Paradigm Language Institute

Marks For IELTS Speaking Fluency

Friday, December 6, 2013

Van Anh, a teacher in Vietnam, asked me this question:

“In a recent article, you said that test takers might get a lower mark for fluency if they correct themselves. Can you please explain why correcting oneself risks lowering the mark for fluency? How much self-correction is acceptable in the ielts speaking test? How much is too much?”

Here’s my reply:

The term “fluency” refers to a speaker’s ability to talk readily, smoothly and effortlessly. The rate, or speed, at which the person talks is also a factor in fluency.

A person is said to be very fluent in a language if he or she can speak at a normal pace with few (or no) pauses, very little repetition and very few corrections.

Fluency in any language is important. Listeners can find it difficult to understand or follow the ideas a speaker wants to communicate if the speaker has problems with fluency. For this reason, fluency is assessed in IELTS.

Simplified IELTS Speaking Test marking scheme

To understand how self-correction affects the mark in the test, we need to look closely at the ielts speaking test marking scheme.

Here are my simplified versions of the official descriptions of the marks that specifically relate to fluency. They’re shown in increasing level of ability:

Band 2: The candidate has long pauses before most words.

Band 3: The candidate speaks with long pauses.

Band 4: The candidate cannot respond without noticeable pauses and may speak slowly, with frequent repetition and self-correction.

Band 5: The candidate can usually keep talking but uses repetition, self-correction and/or slow speech to keep

going. Alternatively, the candidate may produce simple speech fluently, but there are problems with fluency if the language is more complex.

Band 6: The candidate’s ideas may not be easy to follow or understand at times due to occasional repetition, self-correction or hesitation.

Band 7: The candidate may hesitate at times while searching for words or grammar. There may also be some repetition or self-correction.

Band 8: The candidate speaks fluently, with only occasional repetition or self-correction. Hesitation is usually used while the candidate is thinking about ideas, but the candidate rarely hesitates to search for words or grammar.

Band 9: The candidate speaks fluently, with only rare repetition or self-correction. Any hesitation that may occur only happens while the candidate is thinking about ideas (rather than words or grammar).

Fluency tips

Here’s how to get a good mark for fluency in the test:

  • Aim to speak as smoothly as you can, and at a relaxed pace. Avoid a “stop-start” or a slow style of speaking.

  • If you make a simple mistake in grammar or vocabulary, it’s best just to carry on talking (and so protect your mark for fluency).

Going back to correct the error only risks lowering your mark for fluency. At the same time, correcting the mistake won’t improve your grammar or vocabulary mark because the error has already been made.

  • If you’re not sure what the examiner has said, always quickly ask the examiner to clarify or repeat the question.

Don’t simply keep quiet, hoping you’ll be able to guess what the examiner said. Frequent or long pauses may lower your fluency mark.

  • Similarly, make sure you don’t stop talking because you can’t find a particular word.

Quickly find different words to express your idea – or even say something totally different – in order to keep going and protect your mark for fluency.

  • You’ll probably hesitate or pause briefly now and again while you think about what you’re going to say (i.e., the idea for an answer). Don’t worry about such pauses. They’re a natural part of speaking in any language, and they won’t affect your fluency mark.

Just like anyone else, the examiner can tell when you’re pausing for ideas as opposed to searching for words or grammar.

Official marking scheme

Visit to see the official public description of the ielts speaking test marking scheme.

You’ll notice that a candidate’s fluency is assessed along with coherence (the ability to link ideas and language in an understandable way).

For that reason, always use the full, official version of the marking scheme to estimate your own mark for “Fluency and Coherence.”

This article was written by David Park, a highly experienced IELTS teacher. Ajarn David teaches at Paradigm Language Institute.

If you have any questions about IELTS that you would like Ajarn David to answer,
or if you wish to do an IELTS preparation course, write to:

IELTS is owned by Cambridge ESOL, the British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia.

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