Table of Contents
When you take the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner marks you on four criteria: Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Pronunciation. In this post, I will look at the first criterion: Fluency and Coherence.
All Marking Criteria
Before I focus our attention on Fluency and Coherence, let’s take a brief moment to see what each criterion tests.
1. Fluency & Coherence
In simple terms, you will score higher if you don’t have language-related pauses and hesitations. That means you can pause for ideas but not for words or grammar. You should also use discourse markers to connect your ideas clearly. Speaking examiners do not check for ‘Task Achievement’ like in the IELTS Writing test. However, the better your idea development, the higher your mark.
Success Tip: If you catch yourself making a mistake, do not repeat yourself to correct it. You may have lost a point in Grammatical Accuracy already. So don’t double your loss by self-correcting, as it might mean losing a point in Fluency and Coherence too.
2. Lexical Resource
This is about your vocabulary. Expand your vocabulary on topics that are common in IELTS speaking. Most IELTS vocabulary books cover these topics. You can also find topic lists online for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the Speaking test. Note that the vocabulary resources for Part 1 are different from Part 2 or 3. Learn idioms, phrasal verbs, and collocations. But be sure to use all of these resources naturally, organically and flexibly.
Success Tip: Avoid using cliché and memorized language. Examiners can immediately tell the difference between organic use language and memorized phrases. Speak from the heart. That way, you will have less stress and more chances of scoring high in your Fluency and Coherence.
You do not need to sound like a native speaker. Having an accent does not stop candidates from getting a high mark. In this criterion, the correct pronunciation of sounds and words is essential. But you should also pay attention to the clustering of sounds, the rise and fall of your tone, chunking, and other pronunciation features.
4. Grammatical Range & Accuracy
Try to get comfortable with different tenses and be sure to have a variety of accurate grammatical structures practiced. You will definitely need to switch between tenses in Part 3.
Success Tip: Do not memorize full sentences. However, learning some grammatical structures as templates might help. For example, learn a template for one of the conditional structures: If I have to choose between … and …. then I would have to say…. Be sure to fill in the blanks organically and in the interview.
Now, let’s focus on Fluency specifically. Fluency relates to fewer pauses, language-related hesitation, repetition and self-correction. Simply put, the examiners are looking to see that the candidates are “willing to speak”.
Do not let your search for fancier vocabulary or grammar bring you to a stop while speaking. The goal is to produce long turns. What does that mean? Keep talking! And do not be offended if the examiner stops you. (That is a good sign!) However, do not ramble on, either! I will explain this more in the section on Coherence.
Finally, if you catch yourself making a mistake, do not go back to correct it. This is called self-correction and will cost you. Focusing on your mistakes means that you are not fluent. So, forget about the mistakes and just keep talking. In this example, you can see a candidate who speaks with repetition, hesitation and some self-correction as a result of searching for language.
Success Tip: Record your voice as you practice. Listen for pauses, fillers such as “um”s and “em”s, repetitions, and self-corrections. This practice will increase your self-awareness of Fluency issues. As we discuss cohesive devices, you can replace your fillers with language.
Coherence relates to two key things:
- Cohesive devices and discourse markers
- Topic development
Cohesive devices and discourse markers
Cohesive devices are incredibly essential in your IELTS test preparation and refer to any word or phrase that connects ideas. To brush up on some cohesive devices, watch this video, and to take it to the next level, watch this one.
To improve your Coherence score, you should develop a flexible command of cohesive devices. You know that the questions in Part 1 are about you. So, any discourse marker that helps you establish that can help, for example: In my opinion, honestly speaking, to tell the truth, etc. You can even use slang and idioms.
While Part 1 answers are short, you may need to use one or two cohesive devices in the same sentence for Part 2. In this part, you will need to speak for 2 minutes without stopping, which means more connectors are needed. Think of your starters, mid-talk connectors, and finishers. Practice with a variety of connecting devices at home.
Success Tip: Play this game at home. Make 3 or 4 lists of different types of connectors. I suggest connectors for addition (and, moreover, also…), exception (conversely, on the other hand…), comparison (but, yet, however…), and to conclude (therefore, as a result, consequently…). Write them on small study cards and make separate piles. Every time you are practicing at home, randomly pick from a pile that you need and force yourself to use that connector in your answer.
Any answer should have a beginning, a middle and an end. So, when your examiner asks you what your favourite colour is, do not just say “yellow”. As unnatural as it is, remember that you need to show “willingness to speak”. So, follow these 4 steps:
- Never answer with just one word. Make full sentences. “My favourite colour is yellow”.
- After answering each question, explain your answer by adding more details or paraphrasing your previous statement. “I can’t really explain it, but I remember that ever since I was little, I was drawn to anything yellow”.
- Keep talking! If you can’t think of a real example, you can make up a childhood memory or a piece of news. Remember, even if it is fake, it is acceptable as long as the language is correct. The examiner is not there to fact-check you; they just want to assess your English language skills! “I remember one time I stood in front of a store full of yellow items in the window, and I was begging my mom to buy them for me. I was 6, and the store was a hardware store full of power tools! But I wanted them because they were yellow!”
- Don’t talk forever. That is very important. If you want a high mark in Coherence, you should know when to wrap it up. To finish your answer, repeat your main answer to the question again: “So, I guess when I say yellow is my favourite colour, I am not exaggerating!”
Success Tip: When you practice, try to speak for 45-60 minutes for Part 1 questions, 2 minutes for Part 2, and over a minute for each Part 3 question. For all of the questions, follow the four steps explained above.
The Fluency and Coherence criterion does not require you to learn any new language. To get a good band score in this criterion you only need to use the language that you have in a more natural and organic way. Remember! Do not repeat yourself, and do not worry about mistakes; just keep talking! And do not forget the 4 steps of topic development. Connect each step to the other using discourse markers, and you should be fine.
Want to know more about Fluency and Coherence? Read more about Fluency and Coherence tips here.
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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