Bahareh blog

Understanding Speaking Band Scores, Marking Criteria and the Test Format

Table of Contents

by Bahareh Bahrami

by Bahareh Bahrami

IELTS Expert & ESL Instructor


If you are new to the IELTS – or the International English Language Testing System – you may not know what a ‘band score’ is, or how to achieve a high one. In this blog, we’ll talk about how the IELTS Speaking test works, what parts are involved, how to prepare, and how to achieve a high band score.

Like any test, your answers in the IELTS Speaking test are graded. The grades are known as 'bands'.

What is a Band Score?

In IELTS, band scores range from 0 to 9. The examiner who marks your test will place your answers in an appropriate band. You receive a band score for each section of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing & Speaking) and an overall band score, which is an average. Click for a description of each band.

For the Speaking test, students and immigrants usually need to score a band of 5 or higher for admission to their chosen university, or the country of their choice. 

To make it simple, if you need a Speaking band score of 5, you should be performing at the level of an intermediate English learner. If you can manage to get a speaking band score of 6 or 6.5, you are a pre-advanced or advanced student. Finally, a speaking band score of 7 and higher shows that you are a high-advanced English student. 

The IELTS Speaking test is a face-to-face interview lasting 11-14 minutes.

What Happens During IELTS Speaking?

The Format
  • The IELTS Speaking test resembles a face-to-face interview.
  • IELTS Academic and General Training Speaking tests are the same.
  • The IELTS Speaking test takes between 11 to 14 minutes.
  • There are 3 parts to the IELTS Speaking test.
Part 1 (4-5 minutes)
  • General questions and answers.
  • The examiner will ask you simple and general questions about your life.
  • Do not give short answers.
  • Common topics may include work, friends, family, sports, hobbies, travel, daily routine, and so on…

Examples: Do you like shopping: How often do you go shopping? Do you like going shopping alone or with others?

Part 2 (3-4 minutes)
  • Talk about a specific topic for 2 minutes.
  • The examiner will give you a card with the topic and points to include (see the below example).
  • You will have 1 minute to prepare your answer.
  • This may be followed by a few more questions to round off (+1 minute).

Example: Describe an advertisement you like. You should say:

  • What type of advertisement it is
  • What product it advertises
  • Where you first saw it
  • And explain why you think this advertisement is effective
Part 3 (4-5 minutes)
  • More detailed discussion; your answers should be longer and more in-depth than Part 1.
  • The examiner will ask you more questions about the topic from Part 2.

Examples: How has technology affected shopping habits today? Do you think commercials and ads are persuading people to buy products they do not need? Why or why not?

Click here for more sample questions.

Source: - A table showing the 4 marking criteria and how to achieve each band score.

How Is Speaking Marked?

In this section, find strategies to help you achieve a high band score in the IELTS Speaking test. 

You will be marked on the 4 criteria outlined below.

1. Fluency and Coherence (25%)

Fluency refers to speaking smoothly and without much hesitation, and also correcting yourself only rarely. Coherence is the connection between sentences and ideas when you use link words and link expressions (first of all, then, also, another factor is…).

2. Lexical Resource/Vocabulary (25%)

This is about the vocabulary you use. The examiner will listen to see if you can use words and expressions related to the topic. Appropriately using more advanced words may help you achieve a better score. For example, negative (rather than bad), or advantage (instead of a good point).

3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (25%)

This refers to the number of grammatically correct sentences you use in your response. Prove that you can use advanced structures, for example, relative clauses or complex sentences. In addition, try your best to avoid mistakes and correct yourself if you make one.

4. Pronunciation (25%)

Here, you should remember that we are not talking about accent, but the clear articulation of the words. If your examiner can clearly understand your response without a struggle, you have succeeded, and you will have a high band score.

There are few ways you can prepare for the IELTS Speaking test effectively.

Tips To Help You Prepare

If you are aiming for a high band score in IELTS speaking, you need to be ready to work hard.

The following tips can help you start on the right path:

Tip 1: Make a list of unfamiliar topics

To improve your vocabulary, make a list of the topics that you are not familiar with. Perhaps you don’t feel confident speaking about topics such as marketing, environment or education, for example. Then, prepare a list of advanced vocabulary for each topic. In this way, you have several ideas to talk about if the examiner asks you about them. Also, try not to repeat a word more than twice, because that will prevent you from achieving a high speaking band score.

Tip 2: Don't forget to practice grammar (even if it's boring)

Work on your grammar and make sure you are competent in using correct sentences. If you are still struggling with tenses or complex sentences, consider a General English class such as the one offered at ILAC.

This site has a lot of useful exercises that can help you recognize the areas that you still need to improve.

Tip 3: Practice sample questions

Find and practice sample questions for the 3 parts of IELTS Speaking. Then you can practice answering the sample questions yourself and judge your performance by using the marking criteria.

The best way to do this is by recording your response and listening back to it. You can also ask a friend or IELTS expert to help you.

A good, reputable school can offer qualified teachers, legitimate preparation materials and expert guidance.


The tips and techniques that we talked about here are not easy to master. Some test takers feel like they may need an expert’s help. If you choose to enroll in an IELTS preparation program or General English program, your teacher can help you:

  • find sample questions and answers that are trustworthy, so that you can become familiar with the topics;
  • correct your grammar and use of vocabulary;
  • listen to your responses and help you improve your skills for a high band score.

If you are located in Vancouver or Toronto, Canada, contact our program advisors at ILAC to talk about your English goals.

Share this post