Scoring high in IELTS speaking; common mistakes to avoid

Scoring high in IELTS speaking; common mistakes to avoid

By John D’Souza

The IELTS is a high stakes examination with Speaking Examiners specially trained to observe nuances of language use. Even though it might be simpler to get mid-level band scores, getting a high-level band score i.e. 7.5+ can be a tall order for many.  The question that we are mostly puzzled with is ‘How do proficient candidates get a mid-level band score in speaking as compared to their high-level LRW scores?’ 

Confusion in the use of tenses:

Being able to use a range of tenses while answering, shows a good degree of control of grammatical forms. Candidates tend to overuse the simple tenses or inappropriately use the past perfect or present continuous tenses.

Subject-Verb agreement:

Candidates tend to not realise that collective nouns are singular and they take a singular form of the verb.  


English is a language of collocations. Even though a sentence may be grammatically correct, it may not sound correct, because of a wrong collocation. For e.g. We always ‘make a mistake’ and not ‘do a mistake’

Influence of Native Tongue:

As non-native speakers we find it difficult to understand the use of collocations because of the influence of our native speech or RTI (Regional Tongue Influence). We tend to directly translate and speak instead of creating sentences in English in our minds. For e.g. ‘Look at the backside of the book’ instead of ‘Look at the back of the book’

Repeating words from the question:

When candidates use the same words from the questions, they prove that they do not have the range of vocabulary as proficient users of English. 

Short answers.

IELTS examiners are looking forward to hearing candidates speak. Answering questions with a yes or no doesn’t give them much language to judge their proficiency level. The candidates must expand their answers with anecdotes or appropriate examples. It adds to their perception of being fluent in the language. Appropriate use of long turns and extended long turns can be beneficial to their score.


Pearl Academy claims to focus on creativity; focuses on international tie-ups 

Inappropriate use of memorised vocabulary and phrases:

It is true that the Speaking Examiners are looking for a wide range of vocabulary and use of less common words, but the candidates’ inappropriate use of memorised advanced words and phrases can impede meaning and have a negative impact on the overall score. Candidate’s language must be natural yet nuanced. 

The author is director of The English Advantage (T.E.A). Views are personal.