How the IELTS test is scored

Something I am often very surprised about is that not enough IELTS teachers explain to their students what the band descriptors are and how they are assessed during the test. I regularly find that when I ask students if they understand the band descriptors, they reply that they don’t even know what the band descriptors are.
In this article we will look how the IELTS test is scored and what the IELTS band descriptors are. We will focus mainly on how the examiner uses the band descriptors to give you your band score for speaking and writing. We will also explain why understanding them is important if you want to achieve a high band score during the IELTS test.

What are the band descriptors?

The band descriptors are guidelines used by examiners when marking your writing task 1 report, writing task 2 essay, or when deciding upon what speaking band score they will give you. Understanding the band descriptors can be extremely useful because it means you will know how the examiner judges your level of English and gives you your band score.

Why understanding the band descriptors is important

If you understand how the IELTS test is scored and what the examiner is looking for when assessing your writing or speaking skills you have an advantage over other students.
Knowing how the IELTS test is scored and what the examiner wants, means you can ensure you structure your answers in a way that gives you the best chance of doing well in the test. This is because you will know everything you need to include to maximise your score.
This knowledge is particularly important for the writing section of the test because there is a time limit for this section. This means you will be able to maximise your time during the test by focussing on doing the main things you need to, so you can achieve a high band score.

 

How is the IELTS speaking test scored: SPEAKING band descriptors

There are four criteria used to assess your speaking ability.

Fluency and coherence

Are you able to speak continuously at a natural speed and are your ideas arranged in a logical order?

You will achieve a higher score if you do the following things:

  • Speak fluently with only rare repetition
  • Speak at length without hesitation or pauses
  • Do not use self correction too much
  • Fully develop the topics you are speaking about
  • Use language appropriately to link your ideas and sentences together

Lexical resource or vocabulary

Do you use a variety of different words and do you use uncommon words when speaking?

You will achieve a high score if you use a wide range of vocabulary rather than repeating the same words. It is also good if you can use some unusual or uncommon vocabulary, use idiomatic language or less formal English correctly when you are speaking and you are also able to paraphrase effectively.

Grammatical range and accuracy

Do you create sentences that are grammatically correct and mostly free of grammatical errors?

You will achieve a higher score if you use a range of different structures when you are speaking. Accuracy is also important and the more error free structures or sentences you can create, the higher your band score will be.

Pronunciation

Are you easy to understand when you talk?

You will get a higher score for pronunciation if you use a full range of pronunciation features like word stress, sentence stress and intonation. Most importantly you want to be easy to understand and any accent you may have does not affect the words you are saying too much.

 

For writing task 1 and writing task 2 the criteria for assessment is very similar but there are some small differences.

How is the IELTS writing test scored: WRITING (task 1) band descriptors

There are four criteria that the examiners use to assess your writing for Task 1.

Task Achievement

For task achievement the examiner is looking at how well you have answered the question. For example does it provide sufficient detail? Is it accurate? Have you made comparisons?

You will get a higher score if you:

  • Fully address the question/task
  • Illustrate the key features in the info-graphic and you give a fully developed response
  • Have an appropriate overview that highlights the key features
  • Ensure your report is accurate
  • You will need to make comparisons where relevant
  • In writing task 1 you do not need to express an opinion because you are reporting on the info-graphic provided.
  • You also need to make sure that you write 150 words or more

Coherence and Cohesion

Examines the structure of your answer. Do you use paragraphing effectively? Is there logical grouping of ideas? Are linking words used effectively?

You will get a higher score if you:

  • Paraphrase effectively with no loss of meaning
  • Organise and group your ideas in a logical way
  • Use paragraphing effectively – We recommend 4 paragraphs for writing task 1
  • Use cohesive devices such as linking words effectively and accurately
  • And use referencing language when appropriate – for example words such as respectively, this, it

Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)

For lexical resource which is also known as vocabulary the examiner is looking at your range and accuracy.
Is a wide range of vocabulary used? Is the vocabulary used accurately? Are there spelling mistakes?

You will get a higher score if you:

  • Use a sufficient range of vocabulary
  • Use vocabulary accurately
  • Make only rare errors in spelling and word formation
  • Use some less common vocabulary skilfully
  • Collocate correctly – That is you use words with other words correctly
  • Do not use informal language or abbreviations because you are in a testing situation

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

For this criteria the examiner will look at the range of structures you use, as well as the accuracy. Are a range of simple and complex structures used? Are there errors in the sentence formation? Are there errors in grammar and word formation?

You will get a higher score if you:

  • Use a wide range of sentence structures
  • Use a variety of complex structures
  • Avoid mistakes and create error free sentences
  • Use the appropriate tense for the question such as past, present or future tense
  • Check your punctuation is correct

 

How is the IELTS Writing test scored: WRITING (task 2) band descriptors

There are four criteria that the examiners use to assess your writing in Task 2.

Task Response

In this criterion the examiner is looking at how well you have answered the question (e.g. have you answered all parts of the question and have you fully developed your ideas).

You will get a higher score for writing task 2 if you do the following:

  • Answer all parts of the question
  • Give relevant ideas
  • Fully develop and support your ideas
  • Write at least 250 words
  • Have a clear position throughout the essay (opinion)

Coherence and Cohesion

This examines the structure of your essay. (e.g.  have you used paragraphing effectively? Is there logical grouping of ideas? Are linking words used effectively?)

You will get a higher score for writing task 2 if you do the following:

  • Have a clear structure to your essay and use paragraphing effectively and logically
  • Make sure you have a clear theme or topic within each paragraph
  • Support and develop your ideas in a logical way
  • Use referencing language appropriately and linking words effectively and naturally

Lexical Resource (or Vocabulary)

For lexical resource the examiner is looking at your range and accuracy (e.g. is there a wide range of vocabulary? Is it used accurately? Are there spelling mistakes?

You will get a higher score for writing task 2 if you do the following:

  • Use a sufficient range of vocabulary with less common words and synonyms
  • Be sure to use vocabulary that is topic relevant
  • Make only rare errors in spelling and word formation
  • Collocate correctly (which means using words with other words correctly)
  • Convey precise meaning
  • Do not use informal language or abbreviations

Grammatical Range and Accuracy (or grammar)

The examiner will look at the range of structures you use as well as accuracy (e.g. is there a range of simple and complex structures? are there errors in the sentence formation? are there errors in grammar and word formation?)

You will get a higher score for writing task 2 if you do the following:

  • Use a wide range of sentence structures
  • Include a variety of simple and complex structures
  • Avoid mistakes (so most sentences are error free)
  • Use correct punctuation

 

Scoring criteria

It is important to remember that there are four criteria in each of the band descriptors and these four criteria are worth equal amounts. They each represent 25% of your score and you will be given a score for each one. It is therefore important not to neglect any one criterion.

If you would like to watch videos that explain the band descriptors in more detail then visit our website by clicking on the button below.

IELTS BAND DESCRIPTORS

 

I hope that this article has given you a greater understanding of how the IELTS test is scored. Understanding what the examiner is looking at when giving you a band score is knowledge you can use to your advantage to improve your score during the IELTS test.

If you would like lessons on how to complete each of the different sections of the IELTS test then check out our online course by clicking on the button below.

IELTS Whiz online course

 


Damon Bailey
Damon Bailey

As one of the co-founders at IELTS Whiz I really love helping students to achieve their education goals and improve their opportunities for the future. I find it really rewarding to have a positive impact on the lives of students and enjoy assisting them on the path towards reaching their dreams.

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