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IELTS Speaking: What is the examiner looking for?

IELTS Speaking: What is the examiner looking for?

In IELTS Speaking Part 2, you have to talk for two minutes on a topic given to you by the examiner. It is essential that you know and understand how you will be graded before you enter the exam room.

According to the IELTS Speaking assessment criteria, your speaking will be marked on the following five points:

  • Fluency and coherence: how well your response flows and how well-connected your ideas are.
  • Lexical resource: how well you use vocabulary to express what you mean. Do you have a good range of vocabulary, and do you use words accurately?
  • Grammatical range and accuracy: how well you use English grammar, the variety of grammatical structures you use and how you use grammar to aid understanding.
  • Pronunciation: how easy it is for the examiner to understand what you are saying. Don’t forget that pronunciation is not just a matter of saying the individual sounds correctly; you have to put those sounds together in words and sentences.
  • Relevance: This is not directly on the assessment criteria but you must, of course, stick to the topic on the card.

This is not difficult to understand in theory, but are you confident you know what it means in practice?

Assess a candidate

To test your understanding of the assessment criteria, try assessing an IELTS candidate’s performance yourself. First look at this topic:

IELTS Speaking: What is the examiner looking for?

You are now going to listen to a candidate giving a short talk on this topic. As you listen, make notes on the candidate’s performance under the five headings above: fluency and coherence, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and relevance. You might want to listen to the recording more than once.

An examiner’s notes

We asked an IELTS Speaking examiner to comment on the candidate’s performance. Read on to see what he said.

Fluency and coherence
The candidate keeps going. He never has to search for a word and always has a replacement word as good as the word he needs. He gets a good mark for fluency.

Lexical resource
Reasonably accurate, but some problems, ‘put into commerce’ for ‘became available’, ‘fun’ for ‘funny’, ‘came over’ for ‘took over’, ‘hard paper’ for ‘hard copy’. But some nice idiomatic language, ‘the dear old fax machine’. Generally scores well on vocabulary.

Grammatical range and accuracy
In some areas he displays a high degree of grammatical competence, for example his use of the past perfect and ‘had to’ as the simple past of ‘must’. Tenses are generally good. Problems with relative clauses, ‘the fax machine is something that it would be soon forgotten’.

I had no problems understanding him. I can hear an accent, but it doesn’t interfere with comprehension. There was not one word that I didn’t understand, or which made me pause to think.

Fine. He keeps to the topic.

Compare the way you graded the candidate with the examiner’s findings. Most importantly, think about what the IELTS Speaking examiner was looking for and what the examiner focused on in his report. Listening to and grading another candidate helps you to understand what the IELTS Speaking examiner is looking for in all of the five areas they are assessing. Apply this knowledge to your own performance, and then practise in the areas where you are less able.

What’s next?

Let’s look at one example: the examiner thinks it is important that the candidate ‘keeps going’.

The next step is for you to practise doing the Speaking test as the candidate and grading your performance as an examiner. Find practice questions and topics online. Give yourself one minute to look at the task and make notes. Then record yourself speaking on the topic for one to two minutes. Afterwards listen to yourself and grade yourself on each of the areas covered by the examiner. Evaluate your performance.

This exercise will enable you to pinpoint your weak areas and to develop strategies to improve. If, for example, you discover that you are unable to ‘keep going’, a performance area the examiner above was looking for, then you will know that you need to spend lots of time improving your fluency. Try this exercise again and again, and record yourself. Save your recordings so that you can measure your progress.

Remember, good speakers make mistakes. But the more you can do to prepare, the better your outcome will be.


  1. IELTS says:


    this is my last year of high school. Next year i want to go and study in Germany. Which ielts is the best one for me?

    Thanks in advance

  2. Chandu says:

    The speaker was very fluent, his rate of speech was perfect. Native language was influenced, in his speech. It was difficult to understand few words.
    Vocabulary was good, words like accomplished and obsolete was an attractive part in the narration.
    Grammatically, he was continuously speaking, without giving a pause, where it has to be, that created a confusion.
    Pronunciation was also difficult to understand, as told earlier may be the person who is speaking might be a non English speaking guy.
    Relevance to the topic, was 100 percent satisfactory.

    Few errors which I observed, where the candidate could have avoided is: I think the fax machine was invented..ahh…ahhha…some while….at least (07 second of the audio)

    whether the speaker is pronouncing drones or drawings, it was not so clear, as per the topic, it has been extracted, that the word should be drawing but not drone, if I am correct.

  3. Shweta says:

    Hello, I want to study MDS from the UK, which are the universities that offer MDS with scholarships programs for students? Where should I look? Please reply.

  4. Srijah Tanna says:

    I have already attempted IELTS once but I messed up with the speaking test in cue card topics. I am going to sit for the exam this time again and I have found this blog extremely helpful for my preparation especially for speaking tests where I need guidance the most. Hoping to improve my fluency with the tips mentioned here.

    • We’re glad to hear our blog has helped you. Since you are doing your IELTS test again, it may be worth taking a look at our blog post about retaking your test here. The focus of the blog is on IELTS Reading but the principles still apply. Good luck with your test!

  5. Ashima Handa says:

    wow, amazing blog. This will help us to enhance our knowledge regarding IELTS Speaking ..from this we will get our proper knowledge regarding IELTS Speaking and this will increase our band score and we will pass IELTS with proper knowledge.

  6. Rajib Barua says:

    Thank you very much for your great efforts. I am an IELTS Trainer from Bangladesh. I am greatly benefited from your blog. I use many resources from your blog during teaching. Please keep up the best work!!

  7. Aldo says:

    Hi. I got a question about the band 7 descriptor for both writing and speaking where it says: USES A VARIETY OF COMPLEX STRUCTURES. What do those ”complex structures” refer to? To complex sentences only (as many websites say) or complex grammar forms (modals, passives, subordinate clauses, noun phrases, complex verb patterns…)?
    Thank you

  8. Aldo says:

    Hi there, I got a question about the IELTS band 6 and 7 descriptors for GRA concerning the difference. As I understand it, the structures my essay should.contain are complex sentences (that is, subordinate clauses) and I’m not expected to.show.a range of other.complex structures. If I want to get a band 7 in GRA, I need to add other complex structures (complex verb patterns, modals, passives, complex noun phrases) besides the complex sentences. Am I right?

  9. Anjali says:

    Hy there,
    Yesterday was my speaking exam the cue card was describe a time when you lost and i red describe a time when you lost something but i gave proper explanation of latter one with good vocab. Please tell what will be the impact if this on my result. Waiting for your help.

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