/ B2, C1, Exam training, Speaking and Conversation, Teachers

November 2020 – Before sending your student to do any speaking exam, you should show them a video of a real oral exam and also rehearse it with them. Here is one way how you could do it. The post concentrates onto IELTS Speaking Band 7, but you can adapt it to any other exam. The lesson is designed for an online individual course.

Your student might not know what they are supposed to do in a speaking exam, so you need to introduce them to the different tasks. The quickest way is to show them a sample video and simulate the exam.

STEP ONE: A sample video

Tell your student that you are going to watch an IELTS speaking video. Why listening, your student should understand how many candidates and examiners are present, how long the test takes, how many parts there are and also note down as many questions as possible. Here’s one sample video:

In an IELTS speaking test there are three parts:
1) Questions about the candidate;
2) A long-turn, where the student needs to prepare a 1-2 minute monologue about one question (they get one minute to prepare and they can take notes);
3) Questions about the topic in Part Two.
Ask for and give feedback.

STEP TWO: Marking and assessment

Many students think that the most important factor in their exam is that they don’t make mistakes. However, assessment in an exam goes way beyond that. So it’s important to understand what examiners look at when marking the candidates’ performance.

Tell your student about the four criteria: Fluency and coherence, Grammatical range and accuracy, Lexical resource, Pronunciation. Now, copy the statements from below into the chat box one by one in a random order and ask your students to understand which criteria they belong to: e.g. Which criteria is ‘speech rate and speech continuity’? – Fluency

Fluency and coherence 
– the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate and effort
– the ability to link ideas and language together to form coherent, connected speech
– speech rate and speech continuity
– logical sequencing of sentences, clear marking of stages in a discussion, narration or argument
– the use of cohesive devices (e.g. connectors, pronouns and conjunctions) within and between sentences

Lexical resource 
– the range/variety of vocabulary used
– the precision with which meanings and attitudes can be expressed
– the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used
– the ability to circumlocute (get round a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hesitation

Grammatical range and accuracy 
– the accurate and appropriate use of the test takers’ grammatical resource. – the length and complexity of the spoken sentences
– the appropriate use of subordinate clauses
– the range of sentence structures, especially to move elements around for information focus
– the number of grammatical errors in a given amount of speech and the communicative effect of error

– the ability to produce comprehensible speech to fulfil the Speaking test requirements
– the amount of strain caused to the listener
– the amount of the speech which is unintelligible
– the noticeability of L1 influence

Resource: IELTS test format

Examiners follow this BAND DESCRIPTORS (another layout is available HERE). They assess each criteria separately and then calculate the final band score for the speaking part. This means, you might get a lower score for pronunciation, but a higher one for fluency. The final score is the average of all four criteria (which means, all criteria are equally important, grammar does not dominate the final score).

Ask your students to watch the video again and try to find good (or maybe incorrect) examples of language use for each criteria. Why was this candidate given Band 7 in Speaking? What could be improved on? In which part was the candidate stronger/weaker?
Ask for and give feedback.

STEP THREE: Rehearsal

At this point, tell your student that the examiner (interlocutor) present is not involved into scoring, the exam is recorded and sent to examiners to assess the candidate’s performance. So it’s important that they are comfortable with being filmed.

Tell them that you are going to simulate the exam, all three parts and while they are answering to the questions, register them (you can do it in most of the online video-call platforms). Skype, for example, puts the recorded file into the chat box automatically, where it is available for 30 days for both parts (you and your student). You don’t even have to download it onto your computer.

For the simulation, you can use the official sample test materials from You can find the downloadable files also below:
PART ONE – questions to ask in the introduction interview (don’t forget to mention that the examiner starts with his/her name and asks the candidate to provide an ID.
PART TWO – the topic for the long-run. After reading it to your student, give them one minute to take notes (on a piece of paper or in the chat box), then time them: they are supposed to talk for 1-2 minutes. If they finish earlier, use the ‘Rounding off questions’.
PART THREE – follow-up questions about the topic in Part Two.
Make sure you don’t go over (or under) the pre-set time (11-14 minutes per speaking exam).

STEP FOUR: (Self) Assessment

After recording the simulation, tell your student that you are going to watch the simulation together and assess the performance. While watching it, stop the recording after each part (or even more often if you want to comment on something) and give a mark for all four criteria in each part (use the Band Descriptors above). At the end, sum the scores and decide on a band score.

Finally, remember

– always find something positive in your student’s performance, these motivate way more than correcting mistakes;
– give an action plan to your student and yourself: if you need to work on fluency, the next lesson should be full of fluency tasks, if the grammar/vocabulary is weak, write a list of some grammar and lexical areas to revise, if the pronunciation is weak, work on it in the coming lessons, if the coherence is missing, do some quick exercises which require expressing opinions and giving reasons, arguing for vs against a point of view and giving explanations/descriptions of things/processes;
– repeat the registration another time the near future to compare the two performance: look for improvement.


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