What is Fluency and Coherence in IELTS Speaking?


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by John Joseph Wong

by John Joseph Wong



IELTS Speaking is the section of the test that many candidates are most afraid of. However, by understanding the IELTS Speaking marking criteria and tips to get the best possible score, success is within reach. This blog will focus on helping you score well on Fluency and Coherence – one of the four marking criteria in the IELTS Speaking test.

How is the IELTS Speaking test graded?

There are four marketing criteria for IELTS Speaking: Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation. Each criterion is worth 25% of the marks.  

While there are three parts to the IELTS Speaking lasting 11 to 14 minutes in total, the same four marking criteria are used for each part of the test. Below are some short explanations of what each IELTS Speaking criterion means: 

1. Fluency & Coherence

Fluency is the ability to speak naturally and easily without much hesitation. Coherence refers to how ideas flow in a logical, organized, and connected manner.

2. Lexical Resource

Lexical Resource is another way to say “vocabulary”. Examiners are looking for the ability to correctly use a range of vocabulary, not the most advanced, “clever-sounding” vocabulary you can think of (especially if you don’t use it correctly!)

Read our blog post about Lexical Resource tips here. 

3. Pronunciation

Pronunciation in IELTS Speaking is all about clarity speaking in a way that is easy to understand. Specifically, speaking clarity can be determined by five pronunciation features: individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, connected speech, and intonation.

4. Grammatical Range & Accuracy

Grammatical Accuracy is about the ability to use the most appropriate language within the context of the IELTS Speaking question. Do not overcomplicate grammar and focus on answering the questions in the best way possible.  That said, you’ll need to include an appropriate range of sentence structures successfully to score high on Grammatical Range.

Read our blog post about Grammatical Range and Accuracy here.

What does fluency mean?

Fluency is one of the most common challenges that candidates face when taking the IELTS Speaking test. Fluency is the ability to speak smoothly without having to pause, self-correct, or repeat yourself. Note that fluency does not mean the ability to speak quickly. Candidates will score better on fluency by speaking calmly and smoothly rather than rushing their ideas, which may result in a loss of coherence.  

A great example of fluency is the speech which competent English speakers use on the radio, TV and on the internet. Remember that the IELTS Speaking test is not testing a candidate’s subject knowledge, intelligence, or even the content of what they say. This means that the focus is on how well a candidate can communicate their own opinions, whatever they may be. There is no “right” answer to each speaking question. Also, note that sometimes making “umm”, “ahh” and “emm” sounds are part of natural speech, so try not to overthink it and worry about sounding “perfect”.  

What does coherence mean?

Coherence is the ability to communicate ideas in an organized, connected, and logical way so that ideas flow naturally. In the IELTS Speaking test, coherence does not mean that a candidate has a “correct” answer. Instead, coherence refers to the ability to talk about the general speaking topic in a structured and logical manner. Remember that the IELTS Speaking test is an English test, not a subject test, so how you communicate your ideas is more important than what you say.  

Many candidates are worried about having enough to say about a particular IELTS Speaking topic. While you will be given a cue card in parts 2 and 3 of the IELTS Speaking test, you are allowed to talk about more than the suggested points, as long as it is still about the general topic.

One way to structure your answer is like this:

  1. First, introduce and describe the topic;
  2. Next, give your opinion about the topic;
  3. Be sure to talk about the past, present, and future of the topic;
  4. Then include a personal story related to the topic.  

How can I score well in Fluency and Coherence?

Fluency and Coherence can be improved and practiced so that you get a higher score on your IELTS Speaking test. Poor fluency and coherence are often caused by high stress and a fear of making mistakes.

Points can be lost if you try to pause for too long or speak too slowly because you are trying to achieve perfect grammar and vocabulary. To improve fluency and coherence, here are some tips that you can use: 

Tip 1: Practice speaking alone out loud

If you have nobody to practice speaking with, try speaking out loud in English for a few minutes every day. Talk about something good that happened that day as well as what could have gone better. Focus on fluency rather than on creating a perfect answer. 

Tip 2: Record yourself speaking and play it back

A great way to improve your score in Fluency and Coherence is by recording yourself talking and then listening back to it. Is it clear? Do you hesitate? Where do you have room for improvement? To take it further, try some sample IELTS Speaking questions/topics and record your answers to them while taking note of time limits.

As a reminder, Part 1 is 4 to 5 minutes, Part 2 is 1 minute of preparation and 2 minutes of speaking, and Part 3 is more questions about the topic in Part 2 and lasts 4 to 5 minutes.  Find out more about the test format for IELTS.

Tip 3: Use functional expressions and discourse markers

On a practical level, here are some functional expressions and discourse markers you could use while speaking. Just remember that the purpose is not to use as many as possible, but to help you better communicate your ideas in a clear, natural, and logical way. 

To buy time: 

  • “That’s an interesting question.” 
  • “I’ve never really thought about it before, but…” 
  • “Let me think…” 

Answering the question (giving opinions): 

  • “In my opinion…” 
  • “I believe that…” 
  • “I think that…” 
  • “Personally,” 

Ordering/sequencing ideas: 

  • “Firstly…” 
  • “Secondly…” 
  • “Finally…” 

Introducing examples or adding reasons: 

  • “For example…” 
  • “In addition…” 
  • “For instance…” 
  • “Moreover…” 

Show contrast: 

  • “However…” 
  • “On one hand… On the other hand…”
Tip 4: Practice the IELTS Speaking test with a friend

While speaking with friends, in general, is good, it will be even more useful to practice the IELTS Speaking test with a friend. Have one friend role-play as the IELTS Speaking examiner and be very strict with time and professionalism, while you role-play as the IELTS Speaking candidate.

Use sample questions and record the session if possible (a video recording would be even better). This is a great way to practice for the real test.


Fluency and Coherence is one of the four important criteria for getting a great IELTS Speaking score. By understanding the importance of speaking naturally and communicating in a logical manner in accordance with what the IELTS Speaking examiners are looking for, candidates can best set themselves up for success.  

Helpful tips such as speaking alone out loud, recording yourself, using functional expressions, and doing mock tests with a friend can also help candidates feel prepared and less stressed.

In the end, remember that there are no right or wrong answers. The IELTS Speaking test is designed to test your communicative abilities in English, not your knowledge of a subject. Breathe, understand how Fluency and Coherence is tested, apply some of the tips above, and do your best on the IELTS Speaking test. 

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

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