examiner. The reason why many students fail to score well is that they simply have no idea about what language skills the examiner is listening out for. In this article, we will take a look at the different criteria on which you are assessed on during each part of the speaking test and give you tips on the ways in which you can maximize your band score in these particular areas.
There are four criteria on which your scores are calculated:
Each of these makes up 25% of your overall score and are of equal importance during the speaking test.
The examiner will be listening out for your ability to use a wide range of vocabulary flexibly when you answer questions. To score well, you must learn topic-specific vocabulary for the common topics that appear in the speaking test. In order to score above a band 7, you also need to use idiomatic expressions and collocations comfortably.
An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is conventionally understood by native speakers. Their meanings are different from the literal meaning of the idiom’s individual words. Example, it’s a piece of cake or don’t jump the gun.
The use of idioms during your speaking test can help you to sound more like a native speaker, but be careful, if you use them incorrectly, they may actually lower your score!
A collocation is just a common grouping of words that native English speakers use. There is no real reason behind these groupings. A good example of this is the phrase ‘ fast food’. We wouldn’t say ‘quick food’ even though the words quick and fast mean exactly the same thing. Some other common collocations include ‘heavy rain, strong coffee’ etc.
How can you improve your vocabulary?
When you learn new words, make sure that they are common topic-related words. You should also choose words that can be used in lots of different situations. Source words through active reading and listening instead of just going through lists of words. Doing this will give you a better understanding of how a word should be used. Try and work out what they mean from the context. Practice using them repeatedly until you can use them in a natural way. Record new words and phrases in a way that’s easy for revision. Make sure that you jot down a few sentences that include the word or phrase to show its meaning and in what situation you could use it. Remember to practice its pronunciation as well.
Fluency And Coherence
Fluency in a language means speaking easily and reasonably quickly, without having to stop and pause a lot. The more English you speak, the easier it will become to speak fluently.
Fluency makes up 25% of the overall speaking score, therefore it’s important to focus on it. Poor fluency is often caused by the fear of making mistakes. This leads to the speaker pausing and hesitating far too much or speaking too slowly as they try to get their grammar and vocabulary perfect. It’s important to practice daily in order to overcome this fear!
Coherence is simply a measure of how understandable you are. To score well in this area, you should also make sure that your ideas flow well and the relationships between them are clear. This can be accomplished by using effective grammatical linking words that leads to one’s speech being more connected and logical. The criteria of Fluency and Cohesion for BAND 7 indicates that the candidate should use a range of connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility.
Connectives are words or phrases that connect and relate sentences and paragraphs. They help to build the logical flow of ideas, as they signal the relationship between sentences and paragraphs.
- Also, as well as,
- Similarly, as, in the same way
- Even though, despite, yet
Discourse markers are words or phrases that we use to manage what we say or write or to express attitude. They are also quite helpful in building a well-organized answer and orienting your listener as you speak. Some discourse markers are used to start and to end conversations. Some are used to start new topics or to change topics.
- Actually, I have to say
- I must admit
- Right so anyway,
This is an important criterion in the IELTS test, but it is also difficult for examiners to grade. In order to score well in this area, candidates need to use a wide range of pronunciation features and be easily understood.
Many students misguidedly assume that they have to change their accents in order to score well, but this is simply not the case. As long as your accent does not hinder the examiner’s understanding of what you are trying to say, there is no need to change your accent.
Moving on to pronunciation features, these include a wide range of features, but I will only discuss the most important ones.
- Word Stress
- Sentence stress
Intonation is defined as the way the voice rises and falls. It can be best described as a combination of rises and falls in connected speech makes it pleasant, melodic and easy to follow. Basically, whether your voice goes up and down in the right places, for example when you’re asking a question. Is used to convey the speaker’s mood, to support meaning or to indicate new information.
Word Stress means putting emphasis on the correct syllables e.g. COMFortable, VEGetable.
All words with more than two syllables have at least one stressed syllable e.g. ADvert or adVENTure. This makes the other syllables weak/unstressed. Many second language English speakers put stress on all the sounds in a word, but that’s not how native English speakers talk.
Sentence stress is used to indicate importance by placing more emphasis on one word in a sentence. e.g. WHY is that one important? vs Why is THAT one important?
We put emphasis on the keywords and put less emphasis on ‘grammar’ words for example, ‘I want to go’ becomes ‘I wanna go’ We say the weaker sounds more quickly and sometimes we lose the unstressed sounds altogether. Using the correct sentence stress helps you to sound interesting and engaging.
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
In order to score well in this area, you need to show the examiner that you can use complex sentences and different tenses in a flexible and comfortable manner. This is very similar to the type of structures that you are expected to use during the IELTS writing task. Your speech should not seem forced in any way. It is also important to limit the number of errors you make as this will affect your grammatical accuracy.