A Breakdown of the Scoring Rubric for IELTS Speaking 

 March 30, 2024

By  Jonathan

Understanding how your performance is assessed in the IELTS Speaking test empowers you to make targeted improvements in your preparation and achieve your desired band score. The IELTS Speaking test uses a standardized rubric with four key criteria. Let’s break down each area and explore how to excel.

1. Fluency and Coherence

  • Fluency: This refers to how easily and smoothly you speak, without excessive hesitation, unnatural pauses, or struggle to find words.
  • Coherence: This focuses on the logical flow of your ideas, your ability to organize your speech, and use transitional words and phrases effectively.
  • How to Improve:
    • Practice speaking aloud on various topics regularly, focusing on natural pacing.
    • Record yourself and listen for areas where you hesitate excessively.
    • Learn and practice common linking words (e.g., “however”, “therefore”, “for example”) to connect your ideas smoothly.

2. Lexical Resource

  • Vocabulary Range: This assesses the variety of words you use and your ability to select precise and appropriate terms for the topic.
  • Idiomatic Language & Collocations: This refers to your ability to use natural-sounding phrases and word combinations like native speakers do.
  • How to Improve:
    • Build topic-specific vocabulary lists through reading and listening to reliable sources.
    • Dedicate time to learning synonyms to avoid over-repetition of words.
    • Study collocations (words that naturally go together) through online resources or phrasebooks.

3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Variety of Structures: This looks at your ability to use a mix of simple, complex, and compound sentences, demonstrating flexibility in your grammar.
  • Accuracy: This focuses on the correct use of tenses, verb forms, subject-verb agreement, articles, and prepositions.
  • How to Improve:
    • Review common grammar rules and focus on areas where you make frequent errors.
    • Practice writing and have a native speaker or qualified instructor check your grammar.
    • Don’t aim for perfection – minor errors are expected, but avoid consistent patterns of mistakes.

4. Pronunciation

  • Clear Individual Sounds: This refers to correct articulation of vowel and consonant sounds in English.
  • Word Stress and Intonation: This focuses on stressing the correct syllables within words and using natural rising and falling intonation patterns in sentences for meaning and emphasis.
  • How to Improve:
    • Use online pronunciation dictionaries to listen to individual words and practice mimicking them.
    • Learn the rules of word stress in English (many resources for this are available online).
    • Record yourself speaking and compare your intonation to that of native speakers.

Important Considerations

  • Balance across Criteria: High scores require excelling in all four areas; having great fluency but limited vocabulary will hold back your overall score.
  • Task Fulfillment: Each part of the test has specific requirements. Make sure you fully answer the questions asked and address all aspects of the Part 2 task card.
  • Naturalness & Confidence: Aim to sound natural and avoid overly rehearsed responses that make your speech stilted. A confident demeanor enhances your communication.

Examiner Assessment

IELTS examiners are trained to use the rubric consistently. They assign a score from 1 to 9 (in half-band increments) for each of the four criteria. These scores are then averaged to produce your overall IELTS Speaking Band Score.

Practice with the Rubric in Mind

  • Self-Evaluation: Find the official IELTS Speaking rubric online. Record yourself speaking and assess your performance, noting areas for improvement.
  • Speaking Partner Feedback: Practice with a partner and provide feedback to each other based on the four scoring criteria.
  • Professional Instructor: An experienced instructor can provide targeted feedback and guidance aligned with the official rubric.

Sample Rubric Descriptors

To get a better sense of the scoring distinctions, search online for “IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors.” These give detailed examples of the type of performance expected at each band level.

Additional Resources

The official IELTS website offers sample responses and examiner comments for deeper understanding of the scoring process.

Remember: The Speaking test is one component of your overall IELTS score. Understanding the assessment criteria is a powerful tool to direct your preparation efforts and make strategic improvements aimed at securing your target band score.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.