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  • Writer's pictureSte Sharpe

IELTS Speaking test criteria: Fluency and Coherence

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

A long road with trees
A long road with trees

This is the first of 4 blog posts explaining the IELTS Speaking test criteria in simple terms.

As an IELTS Speaking test candidate, it’s really important that you understand how the examiner will assess your level of spoken English during the exam, so you can understand what is expected of you at each band score.

Want to know all about fluency and coherence… start reading below.

What is ‘fluency’?

Fluency is all about being able to speak at length without too many breaks. Imagine driving to your local train station without having to stop. For me, it’d take about 6 minutes. Then, imagine doing the same journey, but with several stops: traffic lights, roundabouts, zebra crossings. With all of these ‘interruptions’, it’d take me about 12-15 minutes.

In the IELTS Speaking test, your fluency is assessed on the following points:

Speech rate = the speed at which you speak (not too fast; not too slow)

Speech continuity = your flow of speech not being interrupted by false starts (e.g., He…he was…erh…), hesitations when searching for words (e.g., When I was young…I…erh…erh…) and repeating words/phrases to fill the time.

What is ‘coherence’?

Coherence is all about being able to organise your ideas in a logical way. Imagine you’re giving someone instructions on how to make bread. There’s a specific order you have to follow, as you have to wait for the yeast to activate. If you don’t follow this order, you won’t have good bread.

In the IELTS Speaking test, your coherence is assessed on the following points:

Relevance of a spoken sentence = how useful and appropriate your sentence is to the conversation (e.g., ‘What are the pros and cons of electric cars?... I think solar panels are better.' This isn't relevant to the question.)

Use of cohesive devices = using connectors. For example: to show addition (e.g., furthermore, besides); contrast (e.g., even though, on the other hand); sequence (e.g., first of all, after); using pronouns (e.g., My mother’s a nurse. She works long hours; There are so many train strikes in the UK. They’ve caused chaos for travellers.)

What is the difference between a band 6 and band 7 for fluency and coherence?

If you look at the IELTS Speaking test band descriptors (publicly available here), you’ll see the main difference between a band 6 score and a band 7 score. To help you understand this better, I’ve summarised these difference in the table below:

​Fluency and Coherence: Band 6

​Fluency and Coherence: Band 7

Shows a willingness to speak at length

Can speak at length without any effort

The order of ideas is lost due to hesitations

Some hesitations happen to find appropriate words, but these do not affect the order of ideas

Uses a range of cohesive devices (see examples above), but not always appropriately

Uses cohesive devices flexibly

When I was an IELTS speaking examiner for 11 years, I noticed that students really struggled to reach a band 7 for fluency and coherence for two main reasons:

-several hesitations (mainly due to nerves)

-overuse of certain cohesive devices (e.g., for example... actually...In my opinion)

How can I improve my fluency and coherence?

To improve your fluency, you need to practise speaking. Just like running a marathon (read my previous blog post about this), you need to keep practising to improve your stamina. Below are some tips to help you:

-Find some IELTS Speaking test part 1 questions and practise answering them by speaking for a minimum of 20 seconds for each question.

-Find some IELTS Speaking test part 2 task card questions, give yourself 1 minute to make some notes and then speak for 2 minutes.

-Record yourself speaking on your mobile phone, then listen back to what you said. Pay close attention to the range of cohesive devices you use.

You also need to expose yourself to English as much as possible, through watching TV shows and movies, or listening to podcasts. These will help you to learn new connectors to organise your ideas, while also developing your listening skills.

So, what do I do now?

If you want to improve your fluency and coherence for the IELTS Speaking Test, check out my online IELTS Speaking Course where you’ll not only learn all about the IELTS Speaking test format, but you’ll also improve your fluency and coherence when speaking to ensure the examiner can follow what you’re saying on the test day.

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