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The Speaking section of the IELTS test evaluates your ability to communicate in English. During the test, an IELTS examiner will listen to your answers and award you a band score from 0 to 9. The band score you receive is based on four well-defined assessment criteria:
- Fluency and Coherence;
- Lexical Resource;
- Grammatical Range;
- and Pronunciation.
Each full or half-band score corresponds to a specific language competence level of English. View the IELTS Speaking band descriptors here. In this article, we will look at grammatical range and accuracy, which contributes 25% to your total speaking score, and what should you do to receive a high band score in this criterion.
Marking your IELTS Speaking
The IELTS Speaking test lasts for 11 to 14 minutes and includes three sections.
1. Fluency & Coherence
This criterion checks if you can speak fluently and coherently without hesitation and with limited self-correction. You would be awarded around a band 7 if you are able to speak at length effortlessly and in a logical manner. You may face some language-related moments of hesitation but overall, you are able to speak well while using cohesive devices like ‘moreover’, ‘besides’, ‘in contrast’ and various discourse markers such as ‘therefore’, ‘to begin’, etc. with some flexibility.
2. Lexical Resource
This evaluates your vocabulary. You will receive a band 7 if you use vocabulary flexibly to talk about a range of topics. You also need to use things like idioms, phrasal verbs, and less common vocabulary to answer the questions, keeping in mind the formal style and incorporating collocations. Your ability to paraphrase the question (using your own words) is also checked here.
This criterion assesses your ability to speak using a range of pronunciation features with mixed control. Pronunciation features include accuracy, word stress, sentence stress, weak sounds, linking words and intonation. You can generally be understood well, but you might mispronounce some words which affects how clear your speech is.
4. Grammatical Range & Accuracy
This criterion will assess if you know a variety of grammar structures and if you can use them correctly. Band 7 means that you can use various grammar structures with some flexibility, even if you make some consistent grammatical mistakes.
Grammatical range refers to the number of different tenses that you use in your answers. The examiner is looking for more than simple tenses, including evidence of some complex structures (like past and present conditionals). ‘Simple tenses’ for IELTS would be the tenses that are easy to master like the simple present or the present continuous.
Let’s compare the usage of simple grammar and complex grammar structures through some examples:
|Basic Grammar||Complex Grammar|
|These days everyone is on social media.||These days, people of all generations can be found active on social media, because it helps them to connect with friends and family across physical and time differences.|
|TikTok is popular with many people these days.||TikTok has become increasingly popular over the past several years.|
|If students have part-time jobs, they can earn money. Then, they can use this money to buy school supplies and uniforms.||By having a part-time job, a student can be self-sufficient and can purchase not only school supplies but also a uniform.|
|If people exercise every day, they will have good physical and mental health.||By exercising daily, people have the potential to stay fit both physically and mentally.|
|If English language learners watched TED talks on the internet, they would expand their knowledge. As a result, they would be more intelligent.||Were English language learners to watch TED talks on YouTube, they would be able to expand their content knowledge, thus becoming more intelligent.|
You can clearly see the complex grammar structures contain several bits of information appropriately combined together in one long sentence. This is exactly the ability you need to demonstrate to achieve a score for Grammatical Range. Your flexibility in switching from one tense to the other while communicating can also help you get a higher band score.
You must be able to understand advanced structures of grammar and use them correctly to score well in this criterion. Errors happen when you do not know how to use a grammatical concept. However, you can still score well if you make small “slips” (mistakes) that are unintended because these can happen in a natural conversation even though you are aware of the correct grammatical structure.
Slips are small one-time mistakes that may happen due to carelessness, or simply a slip of the tongue. On the other hand, consistent errors that you repeat throughout your test would negatively impact your speaking score.
Tips to improve grammatical range and accuracy
You do not have to be perfect and absolutely correct while using English and grammar. However, control is important. You should understand and use complex grammar for the test in order to achieve band 6.5 or higher.
Here is a list of the complex structures that can be learned and mastered to boost your Grammatical Range and Accuracy score effectively.
Tip 1: Use the present continuous
Use the present continuous for near-future plans.
- I am thinking about spending a year in the U.K.
Tip 2: Use the present perfect
Use the present perfect to talk about wishes.
- I’ve always wanted to learn how to swim.
- I’ve never been to Paris, but it’s somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going to.
Tip 3: User the past continuous + used to
Use the past continuous with “used to” to talk about the past.
- When I was growing up, I used to love sweets but not anymore.
- When I was studying at the university, I used to work part-time.
Tip 4: User the present perfect continuous
Use the present perfect continuous in Part 1 of the Speaking test.
- I have been living in this city for the last 3 years.
- I have been playing the guitar for seven years now and I think I am quite good at it.
Tip 5: Use the past simple + past perfect
Tip 6: Use the future perfect
Use the future perfect to describe a finished action but in the future.
- I hope by the time I’m forty-five, I will have retired.
Tip 7: Use the second conditional
Use the second conditional to answer hypothetical questions.
- If I could visit any place, it would be my hometown.
- If I had more time, I would learn how to ski.
Tip 8: Use the third conditional
Use the third conditional for an imagined situation in the past.
- If I knew how difficult it is to live alone, I would have never fought with my parents.
- If I had worked harder in school, I would have got a higher percentage.
Tip 9: Use co-ordinating conjunctions
Use coordinating conjunctions like ‘for’, ‘and’, ‘nor’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘so’, and ‘yet’ to join two parts of a sentence or separate phrases within a sentence.
- The weather was wet and cold, yet we enjoyed it very much.
Tip 10: Use subordinating conjunctions
Use subordinating conjunctions to join a dependent clause to a main or independent clause.
- Parents often get busy browsing their phones (independent clause), rather than (subordinating conjunction) conversing and playing with their children (dependent clause).
Tip 11: Begin the sentence with a prepositional phrase
- Since the beginning of this year, I have been saving to go on a holiday trip with my friends.
Tip 12: Use relative pronouns
Use relative pronouns to link subordinate clauses like who, whom, which, whoever, whomever, whichever, and that in your sentences.
- IELTS test takers who often read test preparation blogs have a deeper understanding of the test.
In order to become more accurate, you need to take care of the errors that you may have in the way you use English grammar. You should record your answers when you practice and listen back for grammatical errors. Tackle them one by one through learning with a friend or taking up an IELTS preparation class. Mistakes also can negatively affect your accuracy. Understand your mistakes in the use of articles, plurals, uncountable nouns, subject-verb agreement, verb tenses and prepositions and work on them.
What you can do best is to prepare yourself to use the correct grammar structure in the various parts of the speaking test so that your chances of making a mistake are reduced. For example- Part 1and 2 usually require past tense, not always but use it wherever required. Learn the past tense forms of some regular and irregular verbs to be more accurate. In part 3, use ‘will/going to/I hope to’ to talk about future possibilities.
Though we’ve been talking much about the need of having a variety of grammatical structures and their accurate use, you do not have to panic. Remember, not all sentences need to be complex. You do not need to compromise your accuracy for the sake of introducing a variety of sentences. Get over your nervousness and communicate confidently. Practice with a friend and reduce systematic errors. Invest some time in learning new grammatical patterns. Record your answers while practising and listen for mistakes like subject-verb agreement, use of articles, etc and try not to repeat them.
It’s essential to work hard for your Grammatical Range and Accuracy score as it contributes to 25% of your IELTS Speaking score. You need to be accurate in your grammar use and demonstrate your skills by using a wide variety of structures.
Focus on learning and mastering various kinds of grammatical patterns that can be useful in communicating. Prepare under timed test conditions so that you get a good idea of test pressure and test timing.
Want to know more about the IELTS Speaking test? Click here to read my other blog article – IELTS Speaking Test Overview (Tips, examples and what NOT to do!)
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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