In this post, I will focus on grammar as a speaking subskill. It's common to feel anxious about using the correct grammar when speaking, but your grammar doesn't need to be 100% accurate to get a good mark in the IELTS Speaking test. It's equally important to attempt a range of grammatical structures.
How is grammar tested in the IELTS Speaking test?
The descriptor Grammatical Range and Accuracy in IELTS assesses the range of grammar you use and how accurately and appropriately you use it. If you look at the band descriptors, you‘ll see that the following areas of grammar are assessed:
Range of structures used: This ranges from being able to use a very basic range of simple grammatical structures at band 4, to a full range of complex structures at band 9.
Flexibility of use: This means that you’re able to select from a range of appropriate structures for the response that you wish to give. Structures are used ‘naturally and appropriately’ at band 9 and ‘with limited flexibility’ at band 6.
Frequency of errors: This ranges from having mostly error-free sentences at band 9 to having frequent errors that may lead to misunderstanding at band 5.
When it comes to errors, many candidates fear that they’ll lose marks for making mistakes. However, it’s worth remembering that even a band 9 student may make some very small errors. To be scored in band 7 or 6 for grammatical range and accuracy, you may still make some errors, especially when using more complex structures, but these are unlikely to result in the examiner misunderstanding you. Therefore, whilst accuracy is important, you should equally try to focus on being able to use a range of structures.
What different grammatical structures should I use
The descriptors refer specifically to the ability to use complex grammatical structures. These generally refer to subordinating structures, which include a combination of dependent and independent clauses. Below is a brief summary and some examples of the three main types of sentence structure:
Simple sentences: consist of only one independent clause – e.g. I drink coffee in the morning.
Compound sentences: consist of two independent clauses joined together – e.g. I drink coffee in the morning, but I don’t drink it at night.
Complex sentences: consist of a combination of dependent and independent clauses joined together – e.g. Although I drink coffee in the morning, I don’t drink it at night because it keeps me awake.
Some specific grammatical structures that you may demonstrate include the following:
A range of different tenses
The passive voice
Using a wide range of these structures is likely to lead to getting a higher mark for grammatical range and accuracy, even if you don’t always use them completely accurately.
How can I increase my grammatical range for the IELTS Speaking Test?
1. Learn different grammatical structures and practise using them
If you’re following a course book, you may find it useful to go through the different grammatical structures being taught. Although understanding the rules is important, what you really need to do is practise using the structures in conversation. A good way to do this would be to do the speaking practice tasks with a friend and to give each other feedback.
2. Listen to other people speaking and note which grammatical structures they use
You may find it useful to do this with videos of IELTS speaking tests, which are available on our podcast, but you could also do this with a news report or a TED talk. Doing this will help you become familiar with a range of grammatical structures and understand some of the contexts in which they are used.
3. Record yourself and note the structures you use
Once you have become more familiar with a range of grammatical structures, record yourself responding to a Part 2 question and then play back the recording and note down the different structures that you used.
And how about accuracy?
1. Record yourself speaking, listen and correct
As well as checking the range of structures you use, you can also listen and check for grammatical errors. Make a note of the errors you make and practise saying them correctly.
2. Do corrections with a friend
It can be difficult to spot your own errors, so try doing corrections with somebody else.
3. Practise speaking… a lot!
Whether you are doing IELTS Speaking practice or not, take every opportunity to speak in English with whoever will listen! If you’re lucky, you might get some useful feedback on your grammar!
Try not to become preoccupied with being accurate. Remember that you’re likely to gain marks for attempting to use complex structures even if you don’t get them quite right.
Remember you don’t always need to speak in full sentences. Features such as false starts are very common in natural sounding spoken English.
I hope you're enjoying this series on Speaking! I'll be sharing my tips on pronunciation next. If you have any questions or comments please do share these with us on Facebook or Instagram. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for how I can help you.