A Detailed Description of the Band Scores

In this table, the candidate is called "she", instead of "he or she".

IELTS Speaking is assessed by four things: 

1.Fluency and coherence (& cohesion)


3.Grammatical range and accuracy



Description of the IELTS Speaking Test Band Levels

More than once a high school kid in my class has said that he (usually it's a boy) hopes to get a Band 7 for Speaking. In reality, he is usually at the Band 5.0 or 5.5 level and would need more than one year of full-time, serious study and practice to move up to Band 7.0. The average Chinese English teacher speaks at the Band 7.0 level. Obviously, a lot of people don't know what the Band levels are really like. This page will give you a better understand of the Band levels.

The page is divided into 6 main areas. By progressing from Number 1 to Number 5, you will be able to get quite an accurate idea of what the Band scores for the Speaking test really mean.

At Number 5, A More Detailed Description of the Speaking Band Descriptors, I more completely describe, with some examples, what each Band level represents.

  1. The Average Scores of IELTS Candidates in China in 2007
  2. The General Description of the Band levels (Written by the IELTS people)
  3. My Description of the Band levels of People in China
  4. The Speaking Band Descriptors  (Written by the IELTS people)
  5. A More Practical Description Of the Speaking Band Descriptors (Written by me) you can see HERE
  6. Some Example Video of the IELTS Speaking Test


 1. The Average Scores of IELTS Candidates in China in 2007

The table below shows some statistics from 2007.

The average Speaking test score in China in 2007 was 5.26 (Academic) and 5.74 (General Training).


A Detailed Description of the Band Scores of IELTS

written by the IELTS examiner

See the Notes for this page.


In this table, the candidate is called "she", instead of "he or she".


  Notes for the Detailed Band Score Descriptors

written by the IELTS examiner

  • I have taken the public version of the Band Descriptors, as well as the version that examiners are given, and added my personal interpretations of what these descriptors mean. (The public version is about 95% the same as the examiners' version.) I have also used the knowledge that I gained from the examiner training, which mostly consisted of studying representative examples of different Band levels in tape recordings and/or videos.
  • Most current or former examiners would agree with most of what I have written for this detailed description of the band descriptors but there might be some specific points where we disagree slightly. For example, there might be some disagreement on the specific grammar points that I have listed for Band 5 and Band 6, which are mostly my personal interpretation of what these two Bands represent. As well as that, there might be slight disagreement about the numbers I use for the number of grammar errors. However, when the different points or items are averaged out, most examiners would agree with my descriptions here.

       Notes for Coherence

  • "Coherence" refers to the degree of understandability of several ideas that are presented together; "cohesion" refers to the linkage of the ideas. For long or detailed utterances, cohesion is one of the most important ways to achieve good coherence.
  • For Coherence, the examiner is not allowed to give a sub-score of 6 or more if the candidate does not show knowledge of a range of connective words and phrases (to show connection between sentences or ideas, and usually placed at the beginning of sentences).
  • For the "Fluency and Coherence" sub-score, the examiner needs to assess a sub-score for each of Fluency and Coherence. If the two sub-scores are different, the lower of the two scores is the final sub-score. For example, sometimes a candidate gets 5 for the Fluency and Coherence sub-score even when he or she is as fluent as a Band 6 or even a Band 7 candidate. She usually fails to qualify for a 6 for this sub-score because she does not show a wide enough knowledge of connective phrases.

IELTS Speaking Test Grading Criteria



Examiners look at five different things in order to determine a candidate's score:

1.     Pronunciation

2.     Grammar

3.     Vocabulary

4.     Fluency and Coherence

  • Notice that Fluency and Coherence are grouped together although they are different things. Each of these four carries equal value. The examiner gives you a whole-number sub-score for each of these and then calculates the average of the four.
  • Both whole number and half band scores, such as 6.5 are given for the Speaking test. 
  • No separate score is given for each of the three Parts of the test. When I was an examiner, I wrote the four sub-scores on a piece of paper at some time during Part 1 and these four scores were changed up or down as the test progressed.
  • If the average score is not a whole number or a 0.5 number, for example, 5.5, the examiner goes down to the next whole number or 0.5 number. 

Example 1







Fluency & Coherence


Average = 19/4 = 4.75 

                = Band 4.5

Example 2 







Fluency & Coherence


Average = 22/4 = 5.5 

             =  Band 5.5

Example 3 







Fluency & Coherence


Average = 29/4 = 7.25 

                = Band 7.0

  • In China, about 50% of all candidates get a 5.0 or 5.5 for Speaking. In 2007, the average score for the Speaking test in China was 5.26 for Academic candidates and 5.74 for General Training candidates. (See HERE for the report.)
  • See here for the IELTS Speaking band descriptors (public version). This page gives a description of what the examiner is looking for in order to make a judgment on your Band level. Note that the Pronunciation criteria have been changed but it is not public knowledge what the new criteria are.



IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors (Public Version)

Note: The grading criteria for Pronunciation were changed in August 2008 but there is no public information available about the details of these changes. See here for my guesses on the new criteria for pronunciation.




Fluency and coherence

Lexical resource

Grammatical range and accuracy

Pronunciation (now changed)



  • speaks fluently with only rare repetition or self-correction; any hesitation is content-related rather than to find words or grammar
  • speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features 

·    develops topics fully and appropriately


  • uses vocabulary with full flexibility and precision in all topics
  • uses idiomatic language naturally and accurately


  •   uses a full range of structures naturally and appropriately
  •   produces consistently accurate structures apart from ‘slips’ characteristic of native speaker speech




  • speaks fluently with only occasional repetition or self correction; hesitation is usually content-related and only rarely to search for language
  • develops topics coherently and appropriately
  • uses a wide vocabulary resource readily and flexibly to convey precise meaning
  • uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skillfully with occasional inaccuracies
  • uses paraphrase effectively as required


  • uses a wide range of structures flexibly
  • produces a majority of error free sentences with only very occasional inappropriacies or basic/non-systematic errors
  • is easy to understand throughout, with L1 accent having minimal effect on intelligibility
  • uses a wide range of phonological features to convey meaning effectively





  • speaks at length without noticeable effort or loss of      coherence 
  • uses a range of connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility 
  • may demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition and/or self-correction.


  • ·   uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics
  • ·   uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation with some  inappropriate choices 
  • ·   uses paraphrase effectively 
    • ·     uses a range of complex structures with some flexibility
    • ·     frequently produces error free sentences, though some grammatical mistakes persist





  • is willing to speak at length, though may lose coherence at times due to occasional repetition, self correction or hesitation 
  • uses a range of connectives and discourse markers but not always appropriately


  • has a wide enough vocabulary to discuss topics at length and make meaning clear in spite of inappropriacies
  • generally paraphrases 


  • uses a mix of simple and complex structures, but with limited flexibility
  • may make frequent mistakes with complex structures, though these rarely cause comprehension problems
  • can be understood throughout, though mispronunciation may occasionally cause momentary strain for the listener




  • usually maintains flow of speech but uses repetition, self-correction and/or slow speech to keep going  
  • may over-use certain connectives and discourse markers 
  • produces simple speech fluently, but more complex communication causes fluency problems


  • manages to talk about familiar and unfamiliar topics but uses vocabulary with limited flexibility
  • attempts to paraphrase but with mixed success


  • produces basic sentence forms with reasonable accuracy 
  • uses a limited range of more complex structures, but these usually contain errors and may cause some comprehension problems





  • cannot respond without noticeable pauses and may speak slowly, with frequent repetition and self-correction
  • links basic sentences but with repetitious use of simple connectives and some breakdowns in coherence


  • is able to talk about familiar topics but can only convey basic meaning on unfamiliar topics and makes frequent errors in word choice
  • rarely attempts paraphrase



  • produces basic sentence forms and some correct simple sentences but subordinate structures are rare 
  •   errors are frequent and may lead to misunderstanding


  •   produces some acceptable features of English pronunciation but overall control is limited and there can be severe strain for the listener




  • speaks with long pauses  
    • has limited ability to link simple sentences
    • gives only simple responses and is frequently unable to convey basic message


  • uses simple vocabulary to convey personal information 
  • has insufficient vocabulary for less familiar topics


  • attempts basic sentence forms but with limited succ ess, or relies on apparently memorized utterances 
  • makes numerous errors except in memorised expressions




  • pauses lengthily before most words
  • little communication possible
  • only produces isolated words or memorised utterances
    • cannot produce basic sentence forms 



  • speech is often unintelligible




  • no communication possible
  • no rateable language



  • does not attend

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