Why am I stuck at Band 6 in Speaking?

ielts focusThis 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 getting 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.


ielts focus

Source: ielts.org


I find that candidates who make a lot of grammar mistakes and have 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.

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:

ielts speaking grammar

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:  

ielts vocabulary

This shows that you need to be able to speak about various topics confidently and understanding collocations is 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.


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, pitch and pronouncing individual sounds.
  • How much time do you have to practice everyday? 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

  1. Get your smartphone with a recording app (there are free voice recording apps in the App store)

  2. Find a speaking test or part 2 cue cards for practice. (get 21 part 2 cue cards here)

  3. Record yourself speaking as if in the exam (make sure you speak for 2 minutes in part 2)

  4. Playback the recording making notes on weak areas such as grammar, pronunciation etc..

  5. Find a study partner with a good level of English who can give you feedback.


Can I just keep it simple?

Yes, you can approach the IELTS speaking section by using simple sentences, however, the examiner is evaluating your vocabulary, grammar range and accuracy, therefore 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 6 and Band 8 examples:

Take a look at these candidates interviews with an examiner. The first person got a Band 6, the second person a Band 8.

Example of a Band 6 in speaking:

 

Example of a Band 8 in speaking:

 

Don’t do the IELTS exam again until you fix your weak points.

This might sound obvious but 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. Approach it as a step by step process, don’t try to sort out all your weakness in one week, it takes time.


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