By Swati Tandon

23 November 2021 - 1:04pm

Have you registered for the IELTS test and are you worried that you need a high band score? Have you taken IELTS in the past but could not get the desired band score in speaking?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you are at the right place to get the best tips for the IELTS speaking test.

IELTS Overview

The IELTS test evaluates your ability in four sections: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. There are two modules to the test - Academic or General Training and you will need to choose which type of test to take based on the requirements of the body you are applying to.

The Speaking section is same for both the Academic and General Training modules. .

Getting started

First of all, it is extremely important to know how you will be assessed in your IELTS Speaking Test Another key thing to remember is the test format.

A thorough understanding of these would be your battle half won, as it will give you a fair idea of how to prepare, what to prepare for and understand the areas you need to give more time to, while practicing for the test. 

IELTS Speaking test format

The total duration of the IELTS speaking test is 11-14 minutes. The test is divided into three parts as follows:

IELTS speaking part



Part 1

4 to 5 minutes Introduction, identity check, Questions & Answers

Part 2

3 to 4 minutes 1 minute planning time for 1-2 minutes speech

Part 3

4 to 5 minutes Discussion

IELTS speaking questions

The questions in all the three sections vary to provide you opportunity to show the range of your language on a variety of topics and in varying lengths of response. 

Question types and common IELTS speaking topics

Part 1

In this part, the examiner will ask questions related to your life. This section includes familiar topics and the questions are factual in nature. You are expected to answer giving more information related to the topic. For example, give reasons for your choice and actions. Take care not to over-stretch your responses. Common topics in this section are related to: family, friends, work/study, holidays, lifestyle, habits, likes & dislikes, hobbies & interests, etc. 

Part 2

In this part, you are given a topic, or a task card, and you need to give a talk, or a monologue, for 1 to 2 minutes. Before beginning to speak, you are given one minute to plan your speech. Make sure you utilise this one minute judiciously and plan what you want to talk about. Topics in these task cards usually focus on familiar or personal areas, such as your experience of something, such as - vacation, memorable incident / event / person, meeting an ideal person, milestone life event, etc.

Part 3

In this part, the examiner will ask you questions which are more abstract in nature. These questions are thematically and broadly linked to the topic given in part 2. You are expected to respond on the basis of your knowledge and experience. Example of how the topic could be linked to task card: Task 2: Your favourite holiday destination Task 3: Why are holidays important? How can tourism help a country's economy? Etc

Make sure the length of the answers is longer than those in part 1. This is also your last chance to display the range of your language; make the most of this opportunity to give evidence of your language proficiency.

(Table adapted from: British Council Take IELTS )

IELTS speaking assessment criteria:

There are four key assessment criteria for IELTS Speaking:

  • Fluency & Coherence (FC)
  • Lexical Resource (LR)
  • Grammatical range and accuracy (GRA)
  • Pronunciation (P)

Each contributes 25% of your total IELTS speaking score.

You will be awarded bands 0-9 in full and halves. E.g. 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5… This is calculated as an average of your scores in all four assessment criteria, to the nearest score. 

For example, if you score:





Total speaking score

6 7 7 7 6.5

Your speaking score will be 6.5 as 6.75 is not full or half, and it is less than 7.

In order to understand how you are assigned/given these bands/grades for each assessment criteria, download the public version of IELTS speaking band descriptors (see below).

Band descriptors

This is one of the most important documents that you must read carefully and several times, if you are preparing for the IELTS test. The public version of band descriptors are available for both the Writing and Speaking sections of the IELTS test.  

In this blog let us look at the speaking band descriptor to understand how our performance is assessed and awarded grades. 

 IELTS speaking band descriptor

The speaking assessment and band descriptor are the same for both Academic and General Training modules of the test. The band descriptors explain how speaking skills are assessed under the four key criteria: 

  1. Fluency & Coherence, 
  2. Lexical Resource, 
  3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  4. Pronunciation. 

Each assessment criteria is explained, in detail, at every band level from 0 (lowest level) to 9 (highest level). A thorough study of each of the four assessment criteria at each level will give you clarity on how candidates are assessed in the Speaking section of the test and how band scores are assigned to candidates. Let us understand what is included in each of these categories. 

Fluency & Coherence

Fluency (F): Fluency describes the ease with which you are able to speak at length without noticeable hesitation, pauses or repetition. In order to be fluent, you should sound natural and be able to convey the right expression so that the listener can easily comprehend your message. 

Coherence (C):  This refers to the logical development of ideas; their linking within and between sentences while speaking. The examiners look for ease with which your listener can understand and follow your ideas. This is dependent on how you link your ideas with appropriate words and phrases. 

Key factors that contribute to higher scores in Fluency & Coherence are:

  • the ability to keep going and talking about the topic without much hesitation, repetition or self-correction
  • understanding the topic and producing logical ideas connected with it, while developing your points 
  • using a range of linking words and other strategies  used for presenting your ideas
  • self-correction should be done but limited in frequency
  • hesitation can be content related (looking for ideas) but language related hesitation should be minimised 
  • avoiding the repetition of certain words or phrases, often used as ‘fillers’ for fluency e.g. like, you know, etc. 

To understand more about the Fluency and Coherence criteria for IELTS Speaking , watch this video.

Lexical Resource (LR)

This refers to the range of vocabulary used by a candidate. In order to score high, it is recommended that you use a wide range of vocabulary, including less common phrases and idiomatic language, in a natural way. 

Key factors that contribute to higher scores are:

  • appropriate and natural use of uncommon words in context
  • the ability to paraphrase (saying the same thing in different words) using a range of words and expressions to avoid repetition
  • accurate use of phrasal verbs, figurative language and idiomatic expressions
  • accurate use of collocations E.g. go shopping and not do shopping
  • Making the right word choice for the right connotation E.g. slim converys a positive meaning, whereas skinny may be used negatively

To learn more about the Lexical Resource criteria, watch this video 

Grammatical range and accuracy (GRA)

This means that it is important to use a variety of grammatical structures accurately, in order to score high in IELTS Speaking. ’Playing it safe’ by producing accurate sentences but with only a limited range will not be enough to get you a high score. You may need to demonstrate you can use a good mix of various grammatical structures accurately like:

  • using a balanced combination of simple, compound and complex sentences
  • using a range of tenses including perfect, future forms and narratives
  • using  modals for different functions
  • using  referencing and connectors to link two or more ideas 
  • using subordinating and relative clauses
  • using comparative and superlative adjectives 
  • using active and passive voice appropriately 
  • using conditionals to speculate, talk about past events that cannot be changed or hypothetical (imaginary) events 

To learn more about some of these features of Grammar for IELTS Speaking, watch this video. 

Pronunciation (P)

Pronunciation is not to be  confused  with ‘accent’. At the IELTS test, you are not  expected  to speak in any particular  accent. You should rather speak in a way that you are clearly understood, without your listener having to focus on every word that you utter.  Various features of pronunciation include are:

  • correct individual sounds (phonemes)
  • strong and weak sounds in sentences
  • stress - at word and sentence level
  • intonation - to convey the right emotion
  • linking sounds and contractions for fluency
  • chunking - combination of pause and stress, for emphasis 

Watch  this video  to learn more about some of these pronunciation features for the IELTS test.


Girl speaking on a virtual call

Tips for each assessment criteria

Here are some important tips to impress at your test, for each assessment criteria:

Use this tips for improving Fluency and Coherence: 

  • Make a list of fillers / hesitation devices, including a combination of short words and longer phrases for buying more thinking time. E.g. er, em, well, actually, basically, you know, I mean,  the thing is, that’s an interesting question, the point I’m trying to make is…, how should I say…, what I mean is… etc. 
  • Make a table with range of cohesive devices for different functions - this should include signposting phrases, referencing devices, and connectors for different functions e.g First of all, most importantly, having said that, while… at the same time, on the contrary, moreover, furthermore, referencing pronouns - such as this, it, these, those, etc.
  • While practicing, keep the list of above items and table in front of you and use as many as you can.
  • Record yourself for later evaluation.
  • Listen to your recording and tick the phrases used from the table. Tick each word the number of times you hear it. This will tell you if you are repeating any cohesive device or filler. 
  • Make sure you find other words/phrases to replace the ones used repeatedly. Practice using these.
  • You can even ask someone else to notice if these have been used naturally and in a balanced way. 
  • Do not come back to the idea once shared. Sequencing ideas can also help avoid repetition.
  • Ensure every new sentence brings in new information related to the main idea expressed initially.  E.g. begin with stating your main idea - explain it in more details - give example
  • Anecdote / storytelling can be a good way to ensure development of idea/information, as you are less likely to repeat the information already shared. 

For more tips on how to improve your fluency in English, read this blog post  by my colleague on improving your fluency in English. 

Here are some ideas for expanding Lexical Resource:

  • Avoid copying the examiner’s words or language  in the task . Paraphrase (saying the same thing in different words) or use synonyms (words with the same meaning). 
  • Do not paraphrase every word unless you are sure of the meaning of the synonym. Some synonyms (contranyms) may be inappropriate in context or change the meaning. 

○E.g. our teacher overlooks (to monitor something) our progress in class / our teacher overlooks (ignores) our mistakes sometimes. 

  • Try to explain the concept if you can’t think of a word to express yourself.
  • Avoid repetition of words like nouns, verbs and adjectives. Use their synonyms, preferably more advanced ones.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines or watching sitcoms, news from native English countries are a good way of developing vocabulary for routine conversation.
  • While watching or reading, look for new words & their use in context e.g. meaning, collocation (words that commonly go together) and level of formality.
  • Make a list of words and word families for common IELTS topics. Include new vocabulary and their synonyms.
  • Group new words in relation to general everyday topics and practice using these e.g. vocabulary for talking about hobbies, daily routine, food, etc. (include phrasal verbs, idioms as well) 

For more tips on how to improve your English vocabulary, read this blog on improving your vocabulary in English.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy:

  • Focus on the range of language . Do not waste time thinking out of box ideas. You can present the simplest of ideas using a variety of grammatical structures. E.g. 

○I am taking IELTS to study abroad vs
○I have decided to take the IELTS exam as I want to  study in an English speaking country.  

  • Accurate use of complex sentences (i.e. combination of more than one  clause/information about the subject) increases your chances of getting higher scores. e.g. 

○It was in January 2021 that I decided to take the IELTS as I realised this is the most trusted exam to give evidence of your language proficiency, if you plan to move to a native English country. 

  • Take tense clues from the question and respond in the same tense. e.g. 

○What did you like doing the most when you were in school? (past - did, were in school)
○Are things likely to change in the next ten years? (future - ‘likely to’ for speculation, next 10 years)

  • Correct yourself when you realise you have made a mistake. Remember, errors and band scores are inversely proportional i.e. fewer the errors higher the band score and vice versa.
  • Record yourself while practicing. Notice if errors affect understanding as these can bring your score down. 
  • Refer to a good resource and revise key grammar areas in which people mostly make mistakes such as:

○Use / non-use of articles
○Modals for different functions
○Word order in sentences

For more tips on improving your grammar, read this blog on improving grammar in English .


  • Most importantly, relax! Do not rush - this helps display features of pronunciation clearly.
  • Make sure you sound natural. Do not try to speak in a different accent. 
  • Practice and apply intonation in your speech. This refers to the rise and fall in your tone. Speaking in a ‘monotone’, without any expression, makes it difficult for your listener to understand your ideas. 
  • Refer to a standard dictionary like Cambridge / Oxford / Longman /Macmillan to find the correct sound of individual words; and how the sound changes for different word forms and in word families.
  • Be careful to apply correct ‘word stress’. This is especially important in case of homographs (words with same spelling but different sound and meaning or form). Incorrect word stress can change the meaning and affect understanding.  e.g. CONtent/conTENt (noun/verb)
  • Apply ‘sentence stress’ to focus on the content word / key message of the sentence. E.g. I am ready for the IELTS exam (not sure about others), I am ready for the IELTS exam (all set to take the exam), I am ready for the IELTS exam (only for IELTS)
  • Chunking is extremely important as it breaks sentences into chunks of information for better clarity. It indicates the beginning and end of a sentence. Record and listen to check if you are chunking the right way.
  • Watch TV / listen to Radio with standard English model. This is the most effective way to learn accurate pronunciation.

For more tips on how to improve your English pronunciation skills, read this blog  on improving your pronunciation in English.

Some final IELTS speaking tips:

Now that you are familiar with the format and assessment criteria, let us look at some important tips while preparing for the IELTS test. 

1.Using band descriptors 

  • Download the public version of the band descriptors. Keep these in easy reach to read carefully and several times. 
  • Highlight key criteria that help you get a higher band score for each assessment criteria.
  • Record and assess your performance against each criteria of the band descriptor. Your scores may vary for each assessment criteria. 
  • To target a particular band score, make sure you fulfil all the features of that band. If you display even one feature of a lower band score, consider yourself at that band  and target to overcome / rise above that. 

2. Tips to follow while practicing:

  • Begin with rehearsing each part independently and gradually progress towards practising the entire test in one go. 
  • Time yourself for each part and the full test.
  • Recollect and adhere to the format and duration of each part.
  • Record and evaluate your performance to notice progress and focus on areas that still impact your scores.
  • Practice with another friend / colleague, appearing for the test; exchange feedback and useful tips.

3. Tips for the day of test

  • Sleep well the night before and reach the venue at least half an hour before the reporting time. 
  • Stay calm and speak like a conversation with a stranger.
  • Do not give one word  sentence answers. Expand on your points sufficiently to show you can speak at length. 
  • Expand your answers by giving reason for every idea or argument  e.g. Q: Which season do you like the most? A: state the season, give reason for your preference, talk about any memory linked to it etc.
  • If you are unsure or haven’t understood, paraphrase the question or ask the examiner to repeat it. 


IELTS is not the test of your knowledge but of your language! Therefore, focus more on constructing sentences in a range of structures, using a variety of vocabulary and displaying various features of pronunciation. With the tips given in this blog, you will be able to aim for higher scores in your IELTS speaking test.  Wish you all the best!

Sign up for a live demo session for our online English courses