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IELTS Speaking: The grammar challenge

You might be surprised to hear that grammar is one of the four criteria used to assess your IELTS Speaking test performance and that it carries 25% of the points.

Many test takers assume grammar in speaking is only about accuracy and not making any mistakes. This is only half the story. Making errors is natural, and IELTS understands this — even IELTS Speaking Band 7 expects that ‘some grammatical mistakes persist’.

IELTS Speaking: The grammar challenge

To avoid mistakes, it helps to think about the tenses you use, and ensure these tenses relate to the questions being asked. So, if the question asked is What did you do at work today?, a key word here is did, which is in the past tense. So your answer should be in the past tense too, e.g. I wrote a report.

However, grammar is also about showing a range of grammatical structures. This means going beyond simple sentences (e.g. only using the simple present), and using a variety of tenses and grammatical features.

How can you demonstrate a wider range of grammar in your speaking?

Let’s look at an example Part 2 prompt: Describe your favourite film. Think about what tenses you might be able to use, and how, in response to this prompt. Aim for variety!

You might have thought of some of these tenses:

  • Simple present – This movie is the biggest ever in my country.
  • Simple past – I first saw this when I was very young.
  • Present perfect – I’ve seen this film maybe 30 times.
  • Present continuous – At the start of the movie, a village is being terrorised by bandits.

Practice task

Practise this process with other Speaking Part 2 prompts. The prompts include points to talk about, so read these carefully as they give you an indicator of the tenses you can use in your two minute talk. Remember, you do have a minute to prepare for that section in the real test – make sure you know how to use this time effectively.
Here are two examples.

IELTS Speaking practice task

As Part 3 of the Speaking test is a broad discussion, you also have the opportunity to demonstrate a range of grammar. Depending on the specific question, you might use some of these:

  • Comparatives and superlatives (e.g. more than… less than… the most… the least…)
  • Conditionals (e.g. If I do this, then this will be the outcome…)
  • Modal verbs of speculation (e.g. might, could, will probably)

Useful grammar practice resources

To find out more about these grammatical devices, look out for the British Council’s Johnny Grammar apps, such as Word Challenge, or ClarityEnglish’s Tense Buster. There are plenty of ways to use technology to improve your vocabulary.

There is also more info on grammar in the Speaking test in this video:

As ever, practice is the key. Applying what you’ve learnt above may seem difficult and daunting at first, but with continued effort you will improve confidence and effectiveness.