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IELTS Speaking Section: Structure & Scoring

Instructor: Bill Sands
The Speaking section of the IELTS measures a candidate's oral mastery of the English language. Learn more about how this portion of the exam is structured and graded by examiners.

IELTS Speaking Overview

The Speaking component of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) gauges a person's mastery of the spoken word. In this part of the exam, candidates will need to demonstrate their ability to speak the English language. This domain is made up of three parts.

Part 1: Introduction & Interview

The first part of the Speaking component is conducted in an interview style. The examiner will introduce him or herself to the student and then ask a few general questions. These questions are read from a script to ensure reliability. Topics can include, work, home life, interests, and family. The purpose of the interview is to ensure that candidates can give opinions and answer questions about common occurrences and everyday life in the English language.

The number of questions varies from year to year, but this section should last about four or five minutes.

Part 2: Long Turn

In this section, candidates will be given a card that explains information on a particular topic. The card includes important talking points and commands the candidate to discuss an aspect of the topic on the card. Students in this section will be graded based on their ability to discuss a particular idea at length. Special attention should be given to organization and coherence of ideas.

The total time for this section is between three and four minutes. Candidates will have one minute to prepare a response and then must speak for one-two minutes about the topic.

Part 3: Discussion

If the first section can be likened to an interview, this part of the Speaking assessment can be classified as a conversation.

This section is the least clearly defined, as the content is mostly defined by the interactions between the examiner and candidate. Building off of the topic discussed in Part 2, the examiner and candidate spend Part 3 discussing and debating more abstract ideas. In this section, students are assessed on their ability to express opinions and develop arguments.

This portion of the exam last four or five minutes. The number of questions is entirely dependent on the discussion.

Scoring the Speaking Section

The IELTS Speaking section is graded using four domains, which are as follows:

  • Fluency and coherence: This criteria refers to a candidate's ability to speak at a normal and continuous pace. Not only should candidates be able to speak at an average rate, but they must also be able to sustain this pace over time. Sentences also need to flow logically and use devices such as pronouns and connectors in an appropriate manner.
  • Lexical resource: This domain simply refers to the range and depth of a candidate's vocabulary. Candidates might receive high marks for using a variety of words. Their ability to find their way around unknown words by using other words will also be of importance.
  • Grammatical accuracy & range: The Speaking portion emphasizes the importance of proper grammar, as students are graded on their mastery of sentence structure, subordinate clauses, and sentence length. Candidates could lose points for grammatical errors.
  • Pronunciation: Candidates are not expected to be native speakers with no accent, but their pronunciation must nevertheless be clear and easily understood. Candidates could lose points if the examiner cannot understand them or must strain to understand them.

The IELTS uses a band scoring system that uses a scale of 0-9, with a score of 9 being the highest. For the Speaking section, a student receives a band score for each of the four domains listed above, and the final score is the average of these four numbers. For example, if a student scores a 7, 8, 5, and 9 on each of the respective sections, the average of those numbers is 7.25 (7+8+5+9=29, 29 divided by 4=7.25). Scores ending in .25 or .75 are rounded up to the next band, so the student's score on the Speaking section would be 7.5.

A candidate's overall score on the entire test is calculated in the same way; the final score is the average of all four sections: Listening, Speaking, Writing, and Reading.

IELTS Preparation

If you've registered for the IELTS and need help getting ready, there are a number of online study guides that cover key topics and provide helpful study materials. This IELTS Academic Practice & Study Guide contains an extensive review of the content found on the exam, and this Grammar Resources for ELL Students course can also serve as a helpful resource.

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