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How is IELTS marked?

On the day of the test, the Speaking is marked by the examiner who interviewed the candidate. Task 1 writing is marked by one examiner; Task 2, by another. Listening and Reading are calculated by a clerk who is not a Speaking or Writing examiner. Therefore four different people evaluate one candidate’s performance. Among other things, this reduces corruption as the examiners and clerical markers seldom know each other.

As we have just learnt, IELTS uses bands. Do you remember this candidate?

Listening Reading Writing Speaking
7 6.5 6 6.5

Overall Band = 6.5

 

Another candidate might get:

Listening Reading Writing Speaking
5.5 5 5 5

Overall Band = 5

 

The majority of candidates have most skills in the same band. If a candidate has one test that is two bands different from another, his or her paper is marked again, and the higher of the two marks becomes the new score.

For example: a candidate gets:

Listening Reading Writing Speaking
6 6 4 6

Overall Band = 5.5

 

If his or her Writing is marked again and is still a Four or becomes a 4.5, then the Overall Band remains a 5.5. If a Four goes up to a Five, then the new Overall Band is a Six. All this happens before the final report is sent out.

 

Listening and Reading

These two tests are made up of 40 questions each that are either right or wrong. There are no half marks. The marking of these is fairly easy, but they are marked twice for accuracy.

There are multiple versions of the Listening and Reading tests. Each version differs slightly in its degree of difficulty. They are all pre-tested. As you already know, Academic and GT Reading tests are also different. Here’s a guide to the scores needed for some bands for Listening and Reading.

Since there are so many versions of these tests, this table is approximate.

 

Band Listening /40 Academic Reading /40 GT Reading

/40

4 9 8 15
4.5 12 12 19
5 16 15 23
5.5 19 19 27
6 23 23 30
6.5 27 27 32
7 30 30 34
7.5 33 33 36
8 35 35 37

 

Writing and Speaking

As you can imagine, Writing and Speaking are harder to mark than Listening and Reading since each candidate will give different answers. Candidates will, however, have common features, which determine their level.

For Writing and Speaking, these common features are described by special criteria at each band. (Look up ‘criteria’ in your dictionary now.)  A great many candidates prepare for IELTS without having any idea what they’re being judged on, and so can’t improve their performance effectively. Here, the criteria will be described and analysed. For example, Pronunciation is a Speaking criterion, but it’s likely you’ve got only a vague idea what pronunciation means. Once you’ve understood what many things really make up pronunciation, then you can start learning how to pronounce English well.

Remember this?

 

Listening Reading Writing Speaking
7 6.5 6 6.5

Overall Band = 6.5

 

There’s nothing about criteria on this report – nothing to tell you how the examiners reached their conclusions. A candidate knows only in a general sense that his Listening is stronger than everything else. He probably has no idea why his Writing got a Six.

So what are the Writing and Speaking criteria?

Writing and Speaking criteria are similar: both include a judgment on a candidate’s vocabulary and grammar. In Writing, candidates must also describe, analyse, and argue well. In Speaking, pronunciation plays a major role. To achieve a high band in IELTS, it’s important to understand exactly what marking criteria are.

Writing criteria

There are four criteria for Writing. They’re the same for Task 1 and Task 2.

In brief, the criteria are:

  • Task Fulfilment (Also called Task Achievement or Task Response: Answering the question fully)
  • Coherence and Cohesion (Words, sentences, paragraphs joined smoothly; a logical order throughout)
  • Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar) Each criterion carries the same weight. This is significant because, when asked, most candidates believe grammar is the most important thing in writing.

While each criterion is worth the same, a large amount of research has shown that one criterion. This is because English vocabulary is vast. The most common problem IELTS candidates have is that their vocabulary is limited. It is boring, repetitive, childish, or inaccurate. Perhaps the tone of their language is also inappropriate. Usually this is because they do not read much in English. Reading exposes you to vocabulary most quickly. Probably, learners need to do three times the amount of work on vocabulary that they do on any of the other criteria to improve.

As previously mentioned, candidates don’t have a breakdown of criteria on their report form. But let’s look at a typical score sheet an examiner has. This is for Writing for Task 1:

Task Fulfilment Coherence & Cohesion Vocabulary Grammar
6 6 5 6

 

The candidate gets 5.5 for this task.

(By the way: there are no half bands within criteria.) Here is a Writing score sheet for Task 2:

Task Fulfilment Coherence & Cohesion Vocabulary Grammar
7 6 5 7

 

The candidate gets Six for this task.

Task 2 is worth twice as much as Task 1. The candidate above ends up with a Six as a Writing band.

Basically, Vocabulary was this candidate’s weak point, and if it had been a Six, he or she would have ended up with 6.5 for Writing. Now perhaps it’s a small difference between Six and 6.5, but let’s say you want to do an MA in Canada. The university you’ve applied for asks for 6.5 for IELTS Writing for direct admission. If you get a Six, then you need to do a ten-week English-language course first. That’s another two months of your life you have to pay for and live through before starting your MA.

Speaking criteria

There are also four criteria for Speaking. Unlike Writing, where the tasks are rated separately, there is only one score given for the candidate’s whole Speaking test.

In brief, the criteria are:

  • Fluency and Coherence (The ability to keep speaking; accurate use of linkers; sound logic)
  • Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar)
  • Pronunciation

 

You can see that there’s no Task Fulfilment criterion.

This means the examiner doesn’t judge the content of the candidate’s answers – the candidate can say pretty much anything he or she likes. If you want to say your mother’s an astronaut on the International Space Station and your father’s Bill Gates’ best mate, that’s fine, as long as your English is correct.

Like Writing, each criterion is worth 25%.

Generally, candidates still find Vocabulary problematic.

Fluency is also a challenge because it’s possible the candidate has never spoken for so long in English. Also, almost no teachers or textbooks focus on Fluency. (Is it anywhere in the Table of Contents of your best mate’s IELTS book?) Depending on what your first language is, pronunciation may be difficult. If you’re German, it’s not so hard; if you’re Vietnamese, it’s hell. Let’s say you’re from Ho Chi Minh City, and you want permanent residence in Australia. For residence, you may need a Seven for Speaking. Frankly, that’s going to be extremely tough because time and time again even if you’re really good, you’ll get:

 

Fluency & Coherence Grammar Vocabulary Pronunciation
7 7 7 6

Overall Band = 6.5