What 'Fluency and Coherence' Mean on The IELTS Speaking Test
The IELTS test is a well-known standard for proving your English skills, and a key part of it is the Speaking test. To understand how it works and how you can better prepare for it, it’s important to know the four criteria you’re graded on. Each of these counts for 25% of your total score.
So far, we’ve covered two of them — lexical resource and grammatical range and accuracy. Today, we’re talking about “fluency and coherence.” What does it mean and what are some tips for scoring well in this category? Read on to find out!
What IELTS means by “fluency and coherence”
“Fluency” refers to how easy it is for you to speak in English. For example, are you able to speak for a long time without pausing or slowing down to think of the right words? If so, you’ll get a high score in fluency.
To get a better idea of what IELTS means by fluency, check out the following table which shows what’s expected at different band scores. The information is from IELTS’ public scoring guide, and “band scores” are what the IELTS calls different scores or levels.
|Band score||What IELTS says||What IELTS means|
|3||“speaks with long pauses”||When you talk, you often stop for a long time (to think of the right words).|
|5||“usually maintains flow of speech but uses repetition, self-correction and/or slow speech to keep going”||You are able to keep talking about a topic but you often repeat words and phrases, go back to fix your mistakes, and/or speak at a slower pace in order to keep talking.|
|7||“speaks at length without noticeable effort” though “may demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition and/or self-correction”||You are comfortable talking about a topic for a long time. However, you might sometimes need to stop talking to think of the right words, repeat yourself, or go back to fix your mistakes.|
|9||“speaks fluently with only rare repetition or self-correction; any hesitation is content-related rather than to find words or grammar”||You are comfortable talking about a topic without going back to fix your mistakes or having to repeat yourself. You might stop talking sometimes to think about what ideas to express, but you don’t stop talking just because you need time to think about how you want to express them.|
As you can see, examiners will pay attention to how often you pause, repeat words and phrases, correct yourself and slow down – basically any time you need to break the flow of your speech to think of the right words.
When you are “coherent,” your ideas are connected and make sense together. This helps people follow your thinking and understand what you are trying to say. Being coherent is important because it helps you communicate your ideas clearly and effectively.
According to the official IELTS website, here are things examiners look for:
- Do you use introductory and concluding phrases like “first” or “finally” to guide your listeners through your thoughts?
- Do you use phrases like “on the other hand” or “that’s why” when you move from one thought to the next?
- Do you organize your thoughts in a way that makes it easy for your listener to follow what you’re saying?
If so, you speak very coherently and will do well in this category! To give you a better understanding of what examiners will look for on the test, here’s what IELTS’s public scoring guide says about coherence at different band scores.
|Band||What IELTS says||What IELTS means|
|3||“has limited ability to link simple sentences”||You say a lot of simple sentences but don’t connect them to each other.|
|5||“may over-use certain connectives and discourse markers”||You can use linking words to connect your thoughts but you may use the same ones too much.|
|7||“uses a range of connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility”||You are comfortable using a lot of different linking words to connect your thoughts.|
|9||“speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features” and “develops topics fully and appropriately”||You are able to smoothly connect your thoughts with the right linking words. You also talk about different topics with a clear structure and provide relevant details about them.|
As you can see, you’ll want to make sure you use linking words to connect your thoughts, and at higher band scores, you’ll also want to be able to “develop topics” – we’ll get into this later.
How to get a good score
Tip # 1: Learn English fillers
At some point during your IELTS Speaking test, you will need to stop to think of the right word(s) to use. After all, even native English speakers sometimes do this.
A natural and acceptable way to stop and think in English is to use “fillers.” These are phrases that help “fill” in the time when you’re searching for the right words. Here are some that you can use on the IELTS:
- Hmm …
- So …
- Well …
- Let me think …
- Let me see …
- That’s a tricky question.
- I haven’t thought of that before.
Of course, you don’t want to use too many fillers. But using some fillers is still better than suddenly stopping, repeatedly saying “ahh … umm … huh …,” or using fillers from your native language!
Tip #2: Record yourself talking
When you’re talking, you may not realize how you sound, or what areas of your speech in English need the most improvement. You also may not realize how often you pause or have to correct yourself.
However, these are things that your examiner will notice and you need to know about them if you want to be able to improve them. Recording yourself is a good way to do this.
Listen to your recordings and count the number of times you stop and think before you talk, go back to correct your mistakes or repeat yourself.
Also, check if you’re talking too slowly or quickly. If you talk too slowly, the examiner may think you’re not fluent, and if you talk too quickly, they may have trouble understanding you. The important thing is to speak at a speed that makes you sound natural and comfortable speaking English.
If you're not sure what a natural talking speed is, try watching a few English-language movies, or TED talks and pay attention to how fast the characters speak in different situations.
At Engoo, all lessons are recorded, so you can easily review your progress and hear how you sound!
Tip #3: Use linking words
Linking words are special words or phrases that help you connect your thoughts and let your listener know how you feel about a topic. To get an idea, check out the following response to the question “Why did you choose to study English?”
In this response:
- The words “because” and “this is why” help Arif show the relationship between his thoughts.
- The phrase “for better or worse” helps him show how he feels about companies requiring English for managerial roles – he feels that this is reality, whether or not he likes it!
In general, you should use linking words to help people follow the thoughts and feelings you are trying to express.
For IELTS, you need linking words to get a band score of 4 or higher. At a band score of 6, you are expected to use many different linking words, and at higher band scores, you’ll be expected to use many different ones with few or no errors to express your ideas.
You’ll see linking words mentioned on IELTS’ public scoring guide as “discourse markers,” “cohesive features,” and “connectives.”
You also need to make sure you use the right linking words or else you will confuse people. For example, “I chose to learn English, but it can help me with my career” is totally different from “I chose to learn English, because it can help me with my career”!
To get a higher score on the IELTS speaking test:
- Learn a variety of linking words and practice using them.
- Make sure you don’t keep using the same linking words.
- Make sure you understand how to use your linking words correctly.
To get you started, here are some common English linking words you can use during your IELTS Speaking test.
|To talk about cause and effect||- As a result …- That’s why …|
|To rephrase or clarify something you said||- In other words …- What I mean is …|
|To share examples||- For example … - In particular …|
|To show that you are surprised by something||- Surprisingly …- Believe it or not …|
To learn more linking words, make sure to check out our IELTS Speaking course. Each lesson has a “Useful Language” exercise which introduces useful linking words!
Tip #4: Develop a topic
Developing topics in a coherent way is necessary for scoring an 8 or above in the fluency and coherence category. But what does it mean to “develop a topic”?
Developing a topic means that you don’t just share what you think about it. You also:
- Explain your thinking: How much you need to explain depends on which part of the exam you’re taking, but generally you should try to talk about a topic for two to six sentences.
- Present your thoughts in a way that is clear and easy for others to understand: This means you don’t jump from idea to idea – instead, your ideas flow in a clear and easy-to-understand way.
To give you an idea, here are two sample responses to the question “Why did you choose to learn English?”
Pat answers the question but does not develop the topic.
Arif answers the question and develops the topic by sharing a reason (his career), some background information (companies require fluent English for manager roles), and an example (himself).
Thanks to his logical and well-structured response, Arif will score a lot higher than Pat. So when you respond to an examiner’s question, don’t just answer it. Make sure to also explain your thinking with a clear structure.
Here are some common formats that you can use to structure your responses in a way that will help you develop the topic. The sample responses below are in response to the question “Do you think everyone in your country should learn English?”
|Main idea + three supporting examples||“I think everyone in my country should learn English because it is the most widely spoken language in the world. Knowing English will open up many opportunities for people, both personally and professionally. Additionally, many of the world's most popular movies and TV shows are in English, so if you want to be able to understand them, you will need to know the language. Finally, English is the primary language of the internet, so if you want to be able to access all of the information online, you will need to be able to read and understand English. ”|
|Main idea + personal experience||“I think everyone should learn English, because it is useful when communicating with people around the world. For example, I recently went to London on a business trip, and I was able to communicate with my colleagues and clients easily because we all spoke English.”|
|Opposing opinion + why you disagree||“So, some people in my country think that they don’t need to learn English, because they don’t need it in their everyday life. However, I disagree. Our country’s economy relies heavily on trade, so it would help if more of us spoke English fluently enough to do business.”|
Bonus tip: Take an IELTS Speaking course designed by an IELTS examiner
As a bonus tip, we recommend you take a course that was made by someone who is actually an IELTS examiner.
At Engoo, our IELTS Speaking course was made by an examiner with over 15 years of experience preparing students for the test. To learn more, read this introduction to the course or check it out yourself. Better yet, take this course with a professional English tutor who has experience teaching or taking the IELTS themselves!