This is one of the most common questions I get asked about in IELTS.
‘Why can’t I get Band 7 in speaking?’
There are a lot of IELTS students out there stuck on a Band 5 or Band 6 in the speaking section and are frustrated. Many of you are near to giving up on hitting a Band 7. Some people get the wrong advice, poor feedback or are promised a high score by their teacher just to keep them happy. It is important to be realistic about this.
The one thing you must understand about IELTS is that it is testing your English ability. Obviously, if your English level is Pre-intermediate or Band 5 (B1 on the CEFR scale, see diagram below) then you will need to work on producing accurate grammar and develop your range of grammatical structures and specific vocabulary.
If you are realistic about getting to Band 7 you need to be at B2 on the CEFR scale below. That means you are close to an upper intermediate level of English or you are at the higher end of intermediate.
In my experience I find that candidates who make a lot of grammar mistakes and have a limited range of vocabulary tend to get stuck around Band 6. You can still get a Band 7 even if you make a few mistakes here and there, it is only when these mistakes cause trouble with overall communication and the flow of the talk.
Pronunciation is also an issue for many people, even if your grammar and vocabulary are good the examiner needs to be able to clearly understand you.
Anxiety over making mistakes will also damage your fluency as too much hesitation and self-correction can ruin your overall score.
What does the IELTS marking criteria say?
In the marking criteria for Speaking Band 7 grammar it states:
You are allowed room for errors and still get a Band 7 as it says: ‘some grammatical errors still persist’ but you need to be able to express yourself naturally with different tenses, conditional sentences, relative clauses and complex sentences. For a lesson on those take a look here.
Of course, it depends on the questions you are asked. For example, if you are asked a prediction question about the future you will need to use the future tense. eg: Do you think robots will replace teachers in the future?. In other cases you could be asked a question comparing the past with the present, then you need to use the past and present tenses. eg: How are education priorities today different from those in the past?
For the different types of questions that could come up in part 3 of the speaking exam, click here for my YouTube lesson
In the marking criteria for Speaking Band 7 vocabulary it states:
This shows that you need to be able to speak about various topics confidently and understanding collocations are important for a good score…here is a lesson on collocations
I can give you a lot of tips to help you do the right thing in the Speaking section, however, if your English level is weak then you will need to do a lot of work to get to band 7.
What about pronunciation?
Pronunciation issues will lower your score if the examiner has trouble understanding you. I have had a few students that had good grammar and vocabulary but their pronunciation caused issues for the listener and stopped them hitting band 7.
Some people believe that a British or American accent is needed to score high. You do not need a British or American accent to get a good score in IELTS speaking. Your accent is not a problem as long as the examiner can clearly understand you.
How can I fix my pronunciation?
Get feedback on your speaking and find what pronunciation issues you have first of all. It could be certain sounds like ‘th’ / ‘s’ (Bus / Bath) or combined sounds like ‘cr’ / ‘cl’ (Cloud / Crowd). Maybe you are having trouble with vowel sounds in the middle of words, or it could be flat intonation, not pronouncing consonants at the end of words, missing the ‘s’ at the end of words, connected speech issues.. and so on.
If you are studying at home I recommend the book ‘Ship or Sheep’ for pronunciation practice, you can get it online at Amazon.
Here are some strategies to getting a Band 7 in IELTS Speaking.
Start with finding out your weak areas. To do this you may need feedback from a teacher.
- Is your grammar the main issue or is it vocabulary? or both?
- What exactly is the issue with your grammar and vocabulary?
- Work on fixing your weak areas, if you have trouble with articles, plurals, subject verb agreement, prepositions, infinitives, gerunds and so on, then learn the rules. You can find resources online or get a good grammar book.
- if you have a limited range of grammar and vocabulary, you will need to learn how to express yourself with past tenses, present tenses, conditionals, relative clauses, phrasal verbs, collocations and so on.
- Be very careful with idioms, you have to know exactly when to use them in the right context, if they seem memorised you will lose marks. My advice is to learn collocations and phrasal verbs instead.
- Here is a link to online exercises to help you develop your grammar.
- Here is a very useful link to develop your understanding of collocations.
- If you want to study specific IELTS vocabulary check out this app here
- Make sure to work on your pronunciation too, find any weak areas and take steps to improve them, get feedback on your pronunciation if you can.
- Having an accent is fine as long as it does not interfere with overall pronunciation, work on sentence stress, intonation, linked sounds, pronouncing individual sounds, vowels sounds in the middle of words.
- How much time do you have to practice every day? find at least 1 hour per day to practice.
I don’t advise using idioms in IELTS, as many students don’t know how to use them accurately. If you are an advanced English speaker (CEFR C1 and C2) then you should know how to use them well.
5 steps to practicing for free
Get your smartphone with a recording app (there are free voice recording apps in the App store)
Find a speaking test or part 2 cue cards for practice. (get 21 part 2 cue cards here)
Record yourself speaking as if in the exam (make sure you speak for 2 minutes in part 2)
Playback the recording making notes on weak areas such as grammar, pronunciation etc..
Find a study partner with a good level of English who can give you feedback.
Can I just keep it simple?
Yes, but the examiner is evaluating your vocabulary, grammar range and accuracy. If you have fundamental problems with grammar you will also lose confidence and end up hesitating and self-correcting. That will cause you to lose marks in fluency.
Band 5 to Band 8 example interviews.
Take a look at these candidates interviews with the examiner.
Example of a Band 5.5 in speaking:
Example of a Band 6 in speaking:
Example of a Band 7 in speaking:
Example of a Band 8.5 in speaking
Don’t do the IELTS exam again until you fix your weak points.
Many IELTS candidates fall into the trap of doing the exam over and over again hoping to get a higher score. If you have not addressed your weak points in all areas (writing, speaking, reading, listening) then you will not make any clear progress.
Make a list of the top 10 weak points and focus on fixing each one at a time. For example, if you have problems with pronunciation, find out what sounds are causing you trouble and fix it before you move onto the next weak area. Don’t try to sort out all your weakness in one week, it takes time.